Truck museum puts the public in big rig driver's seat

If Dad always wanted to be a long-distance truck driver, there's a way to make his wish come true Ñ for a very short haul.

The Pacific Northwest Truck Museum in Brooks, 8 miles north of Salem, is holding its second 'Trucker for a Day' event, which includes 15 minutes of drive time.

The museum is part of Antique Powerland, home to 300 farm tractors and well-known for the end-of-July Oregon Steamup. The Oregon Electric Railway Museum has a mile of track that circles the 65-acre grounds.

Two years ago, the first 'Trucker for a Day' drew 80 entries. When it wasn't repeated last year, 'the phone rang off the hook,' remembers Don Butcher, the museum's vice president and co-founder.

Ten local trucking firms from Gresham Transfer to Walsh Trucking will donate trucks and drivers for the occasion. Dads with dreams first will get to ride around a half-mile track with an instructor, then take the wheel themselves.

They can learn about air brakes, two-speed axles and what it takes to be a long-haul driver these days, as they maneuver 'conventionals' around the circuit. These are the trucks with huge hoods Ñ Peterbilts, Kenworths, Internationals, Freightliners and Volvos.

Another plus is that drivers will get a free look around the 25,000-square-foot, 74-truck museum and be able to talk to gnarled old-timers such as Butcher, Red Nelson and museum President Don Wright. Between 1937 and 1990, these veterans drove millions of miles in their semis.

There's a 1973 Kenworth tanker in the museum with 8 million recorded miles Ñ that's 16 trips to the moon and back.

Museum visitors also can see trucks dating to a 1897 horse-drawn cart, Fred Meyer's own 1925 Model T delivery truck, the only Mercedes diesel V8 Freightliner ever made, a 12-foot tall Kenworth airport snowplow with a 1,071-cubic-inch Hall-Scott engine and a miniature Freightliner cabover semi built by retired Freightliner boss Ken Self.

The veterans have amazing stories: Butcher offers several tips on how to transport molasses, which he used to take to Boise, driving for Silver Eagle.

'If you come up to a stoplight, just before it changes green, hit the brakes sharply, the molasses will surge forward Ñ and you can take off in second,' he says.

Trucks were spartan 50 years ago. Compared to modern luxury rigs with their air-suspended seats and motel-room sleepers behind the cab, power steering and auto-shift transmissions, trucks from the '40s and '50s were uncomfortable, noisy and complicated, with multiple gearbox and axle combinations. The museum's red '66 Kenworth has two four-speed gear levers, and the driver has to recall which combination he's using, Nelson says.

Pointing at a '53 Kenworth, Butcher recalls displaying it at a Jubitz truck stop:

'The question we most often got was, 'Did you guys really drive these things?' '

Representatives of the Clackamas-based IITR Truck School will be on hand to answer employment questions, should the hook be set.

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