Beyond Strange Cargo

Todd Dills | October 01, 2010

Landstar owner-operator works to preserve showman Tyrone Malone’s legacy

Once upon a time, a trucker launched his career as a showman hauling the frozen, preserved body of a sperm whale in a reefer around the country. He set up at truckstops, carnivals, K-Mart parking lots and other spots in locales across the nation in the early 1970s, inspired in part by the “Save the Whales” movement, and charged a little for viewing.

If Landstar-leased owner-operator Ken Harris is doing what he sees as his job, you know we’re talking about Tyrone Malone, and you’ll remember him for a long time to come.

Harris is the proprietor of the new www.tyronemalone.net website, which documents Malone’s subsequent adventures in dragster diesels at the helm of the onetime Bandag Diesel Racing Team, with which Malone went well beyond his sideshow whale, setting some Class 8 land speed records along the way. After answering a newspaper ad in the late 1980s, Harris says, “I was in Europe hauling a custom dragster like a rock star. I’d never been anywhere, had never even been on a plane before.”

The impression left by the four months Harris drove for Malone was clearly lasting. “I often wonder, out of all the guys he had working for him, why he had such an impact on me,” Harris says. “It was such an experience to me that I’ve never gotten over it.”

Ken Harris, shot this pic of the 1967 Kenworth Tyrone Malone used to pull Little Irvy, his frozen sperm whale. After three decades frozen in the reefer, the whale was buried in Tulare, Calif., by the family after Malone’s death in 1997 — no doubt a gift to the archaeologists of the future, Harris notes.

 

Texas-based country musician and production man Mack Abernathy (mackabernathy.com) met a young Ken Harris during that European tour. “That Europe thing was quite an extravaganza,” Abernathy says. “We shipped my tour bus, [Malone’s] bus and five trailer trucks to Europe and did it all for Bandag — 55 cities. [Harris] was just a greenhorn kid at that time.”

Abernathy credits Malone with a good piece of what he knows today about showmanship. “I learned a lot about promotion from him, and he was just such a character,” he says. When Malone died in an auto wreck in 1997 (head-on with a semi, sadly, says Harris), Abernathy was hard at work on what today is the crux of his Prizm Entertainment business, a mammoth stage trailer he tours with himself.

Enter Gary Ries of Hastings, Minn., who might be the Tyrone Malone of today. At press time, Ries was preparing a Class 8 tractor to run at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to attempt to break 200 mph. “Last year,” Ries says, “we did 192, so we’re getting close.”

For video interviews with Ken Harris (pictured) and Mac Abernathy about the 1989 Tyrone Malone European tour where they met, and more, visit www.truckersnews.com.

 

Ries owns many of the classic Malone trucks, and in September he picked up what may be the most important among them, the 1967 Kenworth and specialized reefer trailer Malone hauled that sperm whale in so many years ago. Abernathy traded it to him for another truck, and Ries plans to restore both truck and trailer. “It’s set up pretty much just like it was,” he says, but for a flat-top sleeper Malone replaced the high-top with in the 1990s. Ries says he could easily put $25,000 into a restoration. Ries’s collection of 30 rigs includes such Malone originals as the Superboss, Hideout and other classics.

Check out Harris’ website, www.tyronemalone.net — designed with a perhaps unlikely Malone enthusiast in flash web designer Sam Calderone, of Chile — and you’ll no doubt catch some of the Malone bug yourself.

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