Old faithful

| October 01, 2006

Goodyear rescued this 1917 Packard Model E from a swamp in 1983 and restored it to original condition.

It may be going on 90 years old, but this 1917 Packard Model E isn’t ready to give up the road yet.

One of the first commercial big rigs, the Packard has put on a new face as the silent spokesman for Wingfoot Express commercial truck tire centers, a subsidiary of Goodyear, based in Fort Worth, Ark.

Goodyear first introduced the Packard in 1917 when the first Wingfoot Express truck was created to haul cross-country. Once known as the “Goodyear land blimp,” the 5-ton, 10-foot-high truck had the first sleeper cab in the trucking industry, according to company spokesman Dave Wilkins.

But the real innovation was that it ran on pneumatic tires. Most trucks of the time ran on solid rubber tires and avoided carrying anything fragile because of the jolt rubber tires gave the chassis of the truck, but the air-filled tires on the Packard provided a smoother, revolutionary ride for truck drivers.

Goodyear plant manager Paul Litchfield was convinced that pneumatic tires would serve trucks better than all-rubber tires, but he had a difficult time convincing truck operators and manufacturers.

To prove his logic, Goodyear assembled a three-vehicle caravan to travel from the Akron, Ohio, tire factory to the company’s tire fabric mill in Connecticut, a 740-mile trip that took 28 days and cost loads of tires and equipment.

But within a year, the crew members reduced the trip to 80 hours, and the Wingfoot truck continued to make trips between the Akron factory and New England cities.

The 1917 Packard set a transcontinental record in 1918, making a trip from Boston to San Francisco in 13 days and five hours, over forests and rough terrain. The trucks became so reliable that in 1918 seven Wingfoot Express trucks carrying a gaggle of Boy Scouts made a 3,000-mile trip down the East Coast without a single blown tire.

Goodyear first restored the Packard in 1983 after rescuing it from a Minnesota swamp. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Packard was used as a public relations vehicle for tire center openings and tire shows. In the late 1990s, the old truck parked at a tire testing facility in San Angelo, Texas, and lay dormant for a long time, except for a short display in the National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio.

Then this year Goodyear woke the beast for a new round of promotions. The Packard will travel to each new Wingfoot tire center opening.

“The restored Packard is identical to the old one,” Wilkins says.

For more information and history, check out Goodyear’s website.

Little Town, Big Show
There’s not much in the small town of Walcott, Iowa, but it’s one claim to fame – the world’s largest truckstop – draws thousands of truckers and travelers each year. The peak time for visitors is the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, when the town’s population increases from less than 2,000 to more than 30,000.

The 27th annual Jamboree, held July 13-14 at the Iowa 80 truckstop, was once again the biggest trucking event of its kind.

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