Time Machines

| August 06, 2002

The Pacific Northwest Truck Museum held its ninth annual Truck Show Aug. 25 at its location just off I-5 near Salem, Ore. Overdrive, sister publication of Truckers News made the show one of its stops during the five-week, cross-country tour celebrating the magazine’s 40th anniversary.

Like other attendees at this year’s event, Mick Moss has not forgotten the days when 16-foot-wide, unpaved roads were the freeways and low gears were his only engine brakes.

Moss, who began driving for USF Reddaway in Portland, Ore., after World War II, also remembers when everything in the state of Washington was regulated and companies didn’t cut one another’s rates. The state set tariffs and the only way you competed, he says, was with service. While the museum and truck show highlighted the “good ol’ days,” the classic trucks also reminded visitors how far truck technology has advanced.

One of the leading developers of new truck technology was Ken Sells, who started in 1947 as production manager of Freightliner at 1925 Quimby St. in Portland, Ore. Sells, who attended this year’s event, saw Freightliner grow from infancy to one of the top manufacturers of new trucks by the time he retired in the late ’70s as its second president and CEO. Sells was the general manager in 1956 and became president and CEO in 1959.

“Back in 1947, there were only five of us. It was pretty little, but it gave us a chance to grow it,” Sells says. Freightliner started full-scale production in 1947 when Leland James, owner of Consolidated Freightways, created a separate manufacturing company for the tractors he had been custom-building in the shops of Consolidated Freightways.

“He wanted someone else to build them, and went out of business in Salt Lake. He didn’t have any money,” Sells says. “We were mavericks, looking back on it.” Together with two engineers, Sells developed lightweight aluminum trucks strictly for the highway.

“The challenge was getting the truck good enough so others – the manufacturers – would buy it,” he says. Sells succeeded in contracting with White Motor Co. to manufacture the truck and do all the sales and marketing for the Freightliner in 1952. Together with his engineers, Sells developed the triple-trailer, but this invention came only after his trucks were engineered to safely tow these chains.

“We realized that until we can stop them, we’re not ready to develop them,” Sells says.

Classic Freightliners were not the only attractions at the show. The proud owners of restored 1940-1960 models of Kenworths, Peterbilts, Internationals and Macks were on hand to showcase their first loves. And more trucks are being restored and donated to the museum each year.

Don Manuel of Sweet Home, Ore., donated his first truck, a white 1946 Pete.

“That was the nicest road truck I ever drove in my life. It was the first truck I ever drove with an integral sleeper,” says Manuel. In 1948, Del Hewitt, founder of the historic museum, also bought his first truck, a 1948 Pete. In 1955 he sold it, but it was not the last time Hewitt owned the truck. Thirty-eight years later Hewitt found his first love at a truck sale he attended.

“I just couldn’t resist. It even had the same extended dashboard I bought years ago. I’m working on getting it restored,” he says.

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