Two of a kind

| December 01, 2007

Paul Sagehorn, owner-operator

Owner-operator James Duncan of Douglasville, Ga., and Wisconsin-based independent Paul Sagehorn are worlds apart in many respects. Aside from their respective home bases, Sagehorn’s a spry 37-year-old independent platform hauler and has been on the road only since 1999, while Duncan’s been trucking since the 1960s, when he got his start running cattle in a single-axle Mack B61 he paid $500 for.

Sagehorn’s got a quiet manner, whereas Duncan was once the Atlanta-area “official/unofficial spokesman,” he says, for the defunct Independent Truckers Association during the fuel-crisis shutdowns of the 1970s. “I hauled Coor’s beer back then, too,” he says. “I was doing Smokey and the Bandit before Smokey and the Bandit were cool, you know.”

One thing they do have in common is a fondness for old trucks – but not just any old trucks. On Monday, Aug. 20, Sagehorn unloaded at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama before deadheading to Duncan’s Georgia home to load a 1980 Kenworth K100 Aerodyne used during the last season of B.J. and the Bear, the television show about owner-operator Billie Joe Mackay and his chimpanzee road companion.

“I haven’t run it since 1988,” Duncan says of the truck. “I was in Lyman, Colo., and I woke up early and fired up the engine to get ready to go, when what do I hear over the CB but ‘Who’s burning down the truckstop?’” The emissions spec in the Cummins engine was a forward-looking California design, says Duncan. By 1988 he’d “rebuilt it three times,” he says, since buying it in 1985.

“I got sick of hearing about the smoke,” Duncan says. He’s held onto it all these years for sentimental reasons. In 1980, during B.J. and the Bear’s three-season run, Duncan’s father would watch the show from his hospital bed, where he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver (it took his life in January 1981). “He would say, ‘Now, if you had a truck like that you might be able to make some money.’” Duncan was running a cabover Marmon at the time with a V12 Detroit in it. “I knew where my money went,” he says. “Right out of the exhaust pipe. I got around three miles a gallon.”

Sagehorn got into trucking after years at the family Ace Hardware outlet in Sparta, Wis. In the off time Sagehorn and his father, Craig, worked at vehicle restoration. Their first project was the 1992 restoration of a 1958 Plymouth Belvedere as a replica of the car in Christine, John Carpenter’s 1983 film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel.

After “about a car a year,” Paul says, in 1999 he bought a 1984 Kenworth K100 Aerodyne he planned to turn into a replica of the B.J. tractor. “All we did to that one was repaint it,” Paul says. “It was a working truck and had had a pretty easy life hauling locally. Not a lot of miles.”

Sagehorn’s entry into trucking was a matter of necessity – he wanted to drive the truck. “So I had to have the plate,” he says. “And to have the plate I had to have insurance, so everything tied together and it was just a matter of expense.” Hauling loads for Wal-Mart on his own authority helped recoup the cost of painting the truck. But heavy deadhead miles to the company facility in Menomonie, Wis., kept his fuel costs up. He then bought a trailer and made the move to solicit freight on his own, including as part of the military’s transportation services contracting program. “It was all word of mouth, local people at first,” he says, “and it just took off from there.”

Today his dad drives the 1984 replica, and Sagehorn hauls in a 1974 Kenworth W925A, the only truck used in the television series Movin’ On known to still exist. He bought it in March 2006. “I wasn’t looking for it,” he says. “I already knew it was out there – in Wyoming – and one night I was on eBay looking for memorabilia and there it was. It was a week on the auction. I said, ‘I don’t need it, but I want it.’”

Movin’ On was an hour-long television adventure series following independent owner-operators – “gypsy truckers,” to use the pop parlance of the time – Will Chandler and Sonny Pruitt (played by Frank Converse and Claude Akins, respectively). “On the show they went around the country getting loads,” Sagehorn says. “They did stuff that still pertains today – they had issues with rates, issues with freight. It’s the same thing guys like myself are still dealing with today, and it was all pretty realistic.” The paint scheme on Sagehorn’s W9 re-creates the S. Pruitt logo as it was on the show, which debuted in September 1974 and ran for two seasons, with Sagehorn’s own name and DOT number less prominent on the step.

Though he mimicked the “Billie Joe Mackay, Owner-Operator” tag on the doors of his 1984 K100 with his own name, he’ll leave the original design on this one. “I’ll find a good place for my name somewhere else,” he says.

Duncan and Sagehorn met via the B.J. and the Bear fan club site (groups.msn.com/BJandTheBearFanClub) launched in 2002 by former driver Dave Miller, 42, of Petersburg, Ind., and which Miller believes has at least partly fueled rising nationwide interest in the show. Duncan had come across a May 2006 Truckers News story that mentioned Australian Kraig Cummins as the owner of the only original B.J. Kenworth known to still exist.

Duncan took exception, posting pictures of the 1980 model along with paint codes and the serial number to the fan club site. “Not many of us believed him at first,” says Miller. But Sagehorn was able to authenticate the truck via the serial number with a Kenworth dealer in Madison, Wis., obtaining the final “Bill of Material” from Kenworth’s Ohio plant, which among the 60-plus pages of specs lists the order info. In the space typically reserved for the Kenworth dealer location, kenworth marketing is listed, and in the spot for the buyer – kw advertising. date delivered: 071080.

Examining the document with Truckers News drove Sagehorn toward another significant discovery. The bill of material is for not just one truck, but two identical trucks. “That means there could be yet another out there,” he says, hopefully. Readers with leads can contact Sagehorn at sagehornp@hotmail.com.

Sagehorn knew Duncan’s K100 was used in the third season due to the slight difference in the paint scheme on the sleeper – the angle at which the top red stripe shoots vertically up from just in front of the grab handle during that season was less acute than in previous seasons.

After spending the hot August morning in Douglasville prizing the K100 from Duncan’s viney backyard – Duncan’s son-in-law Calvin Cannon even took the top of the stacks off with a metal cutter to keep the total height under 14’6″ – and getting it on a step deck for the ride home, Sagehorn was still overheight for the downtown Nashville I-440 loop his trip permit specified. “I was legal for 14’6″,” he says, “and they sent me on a road where the clearance signs were telling me 14′.” He and his son, riding along, slowed to a crawl at several underpasses, taking a roof vent off the old tractor at one but luckily clearing all the rest.

You’d think a truck used in the Movin’ On series pulling one of the original B.J. trucks on a step deck would garner a lot of attention from truckers and motorists. “I used to hear all kinds of monkey jokes on the CB,” Duncan says of his time in the K100. Either the dustbin of history has claimed the truck’s memory or hauling the Aerodyne on a trailer doesn’t make it recognizable enough, as there was very little CB chatter, Sagehorn says, along the route. “Lots of thumbs-up, though.” Talk increased when they got to Sagehorn’s home state, Wisconsin, where he and his father have now begun the long restoration process. A new Cummins is on the way, and they’ll be working on the cab’s paint themselves after they get all the old parts off.

They paid just under $10,000 for the truck and are committed to “whatever it takes,” Sagehorn says, for the restoration.

“It’ll take a long time to recoup the total cost,” he adds, but as with the Movin’ On Kenworth, “the reward is when somebody sees it and recognizes it. It brings back their childhood. You can see it on their faces. There’s no dollar amount you can put on that.”

Actor Greg Evigan, who played B.J. Mackay on the show, drove Sagehorn’s replica in the parade at the yearly trucking show in Waupun, Wis., this past August. Sagehorn’s planning big for the Mid-America Trucking Show in March, angling for an interior display of the newly restored 1980 and his Movin’ On W9. Ideally, Evigan would be there signing autographs. “That’d be a massive thing,” Sagehorn says of the 1980. “If you had this thing in there, people would be having a hemorrhage.”

As for Duncan, he’s not 100 percent happy to be rid of the truck, by any means, but says he’s glad it’s “going to a good place. They’ll turn it into something special.”

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