In August 2007, when we were on the scene in the backyard of Douglasville, Ga., owner-operator James Duncan, former owner of the original B.J. and the Bear Kenworth Paul Sagehorn, along with his father, has restored, Duncan promised Sagehorn he’d crate and deliver the balance of parts that had come loose from the vehicle over the years. After several scheduling mishaps, Sagehorn caught a load in late March this year that took him near Duncan’s place, so he dropped by and picked them up himself. When we were in the Sagehorns’ Sparta, Wis., home base March 31 he’d just returned from that haul – that’s Duncan’s crate you see sitting on a step deck attached to the Sagehorns’ 1984 B.J. K100 replica. The almost-stripped frame (left) is the original 1980 in progress.
When we reported on Wisconsin owner-operator and vehicle restorer Paul Sagehorn’s purchase of an original B.J. and the Bear Kenworth K100 tractor in our December 2007 issue, former owner James Duncan, whose Georgia backyard had housed the tractor since he quit running it in 1988, ended the piece on a note of hope. “They’ll turn it into something special,” he said.
Paul Sagehorn, with his father, Craig, has done just that. The newly restored truck made its show debut in July at the Iola Old Car Show in Iola, Wis., and can be seen this month at the Waupun Truck’n’Show in Waupun, Wis., Aug. 8-9.
Hard-core restorers like the Sagehorns view their jobs in a singular way: “It’s like bringing buried treasure up from the deep,” says Craig, owner with Paul of the Ace Hardware in Sparta, Wis. Both men have under their collective restoration belt several cars, including four 1980s Pontiac Fieros, a 1958 Plymouth Belvedere made to resemble the car used in the John Carpenter film Christine, a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria and a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere Convertible and Fury, among others. But it’s their latest project that’s been most worthy of the sentiment.
After they began taking the Kenworth apart, it wasn’t long before the Sagehorns could appreciate the treasure trove of history they’d uncovered in the process. Duncan had already pointed out to them the “Hi B.J. & the Bear” tag on the inside of the driver-door panel, accompanied by several signatures of folks who presumably worked on the build. Then, down on his knees below the frame, Paul was loosening something directly under the fifth-wheel assembly and happened to look up. “All of a sudden, I could see these bumps,” he says, on the bottom of the fifth-wheel mounting plate.
After removing the fifth-wheel assembly, he got his sons Hank and Wyatt involved in sanding down some of the corrosion that had built on the bottom of the plate, and pretty soon they all realized they were looking at the signature of a welder, who’d written almost the same message inscribed in the door, signed with his claim of ownership of this part of the build, “By W.S.”
“Bill was a welder back then on the line,” says Tom Hice, test mechanic at Kenworth’s Chillicothe, Ohio, plant, where the K100 was built. He’s referring to William Sorrell, who left his mark on the Sagehorns’ K100. “Anytime we do one of those trucks, it’s kind of a special thing,” Hice says. “We’ve done quite a few for different programs. We built four for a James Bond movie.”
In 1980, Hice was a spry, 23-year-old painter. He painted the interior of the Sagehorns’ K100. “We actually built two of those trucks,” he says, confirming what Paul knew from the original bill of material he’d obtained from the truck’s serial number – that there were indeed two tractors built to identical specs, different only for the hidden messages left by the builders. “And on one of them,” Hice says, “if you hold a mirror up inside the storage compartment in the back of the sleeper, you’ll find my name on the center post.”
The truck Hice tagged is not the Sagehorns’, Paul says. “I didn’t see any signature behind that panel. I used a mirror to look behind it, but it must be in the other one.” If you know where it is, Paul’s interested. Readers with leads can contact him at [email protected].
The Sagehorns’ Other Trucks
Father and son Craig and Paul Sagehorn came to trucks and trucking via Paul’s boyhood fascination with both the B.J. and the Bear and Movin’ On television series. In 1999, after several car restorations, Paul bought a 1984 Kenworth K100 Aerodyne he and Craig turned into a replica of the B.J. tractor. He wanted to drive the truck, so “I had to have the plate,” he told us last year. “And to have the plate I had to have insurance, so everything tied together, and it was just a matter of expense.”Over the subsequent years, the Sagehorns would acquire the only truck known to still exist that was used in Movin’ On, a 1970s adventure series with hour-long episodes about team independent owner-operators Will Chandler and Sonny Pruitt (played by Frank Converse and Claude Akins, respectively), and perform its total restoration. Paul hauls part-time in the 1974 Kenworth W925A today. With the family business at the Ace Hardware they own in Sparta, Wis., “we can afford to be choosy about freight,” Paul says.
Driving both of these trucks garners all manner of chatter on the CB. More common, Paul says, is the driver thumbs-up in passing. Craig, however, while delivering a load of M&Ms to Texas, found himself conversing with a driver who claimed to know where the original door for the 1984 Kenworth could be found – in building their near-replica, the Sagehorns had substituted Paul’s name for the famous “Billie Joe McKay, Owner-Operator” tag that would have been painted on the door of any truck actually used in the series. The driver said an original B.J. truck was sitting in “a junkyard” off I-20 just east of Atlanta. As the Sagehorns subsequently learned, the man was pointing them in the direction of semi-retired owner-operator James Duncan’s house in Douglasville, Ga., where they eventually found the 1980 Kenworth they’ve newly restored.