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Idea Man, R.I.P.

Truckers News Senior Editor Todd Dills is the author of a novel, Sons of the Rapture, and blogs daily at www.overdriveonline.com/channel19. Write him at [email protected] or http://twitter.com/channel19todd.

Tuesday, Feb. 16, YRC road driver Steve Forsman got a call from fellow hauler Karl Krueger, who’d been waylaid in a motel in Sioux City, Iowa, for a day and a half after snowstorms shut down I-29.

“He was having a breakfast at the truckstop,” Forsman says, “and he was bragging a little about how good it was.” Operating out of the same Sioux Falls, S.D., terminal, Forsman and Krueger were frequent breakfast companions.

Krueger said the roads were wet but otherwise passable and set off south. It was the last time Forsman talked to his friend. Later that morning near Missouri Valley, Iowa, Krueger’s tractor, pulling doubles, crashed into the rear of a line of four semis stopped in traffic on I-29 for unclear reasons, according to the Iowa State Patrol’s crash report — a more in-depth report was forthcoming at press time. Krueger, 62, was commemorated at a service attended by more than 400 people in his native Sparta, Wis., the following Monday.

“He was a very good driver,” Forsman says of his friend. “I drove behind him many a night going to Chicago and Kansas City. It’s hard to believe that all this happened.”

Krueger was a long-shot candidate in the 2008 presidential race with a platform of eliminating America’s use of foreign oil and pushing alternative fuels to the forefront of American transport. He encouraged single donors, limiting contributions to $50 maximum.

If that sounds familiar in retrospect, Karl’s brother Steve, a hotshot owner-operator just 14 months Karl’s junior, says Karl was “way ahead of many,” particularly in the political realm. When he first began running for local political office in the late 1970s, after 13 years of service in the army, he was already trumpeting the need for an ethanol plant near Sparta, Wis., Steve says, near which the Kruegers were reared. “Here just a year ago or so, they had a big battle over just such a plant and voted it down.”

A classic idea man, Krueger was just one of a slew of drivers in his family. Karl relished his nights on the road, the opportunity to put his mind to work solving the problems of the day, and in 1988 made a successful bid to be the Democratic Party’s candidate in a Wisconsin Third District U.S. Congressional race against then-incumbent Steve Gunderson.

Karl Krueger, Mar. 12, 1947-Feb. 16, 2010

Steve remembers party leaders’ surprise at Krueger’s win, surprise that would accompany Karl into his presidential race. He caught a lot of people off-guard, from the truckers he talked to at the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2007, where he launched the run, to producers for radio shows around the country, who would call expecting to mine a little comedy with a truck driver, he told us in 2008. He recalled a North Dakota state senator who invited him to go on a radio talk show with him. The politician thought he, too, would have a little fun with a trucker, Krueger said. “After the show, he told me I sounded like I’d be a good candidate.”

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He put his time and money into many of his ideas, most recently designing and building a prototype assist dolly for the purpose of moving the connecting dolly between double trailer units. But aside from his trucking career — including 11 years with YRC, from which he was planning to retire in March — his crowning achievement is an idea he’s publicly credited for, the founding of the Deke Slayton AirFest in La Crosse, Wis., held in honor of one of the original astronauts.

Slayton was from Leon, Wis., Krueger’s hometown, and Karl had managed to get the Blue Angels for the first event. He wanted a missing man formation. As his brother tells it, “Karl was talking to a general of the air force at the time, and a full-blown colonel came over from Camp Douglas, and he said, ‘As much as we’d like to we can’t do it. I don’t have the authority.’ Karl said, ‘Just hang on,’ and he got on the phone and called John Glenn,” then a Senator in Ohio and another of the original astronauts. “Somebody eventually called this Colonel and told him to do it. Karl got stuff done.”

Snowed in well before the February accident, Karl left his brother a message. “He said, ‘I don’t know where you are, but it’s bad out here.’ He would always do that — he’d worry about me. Sounds like this time he should have been worried about it himself.”

The last time Steve saw his brother alive was on the road near Kansas City. They were talking. “You’ll see me coming up over the top of the hill,” Karl said at one point. And he did, they waved, then went on down the road.