I met Dwayne J. Nienberg last year at the Mid America Trucking Show. A bearded man with a robust frame, he was navigating his way gingerly with a cane. Friends and well-wishers were approaching him as we spoke. It just took a minute or two to realize I was in the presence of some kind of celebrity. "It's so good to see you getting around so well,", someone would say.
"Hey buddy! Good to see ya out here again!" another would chime.
Just who was this cat? Turns out Nienburg is the administrator of the "Dirty Old Trucker" social media page on Facebook, which chronicles his own extensive collection of truck photographs, as well as those from his 350,000 followers.
There are folks you meet out here who quietly reestablish your faith in people. Nienberg is one of them.
"My dad drove for forty two years before he passed away," Nienberg said. "Grandpa drove a dump truck. My great-grandfather was a union driver. I don't know much about him, but ... I've got some pictures. He had the old driver's cap and the white shirt tucked in.
"I rode with dad in his cabovers. He had two Mack Cruise-Liners, and I used to sit on the doghouse and I'd play with my own [toy] trucks while he drove. When I was big enough to start unloading, I unloaded at grocery warehouses for him [while] he slept. He paid me well at it. I got the lumper fees. That's how I got my money to fix up my cars and chase girls as a teenager. When I could drive, I was driving [while] he slept. That's how I got my education. Saw every state in the country before I was 18."
"I loved trucking from the beginning. I couldn't get enough of it, whether it's on social media today, running my own truck picture page, or coming to shows. I just cannot get enough of trucking. We started the page around 2013, my friend Justin Boatwright, [and I]. We both share the same love of old trucks. We just wanted to start posting the pictures. I've had pictures saved on my computer from the Large Car Forum days, and Hank's Truck Pictures and the pictures we've taken over the years. So we just wanted to share them with everybody. When I rode with [my dad], it was all disposable cameras back then. You'd get pictures developed and save them. [I'm] putting them on computers now and sharing them with everyone."
Nienberg wasn't on the road trucking at the time we spoke, though that wasn't his choice.
"It was October 26 of 2019. My wife and I were in a really bad wreck [while] responding to a call as volunteer EMTs. I spent four months in the hospital, and I'm a C-5, 6, 7 incomplete quadriplegic now." The C-5 through 7 terminology refers to individual vertebrae we all have in our spine. Nienberg went on. "An incomplete quadriplegic means my spinal chord didn't break completely in half," he said, adding that he was "real close" to being a complete quadriplegic.
"My wife, she was stuck in the truck an hour, upside down with her arms pinned against a roof. She had compartment syndrome [a painful condition caused by internal bleeding] and a brachial plexus injury. She's doing a lot better. She's been my caregiver the entire time. Stood by me the whole way. So I'm standing here today because of her.
"I really hope that I'll be able to go back to work in some fashion. My wife and I may have to team together. She could do all the leg work and I could do the driving.
"My wife and I have seven kids. They range from eight to 18. There's one boy, he doesn't have much interest in trucking. But our youngest daughter loves trucking. We need to take her to a few shows."
Here is a trucker with a wife and seven kids who was spending his downtime as a volunteer EMT driver, and gets in a horrific crash, winds up an incomplete quadriplegic, and just wants to get back to trucking. Remember what I said about faith above.
I hope he's back at the show this year.
[Related: Tales from a trainer's truck: Good, bad, ugly with Bill Douglas]
Find all the installments in Long Haul Paul Marhoefer's "Faces of the Road" series of profiles/oral histories via this link.