The Town That Loves Truckers
For 20 years the people of Waupun, Wisconsin have turned out to salute drivers
By Paul Abelson
As you must know by now, Nov. 1-7 has been designated National Truck Driver Appreciation Week. It’s when America takes time to honor the efforts of more than 3.5 million professional truck drivers who deliver almost 70 percent of the nation’s freight.
While most of the country sets aside one week, one community in South Central Wisconsin works on recognizing drivers almost all year long. The people of Waupun have been honoring truckers and the trucking industry for two decades. This past August, the community again came together for the 20th Annual Waupun Truck ‘N’ Show (TNS).
Originally called the Waupun Truckers Jamboree, the event relies on more than a hundred volunteers who operate food stands, park cars and shuttle spectators to the Community Center, empty trash containers, register trucks, assist with truck parking, and do those thousands of unnoticed little things that keep these events running smoothly. After taking a well-deserved two weeks off, the TNS committee starts planning for the following year’s show.
Spectators and stars
The schedule starts with the Lights of the Night truck parade through downtown Waupun, some residential areas and the countryside. This year, for the first time, rain forced cancellation of the parade. The field at the Community Center was too soggy, but many came from the parade route to see Lights of the Night in a static display.
In bright sunshine the following morning, entrants wiped the last water spots off their trucks prior to the awards competition. While several dozen judges evaluated more than 320 trucks, the crowds mingled with celebrity guests from the Chrome Shop Mafia and former Green Bay Packers Super Bowl winners Gilbert Brown and Santana Dotson.
Alex Debogorski, star of History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers, was also on hand to sign autographs. If you watch the show, you know his sense of humor. “I always thought I was famous,” he says. “Now, everyone else found out.” Joking aside, he takes the responsibility of representing truckers on TV seriously. “I try to show the importance of trucking and drivers in our society,” he says.
Celebrities are a recent addition to the show, testifying to its growth in prestige among trucking events. But the thrust of the event has always been supporting charities and, as Waupun’s mayor, Jodi Steger put it, being “a family reunion of sorts” and “an opportunity for all of us who attend to say thank you, truckers, for your dedication to your profession.”
Lead positions in the parades are determined by auction. This year, the event raised more than $10,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Special Olympics. The Waupun High School hockey team sold concessions inside the Community Center building, while the figure skaters had the outside food tent. Beer sales benefitted the Fire Department.
A friendly group
Dave Marcotte drives up from Momence, Ill., almost every year. He hauls rendered fat and edible oils in his immaculate stainless steel Heil tanker, “Liquid Chicken.” The maroon 1992 Peterbilt 379 has won numerous truck shows, but Waupun remains special to him. “I started coming here in 1997 and only missed one or two since then. I love the atmosphere, the way the whole town turns out. I’ve been to St. Ignace, but this one is a little more special. Walcott is fun, but it’s mostly truckers. This is the whole community,” he says.
Nancy Kutschenreuter, of Oconomowoc, Wis., a volunteer who has been chairperson of judges for all of the 13 years she attended, says, “I’m delighted to be involved. We’re a trucking family and this is a family event. Being a trucker is a team effort. The whole family must be involved, be committed, to make it work. We recognize that in Waupun because we have so many truckers and trucking companies here. Besides, where else can you take a family and have a show and parades while your support friends and neighbors and two very worthy causes?”
Loni Wendt of Waupun helps Kutschenreuter run judging. Her husband, Steve, is one of the founders and a member of the organizing committee. “We’re all volunteers. We actually pay dues to the committee to do this. It takes a huge volunteer corps in addition to the committee to make it all work.”
A lot of credit goes to Ron Vande Zande, one of the founders, who’s stepping down after 20 years as president of Truck ‘N’ Show. “We had 129 trucks our first year,” he says. “Back then, our community was a trucking hub, so a group of us decided to put on a show here. We’ve been doing it with volunteers from day one.”
“What really sets this show apart is the community involvement and the benefit to charities,” adds Jerry Kissinger, of Stoughton, Wis. He has personally helped raise more than $50,000 for the charities through his own contributions and those of suppliers, customers and other drivers. Kissinger drives a 1991 Mack Superliner with a flag-draped trailer that is the showpiece in his company, Independent Operator. He recently joined the committee, a fact totally unrelated to his truck, Thumper, winning Best of Show this year. The truck also collected its share of trophies at the Great American Trucking Show and won its division at Shell SuperRigs.
Trophies were awarded in more than 100 different classes, from limited mileage bobtail to working combination to dump truck and milk tank. Even truck models made by students got awards.
Which just goes to show that coming to Waupun for Truck ‘N’ Show is a win-win situation all around.