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Truck seen during the May 25-28 American Truck Historical Society convention

Is This Truck Heaven? No, It’s Iowa

John Gunnell has been writing about classic cars since 1972. He is also the owner of Gunner’s Great Garage in Manawa, Wis. He owns 11 cars and seven motorcycles.

*See additional images by clicking the photo gallery below

Imagine a square mile of land packed with trucks, most of which are vintage big rigs. That was the May 25-28 American Truck Historical Society (ATHS) convention, which covered the 600-acre Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

There was no sign of waning interest or lack of enthusiasm for trucks at the event, as evidenced by the more than 1,270 show truck registrations. The lettering on the doors of the trucks told an impressive story by itself. The pickups, flatbeds, tankers, cement trucks, coal trucks, wreckers, cattle haulers and big rigs came from just about every state, plus a few made the trip from Canada.

There seems to be nothing but growth ahead for this venue. With the big trucks outnumbering the small ones, its natural to expect expansion as more owners of older light-duty trucks learn about ATHS and become members. There also seems to be entire segments of the truck hobby—military vehicles, fire engines, Jeeps, four-wheel-drives and tow trucks for instance—that to date make up only a small part of the membership rolls, but are potential users of the features and benefits that ATHS offers all truck fans.

For shops that fix trucks, the ATHS convention is a venue that’s friendly to exposing their talents and specialties. Imagine, if you can, a rare 1917 Sterling truck (probably the oldest one existing) that was restored utilizing cad-cam technology, 3D printers and high-end water jet metal shaping. Or what about a Central Park-style tour bus  built on an old Mack Bulldog hook-and-ladder fire truck chassis. It was big and stunning and had a crowd around it all weekend.

Ever think about how an antique truck restorer can find an unobtanium radiator for an unobtanium truck? Radiator Supply House (RSH) (www.radiatorsupplyhouse.com) of Sweet Home, Oregon, can build it. In fact, RSH can restore any original radiator or build a totally modern aluminum radiator that’s an exact fit in the old radiator support. If needed, the company’s Icebox Performance Division can even build a high-performance radiator to fit.

Just about everything is custom made during a truck restoration, including the lettering and graphics on the vehicles. Many collectors have taken to using the color schemes, logos, stripes and signage of long ago trucking companies that they see in old, historical photos. 

Other owners lean toward either local company graphics they remember front childhood or growing up in a certain locale. Old fire trucks require specialized gold leafing. No matter what the case, suppliers of decals and vinyl graphics are benefiting from truck restorer needs.

RSH was one of dozens of vendors promoting their products and services to the vintage truck buffs and they were all doing in dry, air-conditioned comfort inside the state fairgrounds’ huge, modern exposition hall. Even with restored classic trucks taking up half the floor space, the trade show was still massive in size and comprehensive in nature.

The ATHS Convention moves to different cities each year, but ATHS is careful to pick the best available facilities.

ATHS is a lot more than a club. It’s a history-based organization that promotes the trucking industry, truck drivers and shops that build, sell or fix trucks. The society maintains a headquarters in Kansas City, publishes magazines, sells photos of old trucks, has a major trucking industry archive and supports the restoration and collecting of historical commercial vehicles.