Group offers truck enthusiasts opportunity to share love of classic rigs
The American Truck Historical Society (ATHS) boasts that it is the "official archivist of the trucking industry." The group provides both experts and amateurs who share a love of antique trucks an opportunity to learn more about past kings of the road.

by keith Goble, staff writer

1942 Freightliner cabover and conventional style trucks

"Our mission statement is dedicated to the collection and preservation and dynamic history of the industry and its pioneers,” says Bill Johnson, the group’s general manager. “We’re here to help educate and communicate.”

ATHS is active in several communities throughout North America and Australia. With 83 chapters worldwide and members in 50 countries, members in local chapters can get together and share their enthusiasm for trucks with others.

Local chapters are also active with various charities and schools in their communities. “Charity involvement is very important to our members,” says Johnson. At a recent event in Chicago, the local chapter visited a school for disabled children and gave all the children rides. “It was an educational experience for our members and the kids,” he says. “Everybody had a good time.”

When truckline owners founded the historical society in 1971, the group’s headquarters was housed in members’ offices or basements. “For the first few years everything would be transferred from place to place,” says Johnson. “There wasn’t anything fancy about it.”

Early Kenworths such as this 1923 model, were powerful and durable, handling difficult Northwest terrains.

Since then, membership has exploded to 22,000. “It’s a far cry from the 1,000 members we had in 1980 or the 9,000 members in 1990,” he says. “Our only requirement for membership is a love of old trucks.”

The group’s bustling membership and expanded collection of trucking information recently demanded they move from their Birmingham, AL, site. After searching for a larger headquarters, they loaded up a moving truck and headed for Kansas City, MO.

Their new research library is open to the public and includes information about various trucks and archived photos. In the future, the group would like to see the facility come alive with remnants of trucking’s past. “We would love to have some trucks here for people to come in and see,” says Johnson. “That could become reality.”

In 1933, Kenworth was the first OEM to offer diesel engines in production models. The first "diesel" was built for Valley Motor Express of California.

The group’s bi-monthly publication, Wheels of Time, updates members on activities and events as well as decades of information on big rigs, including classic trucking tales and photos from days gone by. Readers also can browse the classifieds to find or sell a classic rig or parts.

Each year since their founding, ATHS holds an annual meeting and banquet to discuss events related to the industry and since 1979 also has included a truckshow. “At our 1979 meeting, a member brought along his antique truck and the annual truckshow was born,” says Johnson. “Since then, it has become the centerpiece of our gathering with more than 500 trucks. It’s truly an event.”

This year’s meeting and banquet will take place in Kansas City, MO, from May 30 to June 1. Among the featured speakers will be OOIDA President Jim Johnston. He will speak about changes in the industry from the driver’s perspective.

The truckshow is open to the public May 31 and June 1. Admission is free. For more information about ATHS and the truckshow, call (816) 891-9900.