Rite of passage

By Danny Schnautz, OOIDA Senior member
Pasadena, TX

My grandpa owned a sawmill. It was a family joke that when he needed a truck, he told his driver to “go pick out a truck that you can be happy with.” In 1988, my brother (and OOIDA life member) David told me to “go by Kenworth and pick out a truck that you can be happy with.”

My brother was on the job (and still is) in the office at Clark Freight Lines in Pasadena, TX, when he bought this Kenworth truck. He then leased the KW to Clark with me as the driver. I later went to work in the office for Clark, too, but in 1988 I was still a driver.

After David told me to go buy a truck, I went by the KW dealer, but because I was only 20 years old the salesman would barely give me the time of day. Finally I convinced him that I meant business. He later apologized and we’ve since bought about 35 or more Kenworths from him.

This truck was the right color, the right engine, the right transmission, the right tire brand and size, the right sleeper, interior … the stacks were even pointed the right direction (not back, not out, but 45 degrees back/out.)

It was a frost blue 1988 KW W900B. The 3406B Cat put out 425 horsepower at 2,250 rpm and had 1,250 ft.-lb. of torque. It had an Eaton-Fuller RTO 15715 transmission with Eaton DS 440P 3.90 rears, on Kenworth’s Airglide 100 with Michelin tires. 

We would not have ordered much differently. It had about 20 miles on it. So I called David with this data. The list was just over $100,000. We test-drove it, and a couple of weeks later my brother bought it.

By then I was 21 years old. I drove this truck across 42 states. I was the only driver ever on the KW while David owned it. I thought I was “sumthin’.”

There were no long hoods then, this was the biggest engine you could get, and there were no 18-speeds. If you wanted more gears, you went to two sticks.

It was the closest I got to a show truck. I thought I was pretty classy. I trip-leased a lot. One time in California, the broker walked out to look at the truck to make sure that she wasn’t loading a junk truck – not an unusual practice.

“You have a good start on a nice truck,” she said when she saw my truck.

I was insulted.

She didn’t mean it that way, though. She meant that with some custom paint and more goodies like chicken lights and so on it’d be top shelf. But I was practical and money was tight, so this was as far as we took it.

I pulled vans, containers, and flatbeds with it. One time, I was pulling a container to Nashville. It was common for people to insult “container haulers.”

There were some tank trucks based in Diboll, TX. One dark night on State Highway 315 north of Nacogdoches headed to Carthage I was going along pretty good and they were gaining on me. One of them said something about a container truck up ahead.

Because it’s a two-lane road, out of courtesy (ahem) I sped up so I’d not hinder their forward progress. With all of the talk it was said “no container truck is going to outrun me” – and soon we were wide open.

We all stayed together for 20 minutes, but I did outrun them that night. Once we hit Carthage and I turned they saw the side of my truck in the light and the conversation went to “No wonder!” Then … “What are you doing pulling a container?” Pretty cool stuff for a 21-year-old.

Then I came off the road to work in the office. But that ’88 KW is a truck I will never forget.

When my brother sold it, it was near-perfect. We knew who bought the truck. They hauled asphalt with it, putting whatever driver in it.

One day, I saw the truck abandoned and rotting on a lot off of Wallisville Road in Houston. I stopped and looked at it (and inside it) and it sure made me sad.

When a truck takes you through elements and problems – and fulfills a few dreams –  this isn’t the ending you want for it to have. LL

Editor’s note: Danny Schnautz is a senior member of OOIDA. His brother David is a senior member, too, having joined in 1988. David lives in LaPorte, TX. Their father, Ray Dean Schnautz is a life member, as is Ray’s wife, Kathryn. Ray’s brother Paul Schnautz, Pasadena, TX, is also a life member.