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Lady knows her way around truck museum

Joyce Saari is co-founder of Pacific Northwest Truck Museum


by: BARBARA SHERMAN - ONE-STOP SHOPPING IN ITS DAY - This 1917 Maxwell Peddler's Truck carried produce around so people could choose fruits and vegetables from the convenience of their neighborhoods.Joyce Hewitt Saari sure knows her way around a truck.

The petite King City resident, who is a co-founder of the Pacific Northwest Truck Museum, is as much at ease talking trucks as she is working in her garden.

So Saari was in her element during the Great Oregon Steam-Up, held July 27-28 and Aug.3-4 at the Western Antique Powerland grounds in Brooks, just north of Salem right off I-5.

The event drew thousands of people to enjoy not only the truck museum but also vintage cars and motorcycles plus all kinds of tractors, trains, engines and trolleys in addition to military and other kinds of equipment and a giant swap meet.

But Saari was most at home at the truck museum, which is dedicated to preserving the history and significant contributions of the Pacific Northwest motor trucking industry, with a collection that features trucks going back to 1912 displayed in nearly 30,000 square feet.

Saari’s late husband Del Hewitt, who worked in the trucking industry, also was interested in antique trucks, and when someone asked him to store a restored antique truck, he got the idea of opening a truck museum.

The museum, which now has 425 members, opened on 4.85 acres on the Powerland grounds in 1989 with a 1917 Gersix, built by Gerlinger Motors of Salem, as the first featured truck.

“First of all, we’re proud of the museum, and we are constantly enhancing it,” said Milt Lee, museum membership chairman who has been a member since 1991. “We are working right now on a truck-driving simulator for kids, modifying a real cab and adding a computer monitor. Our thought was that this will interest kids, and they are our future members.”

And least anyone think that only men are interested in trucks, a number of female museum members (not all married to male members) sport bright red aprons with “Sparkplug Girls” emblazoned on them as they answer visitors’ questions, serve food and run a flea market to raise funds for the museum.

In addition to Saari and Lee, no one could be prouder of the 79-truck museum than Terry Dovre, who has been museum president for more than a dozen years and is a past president of the 22,000-member American Truck Historical Society.

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - TALKING TRUCKS - Joyce Saari (left) co-founder of the  Pacific Northwest Truck Museum, and Terry Dovre (second from left), museum president, chat with a couple touring touring the facility during the Great Oregon Steam-Up.Dovre is more than happy to give personal tours, pointing out that the original building is pre-World War II, and the second, much-larger building is post-WWII.

“We have quite a selection of Kenworths,” he said of the collection in the second building. “We have the 12th truck built in Seattle in 1942, and three generations of truckers drove it for 50 years. I have loved Kenworths ever since I was a little kid. My first ride in a truck was in a Kenworth, and my favorite one was built in 1948-49.”

The museum also boasts a 1985 Kenworth prototype T600A.

One of Dovre’s favorite trucks is a Hawk tanker with 8 million miles on it. “The tank capacity was increased in the newer ones,” he said.

Other unusual trucks include the first Conway built and a blue 2009 Sterling prototype that only has 8,100 miles on it.

Some of the trucks even have a claim to fame: Four were rented for a Hallmark move, “Valley of Light.”

Like other club members, Dovre donated more than one truck to the museum, including a restored 1953 Portland Fire District fire truck.

“I’ve restored two trucks,” he said. “It takes time – years – and money.”

Another unique truck is a one-of-a-kind 1950 Freightliner, “which is probably our only all-original restoration,” Dovre said.

Other unique trucks include a 1934 Fageol with a unique radiator cover; a 1950 two-thirds-scale Freightliner replica, one of only two made; and a 1927 rare un-restored Knight truck.

The original building displays the oldest trucks in the collection, including that first featured truck – the 1917 Gersix with a top speed of 15 miles per hour. “We held up traffic when we drove it in a parade.” Saari said.

There also are a 1922 Federal truck; a 1912 Republic, the oldest truck in the collection; a 1942 Diamond Model T 201 panel truck, one of six made; a 1920 Oldsmobile truck; and a 1917 Reo.

“The Reo was the baby that started everything,” Saari said. “It was a pacesetter for its day. It has electric headlights, sheet-metal fenders and an F-head inline-six engine. I love this truck.”

Another special one is a 1917 Maxwell Peddler’s Truck, with the wood-sided rear filled with artificial fruit and vegetables depicting its original use.

“This is one of my favorite displays,” Dovre said, and Saari added, “I’ve dusted the fruit many times.”

An orange-colored White Motor Co. truck is other one that Dovre personally restored with friend Ken Self, former Freightliner president and chairman, trucking industry innovator and a museum co-founder. “When I bought it, it had no wheels, hood or tires,” said Dovre, explaining how they created a new hood and other parts themselves. “We made everything – even the rivets.”

Dovre added, “In 1989 when we dedicated the museum, we used this truck to break the ribbon.”

The first building also includes some original equipment – the first Jake Brake and Clessie Cummins’ personal lathe. Cummins, who was the founder of the Cummins Engine Co., created diesel engine designs, improved old ones and was awarded 33 U.S. patents for his inventions; he also set five world records for speed and endurance for race cars, buses and trucks.

One of Cummins’ biggest contributions was identifying the problem of vehicle brakes overheating during steep downhill descents, and he designed and patented the first compression-release engine brake.

Among the other old trucks are a 1916 Moreland and a 1921 White Motor Co. truck, that is parked next to a 1924 Ford truck that a Fred Meyer shipping clerk purchased for $50 in 1935 to start his own delivery service.

Perhaps the most elaborate vehicle is a 1925 Chevrolet hearse, with the rear compartment originally designed to be pulled by horses.

Near the entrance of the museum are displays featuring each of the co-founders, who were inventors in their own right. Del Hewitt, who invented the Aristo Aire air-powered window and air-powered door lock, had 43 patents.

“Trucks are too wide for drivers to reach across to the passenger door, and drivers had accidents trying to open the passenger window,” Joyce explained.

The Murty Brothers were among the trucking industry’s most prolific inventors, acquiring patents for such developments as the front-end tandem axle, steering assembly and a spring brake still used today. One of Murty sisters is still alive today and donated some of the original patent documents to the museum.

Dovre knows the Pacific Northwest Truck Museum is pretty special, noting, “I have been through a lot of truck museums throughout the country, and ours is unique. We have some one-of-a-kind trucks and others that have unique features about them.

“So much came out of the Northwest truck industry as far as inventions and innovations, including a lot of things that are standard in the industry today. A lot of equipment on U.S. trucks was developed in Oregon, particularly Portland. When you compare our museum to others around the country, they just don’t reflect the pioneering developments that we have here.”

The museum includes a photo of the original six co-founders, including Del Hewitt, Joyce Saari, Ken Self and Terry Dovre, sitting around a table making plans for this unique venture. “Antique Powerland was still young – it had started in 1970,” Dovre said. “So (my wife) Judy, Ken and I made a presentation to its board in 1988 to start up a truck museum.”

Not only did they get a lease for the nearly 5 acres for $1 per year for 99 years, they got an option for a second 99 years and the right of first refusal if the property ever goes up for sale.

The museum is starting a building fund for a new office and storage.

The Pacific Northwest Truck Museum is located at 3995 Brooklake Road N.E., Brooks (I-5 exit 263).

It is open to the public on weekends April 1 to Oct. 1 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and open other times for group events, including tours, trade association meetings, corporate functions and weddings, by appointment.

For more information, visit HYPERLINK "http://www.pacificnwtruckmuseum.org" www.pacificnwtruckmuseum.org, email HYPERLINK "mailto:office@pacificnwtruckmuseum.org" This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., write PO Box 9087, Brooks, Or 97035-0087, or call 503-463-8701.