Big Rigs, Bagpipes and Dudes With a Mission

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Under normal circumstances, 600 parked big rigs would mean only one thing: morning rush hour on Interstate 5.

On Sunday, however, it meant dead celebrities emblazoned on hoods, dump trucks as tall as Ferris wheels and men with rattlesnake spines looped around their heads. The occasion was the 13th annual World's Greatest Working Truck Show, held in the parking lot of The Big A.

To the twang of country music and--inexplicably--the wail of bagpipes, more than 10,000 spectators descended on the arena to ogle unusual vehicles, shake hands with such TV stars as Earl Holliman, Cesar Romero and Nedra Volz, and help a charity, the Crippled Children's Society of Southern California.

It was a strange day.

The concession stands sold kosher hot dogs--in case, perhaps, there was a large contingent of Jewish truck drivers. A Lucky supermarket rig carried an old Chevy as its cargo: Automobiles, ma'am? They're on Aisle 15, right next to toothbrushes and deodorant .

And the main event was a truck triathlon that pitted KLOS disc jockeys Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps against the daughters of actress Lee Meriwether.

There also were big-rig beauty pageants, tire-changing competitions and slalom truck races (minus, of course, those ubiquitous "How Am I Driving?" signs).

The event got rolling at 8 a.m.

In the center arena, big rigs raced backward against the clock while some men who looked like members of ZZ Top and women who wore tattoos and Day-Glo nails strolled by row upon row of gleaming trucks.

There were vehicles of every creed and color: Souped-up street sweepers with flames painted on their sides. Tractor-trailer rigs advertising Gilroy garlic, Mocha Mix or Manwich Sloppy Joe sauce. Antique fire engines. Cement mixers. Beer trucks carrying buxom Budweiser girls. In-N-Out hamburger transports. And a Canadian rig with a purple and blue engine and James Dean painted on the hood.

Drivers with names like Mad Max Donovan paced in front of their vehicles and explained the various markings and murals. Bob Montgomery's truck featured Jesus and "The Seven Who Went to Heaven"--the crew of the space shuttle Challenger--while Chip Scott's turquoise "Toxic Taxi" showed a skeleton in cowboy boots next to a drum of hazardous waste.

"The painter wouldn't stop," said Scott, dressed in snakeskin boots, jeans and a black cowboy hat with a snake spine around the brim. Even the undercarriage displayed a skull and crossbones. And the rear window depicted an armadillo sipping a giant Lonestar beer--visible only from inside the cab.

Also on hand was a crew of second-string celebrities: Dom DeLuise's son and a woman who starred in a modern version of "The Munsters."

Nevertheless, the VIP autograph booth drew long lines all day.

Between that and various other booths, visitors had plenty to keep them occupied. They ate free canned-chili samples, thumbed copies of California Dumptruck News and bought hat pins featuring those naked-silhouette women of mud-flap fame.

By 3:30, however, the crowd was growing a little restless. Disc jockeys Mark and Brian were half an hour late and the country music (played by Johnny Lee's backup band) was wearing thin.

Before a revolt broke out, however, they finally arrived and the truck triathlon commenced. Squaring off against Mark and Brian were Kyle and Lesley Aletter, adult daughters of honorary truck show chairwoman Meriwether.

The goal: Steer a Ryder rental truck through an obstacle course, hop in a garbage truck and pick up a Dumpster, climb aboard a fire engine and race to a blazing trash can, extinguish the inferno, then run to the finish line.

"We are dudes," Thompson announced before the contest, disparaging his female opponents. "And dudes and trucks go together."

Confident of victory, the duo agreed to carry two Budweiser girls piggyback during the final dash across the finish line.

At the last minute, however, the Bud babes switched places with a pair of burly truck drivers wearing sashes. By then it didn't matter. Mark and Brian had fumbled the garbage-truck segment, hosed the crowd instead of the fire and finished far behind the women.

The radio duo's loss was the Crippled Children's Society's gain. The crowd they helped draw earned the charity an estimated $70,000, which will be used to send about 150 disabled youngsters to summer camp, officials said.

"It's all for the kids," said event committee member Randy Amerine. "That's why we keep coming back."

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