The golden years of trucking

By Willa Wick in Places, Events, & History

White 1995 Marmon driven in from Schomberg by owner Clayton Procter. Photo by Jamie Seabrook

Come July 1st weekend big rigs will be rolling the roads into Clifford’s Rotary Park for the largest truck show of its kind in Canada.  For “little Clifford” that’s a pretty big statement; but the show, now in its ninth year, is just plain awesome.

Hosted by the Great Lakes Truck Club, the big vintage rigs (which must be over 25 years old) come from all over Ontario and places beyond.  In fact, for the 2013 show a truck was shipped from Holland.  It was a Cabover Scania with trailer, strictly a European truck, and something we just don’t see over here.  This Dutch man and his family lived out of the trailer while they toured North America in his attraction.

Fordwich area man Verdun Zurbrigg, a trucker and former truck owner, had the idea that there should be a local vintage truck show.  The annual Clifford Tractor and Antique Car events were losing momentum and he thought this would be a perfect replacement.   Along with his wife Joanne, and friend Rob Johnston, they sought advice from experienced show people for safety hints and direction.
Their timing was perfect, and they were able to take over an existing club in Orangeville that was about to disband, the Ontario chapter of the US-based Wheels of Time. There was one condition, that everything would be based out of Clifford.

They tossed around names and finally settled on Great Lakes Truck Club, only to find that Michigan already had an organization by that name.  At first they thought to merge with the American club, but the final decision was to stay on the Canadian side and operate under their own rules and regulations.  To date, that choice has worked out well and membership has steadily increased.

Applications have been received from across Canada as well as the U.S.   For identity the new club has a Canadian flag on the bottom of the logo.  The group is dedicated to the preservation of classic and antique commercial trucks.  Their newsletters have featured fleets which have disappeared from the roads, such as the orange Schneider rigs.

The first Clifford Truck Show, held as part of the 35th Annual Rotary Fest, was arranged by Zurbrigg, Joanne, Johnston, and Jim Harkness, an antique machinery collector who was key in moving the club from Orangeville to Clifford.  It was small and local with only about 30 older vehicles.

Since the second year the show has been organized and sponsored by the Great Lakes Truck Club.  The show continues to increase each year. There were about 270 trucks on display last time.

Gleaming chrome on a 1987 Mack Superliner owned by Jack Culbert of Dungannon. Photo by Jamie Seabrook

After the 2010 show, it became a joint truck and car event. Eventually it became solely a truck show but with the continued support of the Rotarians, the Town of Minto, and local residents.  They were all key players in the success of this annual event at Rotary Park.

A three-day function must have accommodation, and fortunately the Rotary Park has adjacent land for camping.  There’s room for 100 non-serviced campsites to be marked out.  These fill up quickly with many regulars coming back year after year.

Each show features a different brand of truck. One of the first was “the Mack.”  Initially Mack headquarters in Pennsylvania was tentative about spending time and manpower to send a truck for three days.  The truck would have to come all the way from Pennsylvania as there were no “show” trucks in Canada.  However, the outing was successful and they asked to return.

Two chaps from Tara were at a truck show in the U.S. and met Steve Ford of West Virginia.  Ford, editor of LargeCar Magazine, was interested in their description of the Clifford Truck Show and attended the following year.  Ford was so impressed that he did a two-page article in his next magazine issue.

The Americans are certainly bigger than us, but the Canadian shows are definitely catching on.

Many of the Great Lakes Truck Club members drive their rigs to American shows; truck shows like the one in Pennsylvania feature as many as 690 transports. Other dedicated truckers have gone as far as the west coast exhibits in California.

Advertising for the Clifford show is able to go worldwide via Facebook, websites, radio, TV, and magazines.  Editors of two of the major provincial truck magazines, Today’s Trucking and Truck News, attended the show and wrote feature articles.

Recently Zurbrigg and Johnston attended ExpoCam which alternates between Montreal and Toronto (known as Truck World when in Toronto).  ExpoCam is the meeting place for Canada’s trucking industry and features new products, new ideas and new solutions. Montreal’s Bonaventure Centre was filled with “new stuff.”  The only piece of old equipment there was a 1944 Kenworth 523 conventional.  This rig was exhibited by Zurbrigg, Johnston, and the truck’s owner B&L Farm Services of Chesley.  They attracted a lot of attention.

Rolf Lockwood (editor of Today’s Trucking magazine) always wanted to have an older classic truck in the ExpoCam show when it was at the International Centre in Toronto, so he contacted the Great Lakes Truck Club with his idea.  Now Johnston and Zurbrigg take a different rig each year.  (See this story on TheRuralRoute.ca for the link to the live feed video of the April 2017 Bonaventure Expo.)

Each season Clifford highlights a particular brand in rotation; this year it’s time for the Kenworth.  One style, the Cabover, is so unique that it retains its own special place. Some attendees come just to see the Cabover Crusin’ area – two rows dedicated to the retro Cabover, reminiscent of the days these trucks dominated the highways.

“Vendor Row” makes the allowance for new trucks, as co-ordinators want to support local businesses (Volvo is in Palmerston and Peterbuilt had a company in Wroxeter). Some of the vintage rigs are for sale and a few have been purchased during the weekend, one last year was located in Calgary.

But whether actual sales or not, there’s always new friendships and new connections.  Back in the 1980s Zurbrigg took his ’75 Kenworth to a show in Heidelberg and now Heidelberg truckers participate at Clifford.

Each old truck has a story, especially the 1950 Mack crane truck that came out of a swamp.  It was beat-up, muddy and didn’t run – but the people loved it.

The whole show is “just for the fun of it” so it doesn’t matter whether a truck runs or not as long as it’s unique.  Some trucks are actually built, or rebuilt, for the show.  Others come “as is” in their original condition.

More upcoming truck shows, though not necessarily vintage, will be the Tackaberry Tour near Athens at the end of October (the Taj Mahal of private truck museums) and 82-year-old Vernon Erb’s collection in New Hamburg first Saturday of January.

Youtube videos have opened doors for Brayden Gingrich of Gowanstown and he will be taping segments of the show again.  Chalmers Fuels has held draws for 1,000 litres of fuel and this year Nick Brower will be holding two draws of 500 litres for truck exhibitors.  Pat Turner of Bluewave Energy has supported the show since the beginning.

Another very interesting spot features the remote control trucks.  There’s an area for these off-the-road enthusiasts to entertain themselves and others while avoiding the risk of taking the wheel in real life.  Artists of this craft take their own corner and create roads, buildings, and forests for their mini trucks, which are completely to scale, and remote the payload from one area to another.

The three-day show partners with Rotary for meals.  No other food vendor is allowed.  On Sunday the Rotarians offer a free breakfast for the truck exhibitors, compliments of Cervus Equipment (Peterbilt), but the general public can purchase the breakfast for a nominal fee.  Last year they pre-ordered 160 dozen eggs and they ran out.  A general food booth near the pavilion operates all weekend. Saturday evening the Great Lakes Truck Club serves a barbecued smoked pork chop dinner.

The main objective of the Clifford Truck Show is to bring vintage enthusiasts together with trucks manufactured in the early 1900s right through to the ‘80s at a non-judged event.  It’s also deemed a non-profit affair. After expenses, $4,000 was donated last year to the Town of Minto to assist in improvements to the Rotary Park.
All old trucks have a story – come out on the Canada Day weekend and hear some of these memorable renditions from their caretakers.