A Real Trucking Shame
February 2, 2008
Thus far, CTMQ has been very a rewarding experience for me. There are those rare times that I bumble off to somewhere with unfairly low expectations and come away wondering why I had my initial cynical thoughts. Never has that feeling been more evident than my experience over at the Haul of Fame Trucking Museum in Canterbury.
First things first… “Haul of Fame?” Now why in the world would I, one who has never been afraid of a bad pun, have doubted this place? Oh yeah, that’s right… because its only web presence at the time of this writing was a few articles about the state’s successful lawsuit against the property.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced today that he has filed a wide-ranging lawsuit against the owners of a controversial landfill and incinerator in Canterbury, alleging that the owners improperly operated the landfill by accepting too much garbage, allowing wastes to seep into groundwater and operating an incinerator without a permit.
My favorite part:
The operators of this landfill have a dismal record of repeated environmental illegality,” Blumenthal said. “Not only have they jeopardized valuable natural resources in our state, but they have fouled the air for their neighbors by failing to take the steps that are necessary when operating a landfill.
So you see, the prospect of visiting a museum in such a setting – a museum about trucks which neither I nor my partner for the day EdHill know a whit about – wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring. The drive to it didn’t help; Canterbury is already in more-or-less rural Eastern Connecticut (aka, the “Quiet Corner”) and the Haul of Fame/Superfund site is very deep into the bush, as they say.
Ed gets squirmy any time we venture beyond his suburban comfort zone, but before he could yell, “Deliverance!” we arrived at the chain link gate and began our adventure. We drove past a graveyard of rusted and hulking shells of old dumptrucks and cranes. There were rows upon rows of old rotted buses. A short diversion to the wrong building (go to the right once on the property) and before us spread rows of trucks, cars, cranes, and piles of rusted scrap metal as far as we could see.
I had the fleeting thought that that was the “museum.” But then we happened upon the most spartan entrance and sign I’ve seen yet and we entered. It was dark and it was cold – but it was great! Ed and I weren’t really sure what to do, so we slowly crept over to some old cars in pristine condition. [Note: I know nothing about cars or engines or trucks or any of the stuff housed at this museum. So please, bear with my ignorance for the rest of this review.] There are very few interpretive signs here at the Haul of Fame, but they wouldn’t have helped much anyways, because gear ratios and axle widths mean nothing to me.
Just as Ed and I were formulating a plan of attack, out came our tour guide! I never caught his name, but he was the best. Riding in his Rascal (or possibly a Lark), he greeted us warmly after noting our city slickerishness. And so began one of the most fascinating 90 minutes of CTMQ’s experience.
Our guide immediately launched into the museum’s history and the troubles with the state that the owners have had. According to him, the whole lawsuit mentioned above was a bunch of hooey and that the adjacent landfill never had a violation in 45 years of operation. How DARE the state cite the owners and ruin their lives! Hearing him talk, we came to believe their side of the story. Oh yeah, he was that good.
In the end, according to him, the state pretty much destroyed the Yaworski family business and with it, the museum. They needed to become solvent somehow and entered partnership with a partner from New Jersey. This guy, a former “so-called friend,” (his words) fleeced the owners and as a result for a mere few hundred thousand dollars, he’s now somehow the owner of $7.5 million worth of antique trucks! (Again, that figure is not mine, but our guide’s – see comment below.)
The docent’s stories had a few landfill sized holes in it (ex: “We have no Internet presence or advertising because if some little kid has a truck fall on him, we’d be sued. Ed mentioned “insurance” but didn’t press.) but we weren’t way out there in Canterbury to argue over the merits of our Attorney General, how much clean fill it takes to decontaminate land fill, or “friends” in New Jersey who may or may not have screwed the Yaworksi’s over. We were there to check out some trucks – and that’s just what we did.
The museum once housed 239 trucks but was now down to a fraction of that; though still quite a sizable amount. The variety is also very impressive. There were weird little homemade tractors and a 1948 Seagrave Hook & Ladder truck. (They used to have 25 firetrucks, actually, to give you a sense of the size of this place.)
One of our favorite items was the 1929 little bus thing. Originally with a V4, it has been retrofitted with a V12 engine which is only interesting because the brake system of the thing certainly cannot handle that kind of power, making it rather a challenge to drive. That’s another thing – every vehicle in here was driven in and started a couple times a year.
There is a Mack Truck cab in there with “End of the Line” in gold leaf on it. Check it out – this is the very last 1993 Mack of this style ever to roll off the production line. For some reason that interested me – as did the story about the volunteer from somewhere up in Massachusetts who did a ton of gold leaf work on some of the trucks. It looked to me as if the writing was done by machine. We were told he’s the best in the world and works with both hands at the same time; to see him work is apparently mesmerizing.
The stories continued; one of the least impressive looking trucks of the fleet was a 1942 Wellington hauler. This limited production truck was made to specifically haul 75 ton cannons up and down the East Coast during WWII. There are very few left in the world and this truck is worth seven figures or something.
We checked out a few more and were then ushered to the back room. On the way we passed through a nice (random) kitchen area and meeting room. The back room was a bit more “homey” with wood beams and large paned floor-to-ceiling windows. When this place was at its peak, I’d imagine it would have taken a whole day to fully check it out. Almost every new truck came with a fascinating story from our guide. Here Ed and I were, two guys who have never done anything “trucky” in our lives save for a few U-Haul moves, doting on every word of our fearless guide.
I am always impressed by people with skills I do not have. One example would be a person that can go out in the woods and find a rusted out shell of an old truck (didn’t catch the name) and think to himself, “I can fix that. Not only an I fix it, I can fix it as good as new – if not better.” Here is what he found:
And here is what it looks like now:
Ed and I marveled over this thing. Just as we picked our jaws up off the ground, it was time to learn of another gentleman’s incredibly hobby. He spends his days making working models of machine parts.
Sound dumb? It’s not; these things (and there were 3 or 4 tables full of them) are perfectly replicated steam engines of all different sorts. They all work and were machined in the guy’s garage. They can be seen running over at the Museum Annex in Plainfield on Mondays, if interested. Oh yeah – the hobbyist is 82.
Not that our guide was a spring chicken! At 87, the guy was incredible. His powers of recall were amazing – “Oh we got that piper plane from a guy named Bob who stopped flying when his son died in an accident over here in Lebanon in 1991. Anyway, it’s 800 pounds and we brought it in on a Monday, as I recall, and had built the custom rig to hoist it up there. Ol’ Sparky Jones was here to help and brought a delicious lunch of chowder and pulled pork sandwiches his wife, god rest her soul, had made that morning. The market had a sale on pork that week, you see.”
Although our stay at the Haul of Fame was WAY over the budgeted time, we allowed for one more story; a heartwarming tale about the 1936 dump truck seen just above. The Yaworski kids restored it for their father’s 90th (or something) birthday and spent years doing so. You see, this was the original (model) truck Mr. Yaworski started his hauling business with way back in the days – a $915 investment at the time.
He was moved to tears upon receipt and was hesitant to drive the floor shifter, non-power steering, non-power brakes truck. But he did – and according to our docent, didn’t grind a single gear; a feat to be sure. We said goodbye to the gentleman on the Lark (or Rascal) and exited back through the dark and chilly cavern housing the first room we viewed.
The chill and poor lighting left us feeling sad (they have very little money for heat/light) that mismanagement of a landfill has hurt a true CTMQ Hidden Gem. And this place absolutely is – geographically and otherwise. So hurry up and get out the backroads of Canterbury to see some of this stuff before it’s all gone! And that is not an idle threat, sadly.