SI Vault
'Lordy, Let Those Big Wheels Sing to Me'
Frank Deford
October 01, 1979
Tyrone Malone listened to the melody, and after a shaky start—during which Little Irvy, the whale, helped meet the bills—he has truck racing revving up for the big time
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October 01, 1979

'lordy, Let Those Big Wheels Sing To Me'

Tyrone Malone listened to the melody, and after a shaky start—during which Little Irvy, the whale, helped meet the bills—he has truck racing revving up for the big time

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When last we met Tyrone Malone, back in 1969, his name was Jerry Malone, and he was charging 35� a head to see his dead 38-foot whale, Little Irvy, which was lying frozen in a semi-trailer. But Jerry kept noticing that a great many people, whether or not they sprang for the 35�, were every bit as enamored of Old Blue, the truck in which Little Irvy lay in state, as they were of the star whale itself. And so Jerry put on his thinking cap and became Tyrone Malone, Daredevil Diesel Driver, and he got very heavy into trucks. He has set the world land speed record for trucks at Bonneville Salt Flats (114.896); he has brought us truck drag racing, organizing events all over America and in Europe and Australia; and he has assembled the classiest collection of trucks ever seen on wheels.

Since 1970 Malone has been adding trucks to what now constitutes a fleet. First he got the Boss Truck of America and the Mama Truck, which carries the Boss Truck along the highways and byways of the U.S. of A. Then along came the Super Boss and the Papa Truck, and then the Bandag Bandit and the Hideout Truck, and when you also take into consideration Old Blue itself, plus the Smokey Bear Corvette and miscellaneous support vehicles, you are talking about a million dollars' worth of rolling stock, easy. A million dollars in trucks—and trucks can't play out options. Plus there are the toy trucks, the build-'em-your-self model trucks and all those truckin' trinkets. "Without the Tyrone Malone T shirts, the hats, the puzzles, and all that, I'd be a whole truck behind right now," Malone says. And just you wait till he puts the Truck Hall of Fame together.

"I beat Waltzing Matilda, the great jet truck, Down Under," Malone says. "I got 11,000 column inches in European newspapers. I made the 6 o'clock and the 10 o'clock news 110 times last year. That might be a national record. I believe so. I've had to send my posters to Russia. Just think, a guy with a dead whale sending posters to Russia. You might say I'm the Bob Hope of trucking." Costs six bits to see Little Irvy now, too.

I got a cute little gal in every
Eastern town from Boston to St. Loo,
There's some that I don't even know,
But I'm lookin' forward to,
'Cause I like my women, everywhere I go,
So roll on big wheels, don't you roll so slow...
I'm a kiss-stealin', wheelin'-dealin'
truck-drivin' son-of-a-gun

� 1965 Shelby Singleton Music Inc., BMI

Of course, not everybody is all that crazy about truckers these days, including some truckers themselves, who have taken to shooting and maiming one another over how best to control the price of fuel rather than the love of some sweet nurse in Savannah. Jerry is unchanged in his opinions about gear-jammers, however. He says, "They're good, clean people. They're the biggest credit to American history."

And in a very real way, Malone had better be right, because in the past few years truckers have somehow come to symbolize the backbone of America, of democracy, of motherhood—and if truckers are not good, clean people, then possibly none of us are either.

Truckers attained such exalted status because, in a regulated, federalized computer world that almost none of us can grasp, the man alone in the big rig is perceived as the last cowboy, a romantic, rugged hero out there on his own somewhere in the night: Keep on Truckin! Long before the CB craze brought truckers to the glib attention of Hollywood and the fancy media, country and western singers like Dave Dudley and Red So-vine had immortalized these intrepid independents. To these singers and their audience, the trucker was never just a devilish love-'em-and-leave-'em guy, with a honey in every truckstop. There was that, sure—but more. And, above all, the trucker was a fellow with his wits about him, always hustling to stay ahead of the foolish bureaucrats, always figuring how to juggle his log book, beat the scales and cut corners to get the payload home. Not a lawbreaker, you understand, but a red-tape outwitter. It wasn't his roaming that made the trucker heroic; it was his maneuvering. To the worker trapped by a schedule, trapped under a boss, trapped behind a desk or a counter or on an assembly line ("By day I make the cars, by night I make the bars"), the big wheeler was a man to admire and envy. That the fuel crisis has driven even these clever stalwarts to frustration, petulance and, finally, violence shows more than anything how much the unfettered way of life is endangered.

Keep in mind, too, that there was always one more theme that threaded through truck folklore: family. The cheat-in' trucker could be tolerated because invariably he was heading right home to the little woman—no harm, no foul. Perhaps more important, he would be going back to the son who would himself someday be handling a semi. The father-and-son motif pervades truck belles lettres, for despite all his alleged rakishness, the trucker is primarily a symbol of continuity. The car is something frivolous a boy drives to sow wild oats, but a man drives a truck to earn a living. A car is a mistress, a truck a wife—and unless you understand that, you'll never comprehend why the fuel threat to the truckeis strikes a little at all of America.

At the crossroads tonight,
Where you flagged him down,
There was a busload of kids,
acomin' from town.
And they were right in the middle
When Joe topped the hill,
And it could have been slaughter,
but he turned his wheels.
Well, Joe lost control,
And went into a skid,
And give his life to save that bunch of kids.
And there at that crossroads was
the end of the line
For Big Joe and Phantom 309

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