Omahan makes room for king-sized collectable

By Jeff Barnes

Russell Spann Jr. has trucking in his blood. The Omahan’s uncle drove a truck back in the 1930s and his dad started driving a hauler in 1948.

“My dad drove one for more than 50 years,” he said. “He and I once had a company together; I’ve had three jobs in my life (he’s 45) and they’ve always been with trucks.”

dsc_0274Spann – an LTL (less-than-load) freight hauler – says he’s been around trucks all of his life. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that when he started with a collector vehicle, he picked up one of the bigger ones: a 1980 Kenworth K-100 “Cab Over Engine” (COE) semi-truck.

A friend who owned the Kenworth was moving to Arizona and, rather than haul it with him, sold it to Spann knowing he’d care for it. “When I was a kid, this was what my dad had,” he said. “Kenworth and Peterbuilt were more popular in the Midwest than most others. These were trucks that ran to the West Coast – they had more fancy interiors and were a little more stylistic than other makes. And you might fancy up a Kenworth a little more than others.”

Spann is the third owner and knows both of the previous owners of the truck, which was bought in Omaha from the Kenworth dealership on L Street. He said the truck had always had great care, with the second owner only running within a 500-mile radius of Omaha. None of the owners were smokers, which is somewhat unusual for a 35-year-old semi; the “Chicago Rawhide” Naugahyde upholstery is thus in great shape.

Since taking ownership in 2008, Spann takes on a somewhat major restoration component of the truck every year. “This spring I sandblasted, sanded and painted the frame,” he said. “I used a black paint more glossy than what they used back then, and I’m constantly dusting.”

The wheels were restored two years ago, and he has chromed much of the truck in places they were never before chromed. “Everywhere on the dash that I could chrome it, I have,” Spann said. “My kids tease me that chrome is my favorite color.”

The big project this year was in air cleaners for the truck, requiring three used ones to make one good one. He’s also lined up classic license plates for the truck, including having a sign maker create a “bingo plate” to hold stickers from several different states as formerly required.

With all of the chroming and restoration, however, Spann is in a debate with himself over the truck’s cab and whether it too should be restored. “It wears the original paint, and it’s really hard to find these with the original factory colors,” he said. “It’s got a great patina to it debating with self whether to keep the original paint and patina. I try to keep it as era correct as possible and I just hate the idea of touching that part of it.”

dsc_0291He finds other fans of trucking history in the American Truck Historical Society, an international organization of 28,000 collectors. Spann started the 30-member Midwest Plains Chapter in 1997 and has presided over the group in all but two years. He collects virtually everything he can find on trucking, including thousands of photographs and hundreds of toy trucks.

Prized among the photos is one Spann was able to line up – he was actually able to get the previous owners (Jim Soethout and Don Lane) together with the original salesman (Frank Carpenter) together for a group shot with the 1980 Kenworth at a local truck show a few years ago.

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, September 2014)

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