Iconic Wienermobile Keeps on Rolling
By Jeff Barnes
(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, July 8, 2017)
Whether it’s visiting supermarkets, rolling by in parades, or tooling down the interstate, the Wienermobile is an eyeful of fun.
Colorful and immense (27-feet long, 11-feet tall and seven tons heavy), the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is a 80-year-old pop culture icon that just doesn’t age. At a recent stop for the vehicle at an Omaha Baker’s supermarket, little kids, their parents, and grandparents couldn’t help but stop and ketchup with the wienie on wheels.
Those who drive the Wienermobile and represent the company know they hold a highly coveted position in driving a legend. “I still can’t believe I’m doing this for a job,” says Sean Miller, a University of Missouri marketing graduate hired on as a “hotdogger” (or Oscar Mayer Brand Ambassador). Around two thousand college graduates in marketing, advertising, journalism, or PR apply for the strictly one-year job. Thirty get brought to company headquarters in Madison, Wis., and only twelve get hired.
“They’re mostly looking for people who relish the opportunity for this,” said Miller at an Omaha appearance. Yes, a constant stream of condiment, hot-dog, and bun puns are part of the job.
The Wienermobile made its introduction in 1936 when Carl Mayer, the nephew of Oscar Mayer, came up with the idea to promote wiener sales. The first version just seated one and was but a fraction of the current model, but it quickly caught on and evolved over the years. They’ve been on Dodge, Willys Jeep, Chevy, RAM, and GMC chasses in their 80-year history.
It was in the early ‘50s that Oscar Mayer decided to expand the fleet to a second Wienermobile, and then to four, and then to the current number of six Wienermobiles on the road. A “Mini Wienie” was added a couple of years ago on a Mini Cooper chassis, and there’s now a cycle and a drone. Most of the full-size are 2016 builds with a couple 2012s, but the easiest way to tell them apart is by their personalized license plates (WEENR, WNRMBLE, OHIWISH, OSCRMYR, IWSHIWR, and OUR DOG).
A shop in Michigan builds the chassis and installs the V-6, 6.0-liter 300 VORTEC engine with 6-speed automatic transmission, while a California shop builds the fiberglass hot-dog body for the fiberglass bun. Passing through the gull-wing door, one finds a well-apportioned interior with individual seats for six, touch-screen controls for the sound system, navigation, and Bluetooth, a blue-sky ceiling with removable bun roof, and a ketchup walkway. Of course, its horn plays the Oscar Mayer Wiener jingle.
As official drivers of the Wienermobile, each hotdogger is assigned a region and a partner for six months, covering thousands of miles and promoting Oscar Mayer products with games, stickers, coupons, and – of course – the famous Wienie Whistle for the kids. At the end of that period, the hotdoggers trade regions, partners, and Wienermobiles for another six months.
Driving the Wienermobile isn’t as difficult as it might look, Miller says. “Each of us gets training from the Madison (Wis.) Police Department so we get used to the height and turn radius, but it’s really a lot of fun. The chassis is similar to that of a UPS truck, although some mistake it for a Lambowienie.” Again with the puns…
Miller said the biggest difficulty in driving the 11-foot-high, 27-foot-long, 7-ton Wienermobile is people slowing down their cars to take photos or to honk and wave. “It sometimes blocks us from making our turns, so that can jam up traffic at times,” he said. “It’s all fun, though – they’ll have to pry the keys from my hand when the year is over.”