Trucking has some truly weird, wondrous entries.
We’re not talking about fictional rigs, like the freighter from the short-lived 1980s show “The Highwayman,” which had a detachable helicopter, an invisibility function and a hidden sports car.
The following vehicles — a “Star Wars”-esque military monster, literally flashy Japanese big-rigs, even a toe truck (get it?) — exist squarely in reality.
If a flamboyant arcade game mated with a casino sign while listening to Liberace, the result would be a faint approximation of what “dekotora,” or decoration trucks, look like. The Japanese rigs are blinged out with neon or ultraviolet lights, metallic finishes and painted murals. Many have more accessorizing pipes than a church organ; the extra platforms on the hood could support a “Dance Dance Revolution” rave. Dekotora debuted early in the 1970s but became a national phenomenon after 1975, when the first of a series of B movies called “Truck Guys” premiered. The films chronicle the travels of a trucker and his extravagantly decked-out wheels. More recently, dekotora artists are inspired by “Gundam,” a sci-fi media franchise that features massive robots that look like relatives of Transformers.
General Electric’s Walking Truck:
Before the Imperial Forces deployed All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) combat walkers in “Star Wars,” there was the (much more real) quadruped robot from General Electric and engineer Ralph Mosher. The 3,000-pound machine, dubbed the Walking Truck, was built in the 1960s and featured four towering, jointed legs that followed a human operator’s arm and leg movements. The beast, which was also called a pedipulator or a Cybernetic Anthropomorphous Machine, was designed to navigate nimbly and quickly over rough terrain as an animal would. The Department of Defense was interested in using the technology to help soldiers carry equipment in harsh environments. However, tests proved the Walking Truck to be slower than expected and draining for operators. The prototype now lives at the U.S. Army Transportation Museum in Fort Eustis, Va.
1974 Terex Titan:
For 25 years, this behemoth was the truck with the largest capacity in the world. A single prototype was created by Connecticut manufacturer Terex Corp. — then owned by General Motors — to haul ore around open-pit mines. But competitive forces made the monster impractical to replicate. The vehicle worked until 1991 but has since been acting as a stationary tourist attraction in the Canadian town of Sparwood, British Columbia. At 22 feet, 7 inches tall, the truck is taller than three Shaquille O’Neals stacked. The vehicle itself weighs half a million pounds and could carry some 350 tons.
The Toe Truck:
This punny vehicle was the brainchild of Ed Lincoln, former owner of Lincoln Towing in Seattle. Constructed from a trashed Volkswagen van in the early 1980s, the longtime Emerald City attraction features five massive, pink plastic foam toes adorning the top of the cab like a tiara. The big toe is 11.5 feet tall. Lincoln, whose father once created a 21-foot replica of the Space Needle using car wheels, displayed the Toe Truck outside his business. But, according to the Seattle Times, he also showed it off at weddings and while picking up VIPs from the airport. In 2005, the truck went to its current home at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry, delivered alongside a parade of local tow trucks. In 2014, the Toe Truck made a cameo in the PlayStation 4 action-adventure game “Infamous Second Son.”
Big Rig Jig:
There was no shortage of awe-inspiring artwork at the 2007 Burning Man Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert — here, a massive, flaming wooden temple; there, a zoetrope with 18 human-sized monkeys activated by drumbeats. But for many, the highlight of the event was a piece by artist Mike Ross featuring two 18-wheeler tanker trucks twisted into a 42-foot-tall vertical S shape. Over the course of three months, Ross and the crew at Oakland art fabrication shop American Steel anchored the installation to a metal base and then carefully stabilized it so that admirers could crawl around inside. The work “serves both as a sculpture and an architectural space,” according to Ross’ website. Big Rig Jig moved to the Coachella Music Festival in 2008, then to street artist Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition in England last year. In September, the piece is scheduled to be displayed at the Life is Beautiful festival in downtown Las Vegas.
Coffee pot trucks:
Swedish coffee company Gevalia — the largest roaster in Scandinavia — sent trucks shaped like elongated coffee pots around Europe in the 1950s. The business, which was founded in 1853, used the vehicles to advertise or serve its brew. But coffee pot trucks appear to have been active even before then. A piece in the February 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix describes a “coffee pot on truck” that “sings, speaks,” blasting music or speech from within the pot. “The car has attracted a great deal of attention on the streets of Berlin, and has boosted coffee sales,” the article notes.
Pakistani “jingle trucks”:
Some truckers in Pakistan and South Asia think of their rigs as brides — beauties bedecked in bells and bold ornamentation. The vehicles are mobile works of art, all bright patterns and paintings, mirrored decorations, carvings and chains and snippets of poetry written in intricate calligraphy. Some painters, such as Karachi native Haider Ali, have even reached a degree of fame due to their skill. The truck-painting tradition, which has its roots in Mughal empire artisans, is often interpreted as a way for drivers to express their identities, their devotion to their trucks as well as their affinities for celebrities, history, religion and scenery. The canvas tends to be an old Bedford truck, tricked out with an ornate headboard of sorts over the cab, a beaded bumper skirt and other embellishments.