Trucks had little to no technology in the late ’60s and early ‘70s. Most companies were small (10 or 20 trucks). That was before most of them got bought up by companies that are now fleets of 5000 to 8000 trucks with terminals all over North America.
In the ‘60s, many small companies would recycle and build their trucks or rebuild what they had. One afternoon, I had lunch at the Husky House Restaurant in Lloydminster. I was walking around my truck when I heard the sound of gravel being walked on or driven on. The truck engine sounded like a modern-day built-in vacuum cleaner. I walked around my truck to see what was making this sound. The sign across the side of the trailer said, “Kenworth Truck Parts.” The driver stopped, and I, being timid and shy (that part might not be accurate), walked over to talk to the two drivers. They were both dressed in suits and ties. Back then, that was unusual. I asked what they were driving, and they said they would show me around.
The tractor was a strange-looking red Kenworth Cab Over, hauling about a 40-foot dry van. It turned out that it was a test unit for Ford. (I later found out it was called “Big Red.”) The trailer was not unusual, but the tractor was out of this world at the time (about 1975 – 1976). The engine was a turbine Jet engine made by Ford. There was no radiator, just a grille and a tubular-looking engine with three air cleaners on the back of the cab and two exhaust stacks large enough for Santa to climb down. They were delivering Kenworth parts to their stores while they ran a test on the power train for Ford. I was amazed, but anyone I talked to later about the truck did not believe me anyway. There are some of my friends in Edmonton who still, to this day, wonder if I have been eating bad yams.
Later in the fall of that year, I was down in Lethbridge and heading back to Saskatoon. I decided to take Highway 3 to Taber, #36 north to Hanna, and east on #7 to Saskatoon. That would save me from going back to Calgary. As I drove empty into no man’s land where the cattle could lose weight while grazing as the grass is so sparse, I saw a truck stopped on the shoulder. I slowed and stopped behind it. (We did that in those days) As I got out and walked toward the cab, I noticed the trailer and the Kenworth with the jet engine. It was even quieter than it was in Lloyd. I asked the two guys in suits if they needed help. There were no cell phones, truck stops, or mobile repair trucks where we were. The driver said he was sure glad to see me. He said that the jet had just quit. I told him I hadn’t gone far in school and wasn’t familiar with jet engines but could turn around and take them back to Lethbridge. Their faces lit up right away. They locked the truck after putting their bags into my truck. We all climbed in and headed out. It was a good thing that there was no seat belt law yet.
The guys told me that the test was not going well. So far, they have had a problem with the Dodge Box, and the bearings kept flying apart because the jet engine ran too fast for the transmission. The Dodge Box was used to gear the engine RPM down. They said the engine sucked too much dirt into the air cleaners and generated too much heat. On the good side, they said it had good power, less vibration, and was quieter than a regular engine. I dropped them off in Lethbridge and I have never seen them or the truck since.
Editor’s note: Thank you Glen, I had never heard about Big Red before your article. For anyone who would like more information on Big Red, there are some very interesting articles on the internet, and even a video announcing the unit.