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Tonkawa’s Attention-Trapping Truck



 

If There Was A Roadside Americana Hall Of Fame, The Vertical Vehicle Would Hold A Place Of Honor.

The most famous entry would be Cadillac Ranch, the row of 10 Caddies planted grills down, fins up in a field west of Amarillo. The most elaborate inductee might be Carhenge, the circle of upended cars painted a somber gray in a Nebraskan tribute to the ancient monument of Stonehenge. And the tallest entry would be from Oklahoma: the topsy-turvy truck of Tonkawa, a travelers’ totem on the Great Plains.

The nose-down semi is off I-35, the state’s main north-south artery, which slices dead through the center of Oklahoma on its 1,568-mile run from Lake Superior south to the Rio Grande. On an average day, 17,500 vehicles pass the site off Exit 211, south of Tonkawa. More than 6 million each year. Hundreds of thousands of them are long-haul truckers.

Clint Wilkins used to be one of them. In 1987, after nearly 25 years on the road, he and his son set up a truck parts and repair shop off the interstate. To promote the venture, they bought space on billboards, facing north and south. Cost: $22,000 a year.

But before long, they had a better idea. Why not make their own sign? Wilkins has worked by the motto: “You got to be different. That’s what Elvis Presley said.”

So he took an eight-ton ’72 Kenworth and rented a crane to dangle it upside down. He anchored the truck’s hood in 11 feet of concrete, running three 20-inch pipes, each 40 feet long, up through the cab and the length of the rig. The pipes were welded to a 2-inch plate, which was bolted to the concrete bed set deep into the Oklahoma clay.

The lettering on the side, once a bright red, declares: GOT PROBLEMS? OKLAHOMA TRUCK SUPPLY. The top of the trailer reads WE FIX TRUCKS. Total cost for the materials and installation: $8,000.

“We didn’t know if it’d last the first storm,” said his son, Brett Wilkins.

Twenty-eight years later, it’s still standing.

The five-story-tall rig – which has now spent far more time in the ground than it did on the road – stands solid in the open field north of the shop. For 10,000 dawns, the truck has served as a giant sundial, its shadow extending long across the lanes of traffic to the west, contracting as the sun climbs, and then reaching to the eastern horizon as the sun sets. Its fading lettering takes care of business, posing its existential question to travelers speeding across the prairie.

A tornado has come within a mile of the site, which has been battered by straight-line winds that crumpled road signs on the interstate. 

“Two or three years ago, there were winds over 100 miles per hour. They blew in the doors of the shop, peeled back the eaves from the roof, sandblasted vehicles in the parking,” Brett said. In the end, the truck was still standing, undamaged, trailer end jutted 50 feet into the sky. And there it remains.


Textbooks Cite Tonkawa Installation​

In the modern storm of self-promoting retweets and hashtags and inflatable apes, the GOT PROBLEMS? truck enjoys its own kind of viral popularity with postcards, photo ops and salutes from the experts. The Wilkinses and their installation are featured on page 345 of the 700-page college textbook Effective Small Business Management, and on page 440 of the even-longer classroom textbook Basic Marketing: A Marketing Strategy Planning Approach. The New York-based Inc. magazine featured the idea as one of its top buzz-worthy examples of small-business savvy.

The business has grown into a truckers’ toy store, hosting an annual Busted Knuckle Truck Show in September and offering chrome accessories, diesel maintenance and repair, a tow truck and expert advice.  “It’s the best marketing we could’ve done,” Brett Wilkins said. “Even when we’re out of state, when people ask where our shop is, we say we’re in Oklahoma on 35, the place with the truck, and they say, ‘I know where you’re at!’”


Editor’s Note: This installment is part of author M.J. Alexander’s “77 Counties” series, chronicling her travels across Oklahoma. The full series is available at sliceok.com/travel/




 

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September 2018

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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
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This year will mark the eighth time the John F. Kennedy Awards have been celebrated, honoring individuals making a significant contribution to Oklahoma, its communities and its people, while paying...

Cost: $300

Where:
Skirvin Hilton Hotel
1 Park Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: Santa Fe Family Life Center
Telephone: 405-840-1817
Contact Name: James Timberlake
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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
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Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
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Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
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Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
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A fabulous art auction to raise money to help support Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO.

Cost: $100

Where:
CHK|Central Boathouse
732 Riversport Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73129
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Sponsor: Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO
Telephone: 405.974.3791
Contact Name: Heather Bryant
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The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
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Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
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Join supporters in communities across the nation for the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This family-friendly event raises funds to support the...

Cost: $10 for adults or children six and older

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S. Lake Hefner Drive
Oklahoma City , OK  73116
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Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
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Let’s end childhood cancer. Together! This September, supporters across the country will unite to participate in the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer, an exciting, family-friendly...

Cost: $10 for Registration

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S Lake Hefner Dr
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: ALSAC St. Jude Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
Website »

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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

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