It’s not hard to find Kate Whiting at a truck show: Just follow the sounds of early ’90s metal rock — along with everyone else who’s being pulled magnetically in her direction.
At 47, Whiting isn’t old enough to have been an authentic hair band headbanger back in the day, but the music isn’t about her, anyway. It’s the anthem for her truck, a 1973 Kenworth 900A long hood, dubbed “Cherry Pie.”
The truck’s very name, as Warrant’s song of the same title attests, will “put a smile to your face … bring a tear to your eye.”
“Where I think Cherry Pie stands out is she resonates with everybody,” said Whiting, owner of KW Pony Express LLC in Chetek, Wisconsin. “The women love this truck. They feel heard. I had an older gentleman one time drive back home, get his wife and bring her out. Parked right in front of me because he had to show his wife that truck.
“I have little girls come out,” she continued. “One little girl took a picture with her dad holding her up; then she made her parents come back and take her picture again next to the truck. It’s like — you just never know what you’re going to spark. Kids love the truck.”
Despite the truck’s cheeky name, Cherry Pie — not unlike her owner — is no girly girl. Men line up right alongside women to check her out and marvel at the horsepower under the hood.
“She’s just fun. She’s got a little whimsicalness to her,” Whiting said. “Yes, she’s got that feminine touch, but she’s also got a 3408 in her, so she’s a badass. The men love that. It’s crazy how much this truck is loved across all lines.”
If it’s true what people say about pets taking on their owners’ personalities — and vice versa — then surely the same can be said about trucks. No vehicle ever embodied the spunk and sass of its owner like Cherry Pie does Whiting.
Raised on a dairy farm in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, Whiting says she and her sister more than held their own, from driving tractors to tending livestock.
“My first vehicle was an F250 stick shift. That’s what I took my driver’s test in,” she said. “One of my first jobs was working in an auto parts store, doing deliveries. From there, I married, had kiddos, worked out west guiding elk hunting trips. (We) came back, started our own farm.”
Throughout her 20s and 30s, Whiting pursued a career as a certified functional medicine health coach. She soon noticed truck drivers as an untapped market.
“When guys started having trouble with the med cards and losing their ability to drive, I said, ‘I know I can help these guys!’” she said. “A couple of local trucking outfits in the area asked me to come in and help some of their guys out — blood pressure and things like that. That started me into this world.
“I realized that this is a heck of a niche, and I could really help people, so I sponsored a booth at the Eau Claire (Wisconsin) truck show,” she continued. “That was exactly eight years ago this August. They invited the booth people to come in and go to dinner and sit in amongst the truckers. I knew nobody, so I sat next to this guy because he had a kid with him.”
That guy was Jerry Linander — and the conversation he and Whiting shared that night turned quickly into a mentor-mentee relationship. On his recommendation, she attended a much larger show in Kason, Minnesota. There, he surprised her with an offer that would alter the course of her life.
“Jerry’s the only person I knew at this show. It comes to the parade day and he up and says, ‘You want to drive in the parade?’ I’m like, ‘Well, hell yeah! I can do that!’” she said. “I’d never driven one. But yeah, that was it, that was his 2007 Kenworth L, and I was hooked.”
A year after that first truck show, Whiting had earned her CDL, and within six months after that she was driving regularly for a local recycling outfit, Badger State Recovery. Two and half years later, she started driving for Linander’s outfit, Jerry Linander Specialized Transportation Inc., hauling furniture.
After that, at Linander’s urging, she formed Pony Express — and she hasn’t looked back.
But before all that, she came face-to-face with the truck of her dreams.
“I was driving on a back road in my hometown, and I saw this truck,” Whiting said. “She was down to being a day cab at that point. They had taken the bunk off her. She was pretty moldy, out in the front yard. She’d retired out of a gravel pit hauling the crusher.
“This old boy was the original owner,” she continued. “He took a lot of pride in her. She just had been sitting for like, eight years. It’s not like the trees were growing through her, but she was very sun-faded. He had redone a little bit of the interior, so she wasn’t terrible inside — but the mold was growing on the frame and stuff like that.”
Whiting and her dream truck were of the same heart from the beginning. The tractor even inspired its own name, in a manner of speaking.
“When I got her, I was still brand new to all this and people were like, ‘Try to buff her out and see what happens. You can’t hurt it,’” she said. “So, I started buffing on that truck, and it just shined a cherry red. It was just beautiful. My boys were teenagers at the time, so they’re going, ‘Looks like cherry pie!’ Between that and the song, that’s where the name came from.”
Cherry Pie has proven to be a winner with judges. Her first show — the Mid America Trucking Show held in Louisville, Kentucky, in March of this year — earned bragging rights for Best Paint. She repeated this feat at the TopGun LargeCar Shootout in Rantoul, Illinois, along with taking second place in her class.
Winning awards is nice, Whiting says, but bringing her tribe and fans together — you could call them the Cherry Pie Posse — is even more fun.
“It’s so cool, because we’re just a bunch of amateurs putting her together,” Whiting said. “We worked hard. Then all you can do is just sit back and applaud and listen to the results. When you hear your name called — just knowing how we busted butt so hard to get her there — it means so much to have someone recognize her and the hard work we put into it.”
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.