Truck of the Month

January 2019
Paul Sagehorn's B.J. and the Bear 1980 Kenworth K100C Aerodyne
Paul Sagehorn's 1980 Kenworth K100C Aerodyne
WRITTEN BY:
  • Mark Harter
PHOTOGRAPHER:
  • Duncan Putman

Throughout the years, many vehicles have played a starring role on both television and the big screen. From Steve McQueen's Highland Green Mustang in Bullitt to Don Johnson's Ferrari Testarossa in Miami Vice, these cars have become part of pop culture and just as famous as the actors who drove them. While trucks have made starring roles as well, there is none more famous or iconic than B.J. McKay's beautiful red and white Kenworth K100C Aerodyne tractor-trailer.

Even if you are not a "trucking fan," you've heard the theme song, probably know all the lyrics and most likely have sung along when you have heard the shows catchy intro. For three seasons from 1979 through 1981 on NBC, Billy Joe McKay (played by actor Greg Evigan), a fictional owner-operator from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, along with his best friend, a chimpanzee named Bear, roamed the highways of the United States in a Kenworth cabover. Most episodes usually entailed B.J. getting involved in some sort of misadventure and helping solve a crime or problem in the town he was passing through or making a delivery to. But at the end of each episode, B.J. McKay was always the hero who saved the day.

While B.J. and the Bear has been off the air now for nearly 40 years, and while most people don't remember a single episode, there's one thing that just about everybody knows and remembers about the show, B.J. McKay's Kenworth!

The initial pilot episode in 1978 featured a Kenworth K100C flat-top, but after the show was picked up by NBC in 1979, Kenworth got on-board and used the show as a marketing tool to showcase their Aerodyne sleeper. Two K100C Aerodynes were built for the show, the first in 1978 and the second in 1980. Paul Sagehorn and his son Craig are the proud owners of the 1980 model year Kenworth K100C Aerodyne that was used in the 1980 and 1981 seasons.

For many of us(including this author) as a child growing up in the 1980s and fascinated by trucks, we dreamed of having a truck like B.J. McKay. But there's still a kid in all of us. So when we had the chance to meet Greg Evigan and speak with Paul Sagehorn at the 2018 American Truck Historical Society National Convention in Lexington, Kentucky last year, this author was 5 years old again and absolutely awestruck seeing the actual B.J. McKay Kenworth tractor-trailer in person for the first time!

Paul Sagehorn's 1980 Kenworth K100C Aerodyne
Paul Sagehorn's 1980 Kenworth K100C Aerodyne

Hailing from Sparta, Wisconsin, Paul Sagehorn has been a fan of the show since it was on the air and for many years operated a replica Kenworth K100C Aerodyne like the truck used in the television series. But in 2007, opportunity struck as Paul found the 1980 Kenworth K100C Aerodyne sitting in Douglasville, Georgia, and with a chance to own one of the actual 2 Aerodynes built for the show, Paul was not about to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Stopping to talk with the owner about the truck, Paul inquired if it was for sale, and after Paul made an offer, a couple days later, Paul's son Craig finalized the deal.

When Paul found the truck, it had been sitting and hadn't moved for nearly 20 years! It's 400 Cummins had parts missing, and while the iconic Kenworth only had around 440,000 miles on it, it wasn't much of a beauty queen anymore. So after purchasing the truck and hauling it home to Sparta, Paul and Craig went to work, stripping the truck down to its frame and cab and in a matter of 3 months, B.J. McKay's Kenworth was as nice as the day it rolled off the assembly line and into television immortality.

While the Kenworth is shown on a regular basis at truck shows around the country, Paul isn't afraid to work the truck and heads out for 5 to 6 weeks at a time, usually in the late summer to early fall and like B.J. McKay, Paul just hauls from place to place, maybe off to New Orleans or who knows where. But along the way, Paul told us that "the truck still receives an unbelievable amount of attention this many years after the show went off the air. People stop all the time to take pictures and we let them get in the truck."

Visitors admiring Paul Sagehorn's 1980 Kenworth K100C Aerodyne at the 2018 ATHS National Convention
Paul Sagehorn's 1980 Kenworth K100C Aerodyne on display with other trucks at the 2018 ATHS National Convention

Currently the truck only has 525,000 original miles on it! While most are impressed that the truck is restored and still works on a regular basis pulling a 2001 Utility Reefer, Paul told us how he found, by accident, the 1972 Brown trailer that his famous Kenworth pulled in the show. "The trailer was sitting in an equipment sales lot in Fontana, California. The owner had purchased it from a sale at Universal Studios years before. It was just being used for storage and the owner had no idea of what it was." Sometimes you find what you're looking for, when your not looking for it as Paul continued "I was on the phone with someone trying to get directions and I was looking around for a landmark or address to give them when I spotted it."

Since Paul has truck number 2, we also asked him about the first truck built for the show, the 1978 K100C Aerodyne, and if he knows anything about it, the trucks whereabouts or who owns it, but said he didn't know. Last he had heard, it was somewhere in Pennsylvania, but no one has seen it in a long time.

He's going everywhere, so next time you're at a truck show or heading down the interstate, keep your eyes out and you just might get a chance to see Paul behind the wheel of his iconic Kenworth!

EDITOR'S NOTE:
  • Special thanks to Paul for sharing the B.J. and the Bear Kenworth with our readers!
  • Do you own a unique rig? Get your truck featured here on our website and show-it-off to the world! Click Here to contact us and tell us about your truck!

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