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The Journal Gazette

275 pickups in GM homecoming parade

Suppose you failed to break a record that you never intended to challenge in the first place.

Does that make you a failure?

General Motors Co.'s local executives might be asking themselves that question today as they review Saturday's pickup truck homecoming at Memorial Coliseum.

The event was conceived as a gathering of the region's GM truck owners and an introduction of the next generation Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra models. On those terms, it was a success.

Filling out the five-hour schedule were a few awards, some check presentations, a country band performance and a police-escorted parade.

Somewhere along the way, a reporter mentioned that the GM-only parade might break the record largest pickup truck parade, which was in August. The Indianapolis-area event included 386 pickups that met strict standards set by the Guinness World Records organization, according to World Record Any pickup make or model could be counted.

GM officials weren't previously aware of the record but thought – what the heck, let's try to break it, spokeswoman Stephanie Jentgen said Saturday.

But the company's low-key communications effort didn't change, and it didn't include newspaper, radio or TV ads. The Detroit-based automaker invited employees at its five plants within a 100-mile radius of Fort Wayne to the event. It sent notices to the media, posted information on social media and relied on word of mouth.

People were excited. They wanted to participate.

"I tell you, you've got some proud truck owners out here. It's awesome," Jentgen said, referring to a few hundred people walking around the coliseum's parking lot. Unofficial estimates put the crowd at anywhere from 400 to 700.

It just wasn't enough to break the parade record.

The folks who showed up – including those who drove about 275 trucks entered in the parade – didn't seem to mind though.

"I just thought it would be a neat thing to come to," said Stan McAbee, a 70-year-old Spencerville man who arrived in his 1993 black GMC Typhoon.

GM manufactured the Typhoon for only two years.

Across the parking lot, Brad Diehl sat in a lawn chair beside his wife's shiny 1972 GMC Suburban. The hood was propped open to reveal an engine that was clean enough to eat on.

Jennifer Diehl, a vet-tech at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo, was due to arrive around noon, after an early shift at work.

The Corunna couple bought the vehicle about five years ago and restored it. Brad Diehl, who owns a motorcycle repair shop, declined to say how much money they've sunk into the mustard-and-white vehicle. But, he admitted, "It was a bunch."

They keep it in the garage – under a cloth cover that protects the paint and chrome. The Diehls put only about 2,000 miles a year on their Suburban baby, which they drive to car shows. It has about 68,000 miles on it.

Parked in another row was Tim Heath's 1966 GMC grass fire truck, which once belonged to Bristol's fire department in Elkhart County. They retired it in 1996.

The red vehicle's sides are festooned with two American flags, a shovel, an axe, a rake and barbecue tools.

More importantly, according to Heath, the truck he bought in 2001 still has its original driveline.

The Middlebury man made it to the homecoming by happenstance. He was gassing up the truck two weeks ago close to his Elkhart County home. A GM production engineer, who was driving by, stopped to admire the vehicle and mentioned Saturday's event.

Jentgen, the GM spokeswoman, announced award winners shortly before the one-hour parade pulled out of the parking lot to head south on Parnell Avenue.

Jim Klonica of St. James, Md., traveled the farthest to participate in the parade.

Ed Kase brought the oldest GM pickup. It was built in 1942.

Bruce Curry's truck had the highest confirmable mileage – 406,223 miles. One truck owner claimed his odometer had reached 1 million miles and reset to zero, but officials couldn't confirm that, Jentgen said.

Several 2013 models were driven to the rally. GM officials determined the newest pickup by comparing vehicle identification numbers. Jentgen announced the winner's Ohio license plate number but didn't have a name as of early afternoon.