During his cross-country trek to Columbus and back, Matt Cummins asked veterans to add their signatures to his tailgate.
Matt Cummins and his life-long friend Pete Hazel were outside of Bozeman, Montana, when the odometer on his 1999 Dodge Ram quad cab, long bed with a Cummins 5.9L ticked over 300,000. “That was exciting. It was a big deal that lasted for one mile,” he said.
Hitting 300,000 was just one of many highlights of that trip, which had Matt driving cross-country in June from his home in Portland, Oregon, hopefully to join in with some of the Turbo Diesel Rally activities in Columbus, Indiana, held during the Cummins’ Centennial Celebration. Why? Because this 56-year-old mechanical engineer Freightliner manager is not only a member of the Cummins High Mileage Club, he’s also the grandson of Cummins founder Clessie Cummins.
Invited to attend as part of Cummins’ 100-year anniversary celebration, Matt wasn’t satisfied to just fly in. He decided to drive there. According to him, the journey was “kind of in line with some of the things that my grandfather had done with cross-country trips to show the dependability of his engines and their fuel mileage. I definitely wanted to honor the company, but I also wanted to make the effort, trust my truck, and wind my way into Columbus and stand next to my dad and be there for him while his father was being honored”.
Prior to the journey, a Cummins marketing group applied a wrap to the truck and at Matt’s request, provided space on his tailgate to honor veterans and ask them to sign it as they were encountered along the way. It took Matt and Pete four days with stops at Cummins’ distributors in Salt Lake City, Denver and Kansas City.
Matt's truck with the No. 8 Cummins Diesel car.
While the days were long (often driving 11 to 12 hours a day), Matt said his Ram handled the roads like a champ. “There were plenty of hills. The truck worked great - never had to downshift. I set the cruise control at 60 and headed east – even with steep grades and high altitudes, it never slowed down”.
Unlike Matt, his parents, wife, two of his children, two sisters and a cousin flew in for the 100-year anniversary festivities, where he and his father presented a gift to the company: It was the coat that had been worn by Freddie Agabashian, the driver of the 1952 No. 28 Cummins Indy 500 car that set a qualifying one-lap record at 139.104 mph that year. Following the race, the driver had given the coat to his grandfather.
Matt’s daughter Alex, wears Freddie Agabashian’s driving coat one last time. The family gave the jacket to Cummins so it can be displayed with the #28 car Agabashian drove in the 1952 Indy 500.
"My dad and I thought it was time to let the coat go so it could be displayed along with the car, reuniting the two things," he said. However, one of his daughters had asked if she could put the coat on one more time before we gave it to Cummins, and of course they agreed.
"We walked over to No. 28 where there was a Cummins photographer, and all of a sudden the people started backing away. Then, someone says, ‘Alex, why don’t you get in the car?’ So, she gets in with an enormous smile. And then - 'Put the helmet on.’ And then on goes the whole gear with her sitting in the car and taking all these pictures, and it was great. That’s on Instagram. So, my daughter’s famous."
Another high point for Matt, a weekend mechanic, was spending time at Cummins’ restoration center because they had 2 old diesel powered sedans and all the Cummins Indy race cars ( 3 were his Grandfathers). “The guys at that restoration center were just really nice people. They were so proud to show everything, giving up their evening after a full day’s work,” he said. “It was cool to be able to see it all and experience a piece of my grandfather again because we knew he had had his hands all over those cars.”
A young Matt Cummins celebrates a birthday with his grandfather and Cummins founder, Clessie Cummins. Clessie passed away when Matt was five years old.
Matt's one regret during his time in Columbus was that he didn’t get to tour the Columbus Mid-range Engine Plant. He had agreed to take part in an onboarding activity for new employees so he couldn’t tour the plant with the rest of the TDR Rally participants; however, he did get to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
Matt says he’s glad he made the trip. "When I’m in Portland, nobody knows who my grandfather was. So, when you visit a Midwest town like Columbus and everyone knows his name and what he did, it’s pretty humbling - Columbus, Indiana is a special place. It was great for my dad to see his dad being honored. And my kids now have a whole new perspective of who their great-grandfather was."