When people walk by the miniature Seattle Seahawks truck parked outside of Walmart or Fred Meyer or wherever Jeff Schamel decides to take it, they always ask the same questions.
Who made it? What does it haul? What does it do?
“It hauls smiles,” Schamel tells them. “What does it do? It brings people joy.”
People cannot resist pulling out their phones and taking a picture of the Japanese 1969 Cony Model 360 truck. Kids jump on the tiny flatbed trailer and pose with the 12th Man flag hanging inside the miniature field goal post. Others simply stand and wonder where the little truck came from.
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As Schamel watches all of this, he is overcome with pride.
“Here’s some guy, I don’t know who he is. He’s talking to some lady, I don’t know who she is. But she’s talking about that truck, and look, they’re smiling,” Schamel said. “Their day just got better over something I invented.”
Schamel bought, painted and decorated the truck as a tribute to his father, who passed away in 2008. He said his father was all about giving back to the community.
The first truck Schamel ever owned was a 1964 Freightliner he bought from his father. Schamel said the miniature truck he painted in Seahawks colors initially reminded him of that first truck.
When he talks about his father, he still gets emotional: The two were close friends until his father’s death, and they worked together at a construction company in Hawaii before Schamel bought it out and started Schamel Trucking.
But in 1994, Schamel, 53, had complications from a brain aneurysm that eventually led to him losing his business. So he moved to Whatcom County to work for his older brother who owns TC Trans, a trucking company in Blaine. His father stayed in Hawaii.
“He was a good man. He was an honest man,” Schamel said. “He taught me my standards.”
Schamel finished decorating the mini truck in July 2013. He found it in Tacoma, and he said he poured thousands of dollars into the truck to make it look like it does today. The goal was simply to create something people would enjoy.
Ever since, he has hauled it to Seattle on Sundays to drive it around CenturyLink Field during Seahawks games with his granddaughter. He said people in Seattle treat him like a king when they see it.
Last year, he used the truck to help raise money for the Ferndale Food Bank.
The truck only goes 35 mph. The old engine blew up one year ago, and he replaced it with an engine that would be found in a three-wheel car that a meter maid would drive. Schamel, 5 feet 5 inches tall, still looks down at the top of the truck when standing next to it.
During the week, Schamel drives the truck from his home in Birch Bay and parks it outside of Bellingham grocery stores or parking lots with heavy foot traffic. He almost never is told to move the truck, even though it is often stopped in no parking zones. He said people make exceptions for the Seahawks.
“Everybody has a bad day. If you’re having a bad day, just sit right here,” Schamel said as he pointed out people gazing at the truck. “All you see is smiles. My dad would have loved it.”