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  • The Festival’s Pakistani Painted Truck Keeps on Truckin’

    Video produced by Yijo Shen
    Music: “Bhawaiya - Bengali Farmers’ Work Song” by Mumtaz Ali Khan, Folk Music of Pakistan (Folkways Records, 1951)

    Twenty years after arriving at the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program on the Silk Road, a painted truck from Pakistan just keeps on truckin’. Purchased by the Smithsonian in 2001, the truck—along with Haider Ali, who painted the vehicle in vivid colors and spectacular designs, and Jamil Uddin, who rebuilt the truck’s original 1976 Bedford body with steel, chrome, mirrors, and more—served as one of the highlights at the 2002 Festival on the National Mall.

    But in the years following, the painted truck sat fully exposed to the elements outside a Smithsonian storage facility in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The truck returned briefly to the National Mall for the 2006 and 2007 Festivals, where Jamil Uddin did some touch-up work in 2006. Continued exposure caused the brilliant colors to fade and the polished metal to rust.

    To the truck’s rescue came Loraine Torstrup Goetsch, a resident of New Jersey, who has worked more than twenty years for a health-care company that has an office in Islamabad. During her frequent visits to Pakistan, she fell in love with the country’s painted trucks and even arranged for Haider Ali to paint her garage door in New Jersey. Hearing that the truck might need a new home, Goetsch contacted the Smithsonian in June 2021 and finally took possession of the vehicle on May 10, 2022—after we kept a few ornamental parts for ourselves. It now sits on a concrete pad in Goetsch’s backyard, where Haider Ali plans to come within the next year to restore the truck to its former glory.


    Click to see photo slideshow

    The truck’s rehabilitation and restoration are part of its storied, even legendary, history. J. Mark Kenoyer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who has conducted research in Pakistan and India since the mid-1970s, purchased the truck in Karachi for the Smithsonian and contracted Haider Ali and Jamil Uddin to construct and paint it. He also helped arrange for its shipping to the Festival in 2002. The plan was for the truck to leave Karachi on May 2 on a special rack to Fujairah (United Arab Emirates), then from Fujairah to Kaohsiung (Taiwan), and finally from Kaohsiung through the Panama Canal to Norfolk, Virginia, where the Smithsonian would collect it.

    However, the boat from Fujairah to Kaohsiung arrived late, which meant the truck missed its connection to Norfolk. Instead, the Smithsonian and shipping company APL scrambled to get it on a boat to Long Beach, California, where it arrived on June 13, less than two weeks before the Festival opened on June 26. Because the truck’s engine did not meet EPA emission standards and because there were no spare parts, we could not drive the truck cross-country. At fourteen feet in height, it was too tall to travel by rail and even too tall for many highways.

    However, the Smithsonian found a willing trucking company, which removed the truck’s prow, deflated the tires, and placed it on a lowboy trailer. A dedicated solo trucker hauled the trailer from California to D.C. in six days, arriving just in time on June 24.  The saga of transporting the painted truck was so impressive that it became the cover story for the July 8, 2002, issue of Traffic World: The Logistics News Weekly.

    We suspect that there will be more stories about the truck to tell in the coming years. Stay tuned.

    James Deutsch is a curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and was program coordinator for The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust.

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