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1972 Dodge Van Monster Truck - Rollin Thunder

The Legendary Rollin' Thunder

Photography by Dennis Taft

After Rollin' Thunder and its operator got more comfy with the notion of crushing cars, Jim began to take on some new challenges. One of them involved a recurring act with an escape artist. At each show, the trick would work like this: Jim would position his truck in front of a sad-sack junk car. The escape artist would be tied up and placed in a straitjacket, then loaded into the car. Jim then began to crush the car with the guy inside. He would make a daring escape each time to the delight of the crowds. This was a finely tuned act right? Umm...not exactly. Jim explains, "This was kind of a scary thing for me to do. They chose my truck because it was the biggest and heaviest of the bunch; it had the most effect on the car as I crushed it. Basically, the guy had Velcro on the back of the straitjacket, so when the guys loaded him in the car he would be pretty much free and just waiting to jump out. The major problem was that I could not see the guy because I was so high up. I had no idea what happened until I could see him in the clear. There was no way for me to stop once I got going, so it was pretty scary. We did it at all the shows, and he got out OK every time."

It was around 1984 when technology had caught up to Rollin' Thunder and the traveling had caught up to Jim Oldaker. "I had [put] $60,000 into the original truck. I built it and the hauler all myself. I didn't see the point in spending the money to build a new truck with all the technology it would need to be competitive. A guy in Japan wanted to buy the original, so I sold it to him."

Jim had a short stint driving a Bigfoot truck for Bob Chandler (they remain friends to this day), but that didn't blossom into anything long term. Jim went back to the "regular world" working on boats.

So how does a monster-truck driver end up making prosthetics? "One day I got a call from my brother-in-law back in Oklahoma asking if I wanted to come to work making prosthetics for him," Jim said. "I was born in the Midwest, and this was the perfect time to go back." Now licensed and certified, Jim maintains an office about 15 minutes from his home.

Jim Oldaker brought joy and excitement to the lives of thousands of adults and kids (I know because I was one!) over the course of his monster-truck career. Rollin' Thunder was immortalized in the form of toys, video tapes, and media appearances. Does Jim miss it? "I still like it, and I like the people that are involved with the trucks. We still talk to a bunch of the people that are out there. I have to say that I am quite content now. I live by a lake and have a bunch of motorcycles, and my kids are great."

Jim may not be delighting thousands in arenas anymore, but his talent and work in the field of prosthetics is enriching the lives of his patients, one person at a time. From diesel monster truck driver to prosthetic craftsman? Only in America!

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