It’s not every day that you see a grown man, stop traffic in the middle of Portsmouth, let alone, that you are stopping traffic to flag down an 18-Wheeler. Mike Bell, Sales Representative for the Portsmouth Daily Times, did just that.
Bell and Mark Richard, Editor of The Portsmouth Daily Times, were out on sales calls and Bell spotted an 18-wheeler, all decked out for Autism. Bell, who is the president of The Autism Project of Southern Ohio, saw this truck and just had to stop it and talk to that driver. That driver, was a man named Mark Hall from Wisconsin, who was going through Portsmouth on a job. Bell jumped out of his automobile and stopped traffic and began taking pictures of the truck. During this entire time, Richard was sitting in the automobile, like a deer in headlights, worrying about traffic hitting him. Bell said, “I got the pictures, cause I thought it was so cool, you just don’t see an Autism Awareness semi-truck everywhere, matter of fact, that’s the only one I’ve ever seen. I was eager to learn who owned this truck, so I uploaded pictures on Facebook and another friend of mine, was able to get the number off the truck where it was registered, and was able to track it down to a trucking company over in North Dakota. So, I made a phone call to North Dakota and they said yes that is was Hall, who was one of their drivers. I asked, ‘Does he have a child or someone with Autism, that he goes and spreads Autism everyday, miles and miles at a time?’ The answer was no, but that her (the lady who answered the phone) child has Autism. That is what influenced him to spread Autism Awareness with his truck. She then put me in touch with Hall. This went on for awhile and we set it up to have him come to Portsmouth and he wanted to come for the Autism Walk for 2018.”
Bell continued, “It ended up that the trucking company in North Dakota set him up with a load going to Cincinnati that weekend. He was able to drop the trailer, then come on to Portsmouth to stay with us for the weekend and then go back and pick up the trailer. He(Hall) is part of the family now and he looks forward to coming back again. Hall was able to go to the walk, watch the District 11 Challenger league play baseball and he loved that, but at the same time, I had an Autism shirt spread out on the table and had the kids sign the shirt, and he took the shirt back with him and had it framed.”
Both Bell and Richard said that Hall was just an awesome guy. Bell said, “He was talking about me taking pictures of him that day in the traffic, and he told me he didn’t know what was going on and he said, ‘I just seen some crazy guy stop traffic and jump out and start taking pictures.’ ” Bell says that he and Hall are now friends and keep in touch. Bell says, “He’s spreading out that awareness, a mile at a time.” The lady in the office in North Carolina, just loved the photos that Bell sent Hall of his time in Scioto County.
After Bell told of his encounter, Hall got the chance to tell his story. You get the sense that this meeting was just awesome and was meant to be. Hall talked about how the day Bell stopped traffic to take photos, was an interesting day. “My son who lives in Louisiana, does a thing called ‘Medcamps.’ MedCamps is a 30+ year old Non-profit that provides a free summer camping experience for children with disabilities. They have different weeks in the summer kids with different types of illnesses or handicaps. Campers are children with everything from Autism, Down’s Syndrome, Asthma, Spina Bifida, Heart Disease, and other conditions. Their goal is to provide them the same summer camp experience that any child without a disability might enjoy. Hall continued, “He does some charity work there or helps them a couple times a year, they go down and have a cook-out and spend an entire day, cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for the kids there. That is kind of what inspired this truck. My other truck was a breast cancer awareness truck that I had done for a friend of mine who had battled breast cancer. My son is a big archery shooter, so he copied me and had a breast cancer bow, then he did an Autism bow, and I said I’m gonna copy you and do an Autism truck. That’s how it came about. I drew out the plans for the truck, then I found out that our secretary had a son with Autism, and since I have done the truck, I have found out that I had someone in my family that had Autism, but I didn’t know until after the truck was done. The whole purpose for doing the truck is that people don’t want to talk about it. They get labeled and no one discusses it. It’s almost like people are scared that if they talk about it, it is contagious. It is just crazy.” Hall went on and on about the things that Bell does for the kids and people in this area with autism. He says it is something that has left a lasting impression on him. “I was just so proud to call him a friend.”
“Seeing the ambitions that he has for that group and that cause, I’m surprised he didn’t do something crazier to flag me down,” said Hall. When asked if he has other people who want to talk about his truck, he said, “It’s really remarkable the effect that it has, there’s people that absolutely love it and then there’s a handful of people who hate it. It is crazy, but the one thing that it does, it gets everyone talking about it, whether they hate it or love it. I had a couple of guys in Kentucky that got kind of angry about the truck. Some of the things they said were just downright nasty.” And one asked him why would he put that on his truck and he answered, “because I can.” The guy said, “but why would you do that to your truck?” Hall said, “Because it’s my truck, I can do anything I want with my truck. I then told him that judging by his mentality, I could probably get a five or six year old with autism, who could explain this to you in words you could understand.” !!!!Especially after the Autism Walk and being there and seeing Mike and his people who help do and what they do for those kids, there is no way I would ever regret doing what I did to my truck. If I ever did another truck, I would do the exact same thing.
Hall said of getting his truck fixed this way, “I didn’t really know when I was doing the truck, what I was getting into. I just see trucks all over the country that are supporting the troops, supporting different kinds of cancer, or whatever, but I had not seen any that had anything to do with Autism.”
Hall told of how this process of doing his truck was done. There is special clear coated vinyl product that is used to do the truck. “I had an old high school friend of mine Keri, that is a graphics designer and I had reconnected with her through Facebook and she helped me do the breast cancer truck. And, when I came up with this idea, she was all over it and said, ‘Let’s put something together that is really cool. Let’s get this hammered out.’ She was really gung ho for it. I drove empty to Iowa and we then did all the lettering and everything on the truck. It was a long day, but we got it done. She made the material, it was just a little company, they did all the things themselves, they just had to order the material to do it. It’s not just like a vinyl decal you would buy at a store, it’s a special material. Each piece is done on a machine, starting out as white vinyl and then each piece is inked, and then clear coated, it was a very expensive project. It is expected to last between nine and 13 years. Especially after the Autism Walk and being there and seeing Mike and his people who help do and what they do for those kids, there is no way I would ever regret doing what I did to my truck. If I ever did another truck, I would do the exact same thing.”
Hall then continued talking about Bell and what he does here. “Just the biggest thing that I talk about, is what they do with that organization, it’s just that it’s probably the biggest thing that I get out of this project, it just floors me. everything they have done with this Autism Project. You can’t even put it into words, it’s just amazing to see these kids out playing baseball and everything that they do is just remarkable. That’s the first ever event that that truck has ever been in, it’s always running down the highway. To be involved with that depth that I was, it just absolutely amazed me, what they do. Several of the kids wanted to get in my truck and to see their reaction and they had so many questions. The one boy, (Chris Pemberton), who came up in my truck, he was so excited about the truck being there. Just to see him light up, he didn’t even speak to me, he just gave me a hug. It was a fantastic experience and I plan to be there next year.” He said that he would love to see this go viral, especially for Bell and the work he and his group are doing, so that other groups can follow his footsteps and do some of the great things he does there.
Just a coincidental meeting, a truck rolling through Portsmouth on US 52, and so began a friendship that will last a lifetime. A man from across the country has seen what is being done in Scioto County for all those with Autism, and it gives him an even bigger reason to roll that Autism truck mile after mile spreading Autism Awareness.
Reach Kimberly Jenkins 740-353-3101 ext. 1928