RIVER FALLS -- Going the extra mile is not a foreign concept to Marlene and Bill Finke.
The Finkes have gone over 1 million miles together.
After working a farm in small town River Falls, the Finkes began hauling recreational vehicles in the 1990s for Hoosier RV Transport out of Bristol, Ind., a company still running today.
“I was a homemaker here, I never thought I’d get out of Wisconsin and see so many places,” Marlene said. “Bill had hurt his leg and couldn’t keep ahead of the cattle and I happen to hear this advertisement one night. It said, ‘Come on, make $32,000 a year and run motor homes from factories to dealers.'”
Before setting out for their new cross-country work, the couple purchased a new 12-valve 1996 Dodge turbo diesel pickup truck from Bernard’s Chrysler Jeep Chevy in New Richmond.
They named the truck George, and Marlene and Bill stuck their citizens band dispatch nicknames for each other, "Navigator" and "Farmer," on the doors.
The trio hit the road in all directions, working and sightseeing everywhere from New York to California. By spring 2001, they clocked the 1 millionth mile in Wanatah, Ind. That’s about 530 miles logged each day during the five years and two months George was worked on the road.
“I just love traveling. We did see pret’ near every corner of the U.S. and Canada,” Bill said. “We delivered many times in every state.”
The 48-state, million-mile business venture with George drew the attention of the South Bend Tribune, an Indiana newspaper, which published the Finkes’ story in 2001.
In all his time on the road through every season, George sustained only minor injuries from one major accident on the road. Marlene hit ice during the winter in 1998 in Janesville, Wis., and slid into a ditch, jackknifing the 35-foot camper she was pulling.
The camper was totaled, but George, who only had 350,000 miles logged, stayed upright and survived one fender dent.
“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Marlene recalled, laughing. The illusion was born from the white camper flashing by in the night when it came around and “kissed” George, Marlene said.
George also had his share of experiences with deer in the roadway, once needing new radiators in Montana after an encounter with a North Dakota mule deer. That was the only time George was ever towed.
The 23-year-old George now boasts 1.32 million miles and can be spotted rolling through town or the countryside as Finke's grandson Mike Glenna drives it to and from work.
“I never get nervous about breaking down. That truck has less issues with it than vehicles with 100,000” miles, Glenna said. “It still drives on the road just fine. It stops, it accelerates.”
George’s long and happy life is owed to a lot of tender loving care from handyman Bill, Glenna and local mechanics. Lots of work done on George’s tough parts was completed on the road, sometimes under a light post at night, with Finkes’ own supplies in tow including alternators and universal joints.
A quick overview of George’s mechanical history:
The engine was first replaced at 750,000 miles.
The first alternator was replaced at 450,000 miles, a second at 740,000 miles.
The first transmission was replaced at 321,000 miles.
The first universal joint was replaced at 751,000 miles at a wayside at 2 a.m., Bill said, two others at 850,000 miles.
Oil was changed every 4,000 miles.
38 tires were used throughout the million miles, rotated every 10,000-15,000 miles.
“As long as you know how to do it,” Marlene said, explaining how Bill’s knowledge of mechanics strengthened their trust in George’s journey.
“I didn’t get a million miles on it by not working on it some,” Bill said.
Twice as nice
But the Finkes didn’t stop after 1 million miles and one truck.
Bernard’s dealership used the couples’ million-mile story for advertising, splashing phrases like “Ever wonder why Dodge is different?” and “Somebody tried to tell us it was time to get out of Dodge! ‘We don’t think so’” in early 2000s newspaper shoppers alongside photos of George and the Finkes.
The same year George hit 1 million miles, Marlene and Bill decided to "stay in Dodge" and expand their trucking family, putting their trust in one more Dodge diesel pickup.
The Finkes managed 1 million more miles with their new truck, which was later sold. A sleeper was attached to the 2001 Dodge’s cab, giving the pickup a massive look.
The pickup was named with the hauling company’s chief of operations, Harley Vollrath, in mind. “He’s a big guy, so he looks like a Harley to me,” she said comparing the man to the vehicle.
When the Great Recession hit in 2008, Marlene and Bill retired from the hauling business and returned to working on their River Falls farm. They agree that they miss the million-mile lifestyle, but they have their chances to take personal road trips without the pressure of making a haul. They recently took a 4,400-mile vacation to Oregon in a car.
Currently the world record for highest vehicle mileage is 3 million miles, accomplished in 2013 by an American man named Irvin Gordon driving a 1966 Volvo 1800S.
Who knows — maybe George could still set a diesel pickup truck world record.