'A pretty amazing event'

Truck drivers from across the nation unite to throw a birthday party for a teenager with cerebral palsy.

October 2018

Mark Schremmer

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Dakota “Bubba” Cadd spends much of his days sitting in his wheelchair outside his home and signaling for truckers traveling along Highway 26 in Milton, Wis., to blow their air horn.

So it’s no surprise what Dakota, a teenage boy who has cerebral palsy and Dandy Walker Syndrome, wanted to do when he got in the driver’s seat of the iconic truck from the TV show “B.J. and the Bear.”

“We thought he might have some difficulties getting into the truck. Boy, were we wrong,” said Jeremy Wallenkamp, one of the organizers for 18 Wheels for Bubba. “He got right up there, sat in the seat, and he hung on that horn.

“I don’t think he ever stopped smiling.”

And why would he? Truck drivers from around the nation united on Aug. 18 in Milton to throw Dakota the birthday party of a lifetime. More than 180 trucks and an estimated 1,200 people attended 18 Wheels for Bubba to celebrate the 16th birthday of a trucking enthusiast who most of them had never previously met.

“It was a pretty amazing event,” said Peggy Cadd, Dakota’s mother. “Everything about it was awesome. We didn’t get to talk to everybody, but everyone was absolutely wonderful.”

Peggy said he has been fascinated with trucks since he was 2 years old and will watch truck convoys on YouTube when he is unable to go outside to watch the trucks.

Dakota’s appreciation for trucks is what sparked the 18 Wheels for Bubba event.

In July, Mark King, a truck driver for CH Hall Trucking in Illinois, noticed Dakota watching trucks from his yard and left a T-shirt and toy truck on his next trip past the house.

The kind act led to a Facebook post from Peggy Cadd and to more truck drivers wanting to get involved and show their appreciation for Dakota.

Wallenkamp, an OOIDA member and former truck driver, started the 18 Wheels for Bubba Facebook group soon after. A little more than a month after the group started, about 2,500 members had joined.

“I asked his mother if we could throw a small birthday party for him,” Wallenkamp said. “I was hoping to get five to 10 trucks and cook a couple packs of brats. After the first post, I had five to 10 trucks in a minute. A day later, we had 100 trucks. I never expected this.”

Truck drivers from all over the nation attended the party or sent gifts for Dakota.

His mother said Dakota received so many gifts that he could wear a different trucking hat and shirt every day of the year.

“He was so excited,” Peggy said. “He kept telling us that he was happy, and he was definitely on cloud nine.”

The party was kept as a surprise from Dakota until the day of the event. A limo picked up Dakota and his family and took them to Shilsberg Park in Milton. When they arrived, all of the trucks were waiting.

“When we pulled in, he looked at me and said ‘me’ as ‘is this all for me,’” Peggy said. “We said, ‘Yeah. This is your birthday party, and the truckers came for you.’”

At the party, Dakota opened a pile of gifts that included the Make-A-Wish Foundation naming Dakota a Wish Kid. In addition, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Board Member Dick Pingel attended to make Dakota an honorary member of the Association.

And, of course, Dakota got plenty of time to look and sit in some heavy-duty trucks.

Craig Sagehorn, an OOIDA life member, brought his “B.J. and the Bear” truck, and Mark Hall gave Dakota a ride in his rig.

“At one point, Jeremy was driving Dakota in the golf cart to go get him some birthday cake. Dakota loves cake, but he said no. He wanted to see more trucks,” Peggy said.

The event was later featured on CBS Evening News.

“After it was over, my husband (Rick Cadd) and I talked about how many people were there and the sacrifices they had to make to be at our son’s birthday,” Peggy said. “I know trucking isn’t an easy job, and it just shows you that there are some great truck drivers out there.

“Dakota has disabilities. We think he’s perfect, but we don’t always get that reaction. It wasn’t that way on Saturday. Everybody accepted him for who he is. He loves trucks, and they embraced him for that.”

In addition to coming together for Dakota, the event also generated about $2,000 for the school lunch program in Milton.

And Wallenkamp said the 18 Wheels for Bubba group plans to use this event as a starting point for future philanthropic endeavors.

He hopes to turn the group into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and host an event for kids in need every year.

“It was amazing that so many drivers were willing to give up money and their time at home to show up for Bubba and his family,” Wallenkamp said. “What really made it special for me was to see his smile and to see all those truckers come together for a common cause.

“We have a year to plan and start working on different things. Bubba has inspired myself and a lot of others to continue this on in his honor.” LL

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Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.