His Honor, the Truck Driver


Eldon B. Conklin is a 71-years-young ball of energy who serves as mayor of Gouverneur, NY, an upstate rural town of 5,000 residents who all pretty much know one another. Located picturesquely between the St. Lawrence River and the Adirondack Mountains, Gouverneur is the type of Mayberry-like town where you would expect to find such a person as mayor.

What you wouldn’t expect is to learn that the mayor spends his entire summer driving a truck for a drum and bugle corps, as he has for the past 13 years.

And by the way, that corps is 3,000 miles away.

Let’s hear from him how this all came to be.

“My niece was married to an instructor for Blue Devils who was aware that I knew how to drive a truck. He asked me if I might be interested in going on tour some year. In 1989, he connected me with the corps’ traffic manager. And so, I found myself flying into Oakland, where I was picked up by someone from the corps and driven to the corps hall. At that point, I still had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

Also, he had yet to see his first drum corps show. Ever.

“But after a couple days, I was driving the equipment truck to Stockton, CA, and a couple days later, I left on tour to Ogden, UT, pulling the food trailer. When the equipment trailer broke down just outside of California, I left the food trailer behind, picked up the equipment trailer, pulled it 600 miles to Ogden, and went back to pick up the left-behind food trailer.”

Thus the corps realized he knew what he was doing.

“Being a person who can’t just sit, doing nothing, I started coming into the kitchen and helping out. By the time we left Ogden, the cooks had gone to Mike Moxley, the corps director, and asked if I could pull the food trailer. That’s the way it’s been ever since.

“On a typical day, I get up in the morning and help with breakfast, then I try to get the main meat courses donefor the day, then I get some rest in the afternoon if we’re moving out that night.

“As for retirement, I’ll let my health dictate that. When my body says I can’t do it anymore, then I’ll have to think about it. Until then, I’m looking forward to going home to the daily routine when the summer’s over,
and doing this all again next year.”

Last year, Eldon took the food truck home when the corps was in the region and gave tours to the townspeople, showing them what he does all summer. When he was asked to speak at the local Kiwanis Club, he said he would do so if he could talk about something other than politics. And so, he talked about drum corps, showing several enlarged drum corps photos and a video of Blue Devils’ 2000 show. He also explained what he did and how he got involved.

As for why he keeps returning for more, “I do it because of the dedication of the kids. I have a great belief in them. Blue Devils is a very dedicated organization that treats the kids extremely well, and everything revolves around what’s best for the kids. It’s easy to be proud to be part of an organization like that.”

This week, Eldon went home on Monday to pick up his wife, and to attend scheduled town meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. (He stays in touch with town affairs during the tour.) After finals, he and his wife will drive the food trailer to Concord, and then they’ll drive their car back from California after visiting the niece whose husband got him involved with the corps. “I drive to California because that’s the only way I can take my large toolbox, which it seems I need use every day that I’m on the road,” he proclaims.

Gail Schultz, Blue Devils Promotion and Development Director, talks fondly of Eldon. “He has got to be the most patient human being I’ve ever been around. Plus, he makes an excellent meatloaf. His voice soothes the kids over the CB at night and his knowledge of where to go makes us feel safe.”

Eldon has high hopes for the corps come finals. “It’s a rewarding feeling to watch the kids progress during the summer through all the ups and downs. You realize you’ve got some improving to do when someone beats you, but every year we all hope for one more ring.”

He has words for everyone in the stands. “I want to end with this: Anyone who has time on their hands, is in their later years, and who wants to give back something, should consider what I’ve done. It would be a good experience for them to get involved with drum corps.”

And it would be a good experience for the drum corps as well.
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