SALINA — It was 42 years ago when longtime Salina resident Earl Steiger had a brief brush with man’s landing on the moon.
At age 85, Steiger said he hasn’t talked much about the experience, which he had for two weeks in May and June of 1970.
According to Steiger, he drove a 1970 GMC Aero tractor truck carrying a mobile display featuring the Apollo 11 lunar module Columbia, moon rocks and other memorabilia commemorating man’s landing on the moon, all provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“It was one of the most electrifying experiences of my life,” Steiger said. “Being next to and hauling something so valuable, it was an incredible experience.”
According to Steiger, who was leasing a truck from F-B Trucklines at the time, Merlin Norton and Jay Williams, who were his bosses, said they had a special little job for him. He said they told him it was a weeklong job that would take him from Salt Lake City to Cheyenne, Wyo., and that he would be hauling a display featuring the Apollo 11 module.
“It sounded interesting to me, so I accepted,” Steiger said. He said the truck was en route from Sacramento, Calif., and was making a stop at every state capitol in the United States, giving people across the country a chance to experience arguably the most significant moment in space travel ever.
The brand new GMC rig was specially built to carry the 14-foot wide, 40-foot long display trailer, which was part of a three vehicle convoy — two other men were elected to drive pilot cars, which received a police escort as they traveled to their destination.
“I don’t know why I was picked — it wasn’t because I was the best — I just knew how to make the truck go where I wanted it to go,” Steiger said. He said the three men picked to represent the state of Utah had to have clean driving records and he had to be able to proficiently move the oversized load across a designated route.
Steiger piloted the truck from Salt Lake City to Cheyenne, Wyo., during the last week of May, and had to stay there a week with the display as part of the job. He said when he pulled in to Cheyenne, a whistle sounded and the streets cleared as he made his way up to the steps of the state capitol building.
“I drove the truck, so I got all the attention as we pulled in to Cheyenne,” Steiger said. “It was a hell of an experience, I just loved every bit of it.”
When it came time for Steiger to fly home and let someone from Wyoming take over, he said something had happened to that individual, and NASA asked him to stay on another week to transport and set up the display in Denver.
“I couldn’t beat that, so I stayed another week with it there,” Steiger said. He said while he was with the display, he got to check out all of the display items, and even handled a moon rock that was vacuum sealed in hydrogen.
Steiger’s experience was documented in the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, as well as a story printed later that year in The Salina Sun.
Steiger said when he returned home, however, he told several people, but, because of his demeanor as a lighthearted jokester, not many people took him seriously.
“I used to tell people I held a moon rock, and all I’d get back from them was, ‘yeah, Stig, and I held a moon girl,’” Steiger said. “After that I haven’t told too many people. It was a long time ago anyway.”
According to Steiger, there aren’t very many people who even know, or remember that he ever had this brush with American history. He said he has a well-documented scrapbook of pictures and other memorabilia surrounding the Apollo 11 mission, the nationwide tour of which he was a part, and even follow up news detailing the 40th anniversary of the moon mission and the death of Neil Armstrong, who was the first man to set foot on the moon.
“It makes me feel a part of the history,” Steiger said. “It was a very special experience that I won’t ever forget.”
Only two years after his experience with the Apollo 11 exhibit, at age 45, Steiger said he hung up his hat from trucking after 28 years and opened Stig’s bar, a local hot spot, which he operated for some 25 years. He said he was also a part of the North Sevier sheriff’s posse for 33 years and did some part time work with the Salina City Police Department through the years.
Steiger has been married to his wife Marilyn, a native of Salina, for 60 years. The couple raised five children and have 19 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.