I receive a lot of emails from readers who compliment me on stories I’ve written or point errors I’ve made. Many also throw story ideas my way.
One of the most unusual suggestions came from Greg Jenkins, husband of figure skating queen Peggy Fleming, who told me about a Colorado College classmate of his named Steve “Duke” Walrath. Duke had the most unusual job — driving the famous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile —during the summer of 1965 between his sophomore and junior years at CC.
Greg contacted me a few weeks ago when he read that the Wienermobile was going to be making a stop in Colorado Springs.
While at CC, Greg and Duke were members of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Duke shared many stories with Greg and his other fraternity brothers after he returned to school following his interesting summer adventure as a Wienermobile driver. Greg and Duke have remained friends over the years and last saw each other two years ago during their 50th class reunion.
“Greg was there with Peggy and we had dinner and lunch two or three different times,” Duke told me. “Peggy was as beautiful as ever and Greg is always a lot of fun to be around.”
Before I get into Duke’s summer adventure, I must share an aside about Greg’s father, Dr. Marion Thomas Jenkins. While working as an anesthesiologist at Parkland Hospital in Dallas in November 1963, he attempted to resuscitate both President John F. Kennedy and his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Dr. Jenkins testified during the Warren Commission’s investigation in 1964. He talked about the president’s wounds. His testimony was taken at Parkland Hospital by Arlen Specter, then the assistant counsel of the commission.
As for Duke’s adventure, he applied for the job of a Wienermobile driver when he returned to his hometown near Madison, Wisc., during the summer of 1965. His father worked in marketing for Oscar Mayer and Duke had worked there during high school in 1963.
Duke landed the summer job as a fill-in Wienermobile driver until a full-time person was hired. Duke’s territory was Colorado and the Plains states. Before that time, the Wienermobile had never been seen in Colorado.
“I got a special driver’s license and the job was perfect,” said Duke, who received $2 an hour plus expenses that summer. “There were six Wienermobiles in those days. Five were on the road at one time and one was in getting maintenance.”
Duke drove the Wienermobile from Madison to Denver for his first stop. After a week in the Mile High City, Duke made his way to Colorado Springs. He got to hang out with several members of his fraternity who were in town for the summer.
On July 3 that year, Duke recalls, he drove the Wienermobile up Pikes Peak Highway and parked it the day before the Hill Climb “Race to the Clouds” took place.
“I asked people camping in the area to watch the Wienermobile and then I went back down the highway in a different vehicle to my hotel in Colorado Springs,” Duke said.
On July 4, Duke returned to his Wienermobile and threw out Wiener Whistles to kids as he drove down the highway to the start line.
Duke spent about a week in Colorado Springs before heading to Topeka, Kan., for his next stop.
Among Duke’s many memories was going to grocery stories and supermarkets with Joe White, who played the role of “Little Oscar.”
“He was the country’s smallest professional magician,” Duke recalled.
Duke turned in his Wienermobile keys in mid-August of that year and returned to classes at CC. Among his fellow classmates were football player Steve Sabol, of NFL Films lore, and star hockey player Jeff Sauer, who later coached for CC.
“It doesn’t seem like 54 years have passed since my days as a Wienermobile driver,” Duke said. “That was a fun time in my life.”
Incidentally, the first Wienermobile was created in 1936 by Carl Mayer. Today there are six traveling hot dog-shaped vehicles across the United States.
Danny Summers has been covering sports at all levels in the Pikes Peak region since 2001. Send your story ideas and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.