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By Carmen Ensinger
This year, Santa had a little competition as the favorite attraction at the Winchester Hometown Christmas – the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile! Who knew a 27 foot long, 11-foot-high wiener on wheels would attract such attention? However, folks were coming from far and wide to take a peek at this iconic memory from their childhood.
Actually, the Wienermobile has been around much longer than anyone imagines.
Carl Mayer, nephew of Oscar Mayer, designed the first Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in 1936 as a marketing idea to promote his uncle’s German wieners. He built a 13-foot-long mobile hot dog and cruised around the Chicago area handing out wieners.
The Wienermobile and other similar novelty vehicles were all the rage around World War II, but interest in this form of advertising promotion began to wane in the 60’s and 70’s as more contemporary forms of advertisement took over.
However, in 1986, the Wienermobile hit the road again for its 50th anniversary at which time it was discovered that a whole new generation of consumers were nostalgic about the car. The company ordered six new models in 1988 to meet the demand for appearances.
Aspiring Wienermobile drivers are trained at Hot Dog High in Madison, Wis. Each year, the company receives 1,000 to 1,500 applications for the 12 available positions open annually. Those selected for hot dog duty are given 40 hours of instruction and assigned a different region of the country. The company tracks their routes with a GPS – something Carl Mayer probably never envisioned 86 years ago.
Graduates of Hot Dog High who are given their own route become what is known as “Hotdoggers.” With two to a Wiener, the driver keeps an eye on the road and the passenger acknowledges and waves to the passersby who want to interact with the vehicle. This is known as riding “shotbun” and the greetings are mandatory.
At roughly 60 hot dogs long (27 feet) and 24 hot dogs high (11 feet) and weighing the equivalent of 140,500 hot dogs (14,050 pounds), the Wienermobile might seem more like a camper than anything else, but for one day in 1988, it became a race car. Al Unser Jr. took the Wienermobile to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and drove it for laps. The dog reached an impressive 110 miles per hour.
Because it is so large and because designers are always improving on designs, a version was created called the “Wienie-Bago.” In 2016, when there were no hotel rooms to be found in San Francisco during the Super Bowl, Oscar Mayer auctioned off two nights in the Weenie-Bag – an RV that sleeps four.
The interior if the Wienermobile consists of a hot dog shaped dashboard, a ketchup walkway, condiment splattered carpet, removable “bunroof”, blue sky ceiling art, six mustard and ketchup-colored seats, smiling front grill and a horn that plays the official Oscar Mayer wiener jingle.
Piloting the Wienermobile might seem like fun, but it can be a daunting task and there have been several mishaps over the years.
In 2009, one of the Wieners crashed into the deck and garage of a home in Wisconsin after the driver made the mistake of trying to use the driveway to turn around.
The previous year, one of them ended up sliding into a ditch during a snowstorm in New York. The very same thing happened again in 2013.
The Wienermobile has also run afoul of the police on more than one occasion. An Arizona police officer stopped one of the vehicles in 2007 for allegedly having a stolen license plate that read “YUMMY”. According to the officer, the Wienermobile was driving too slowly so he ran the plates before pulling it over. It turned out to be just a misunderstanding. The prior plate had been stolen and the Oscar Mayer Company had failed to notify the Arizona DMV that they had obtained a new plate.
That same year, a Wienermobile with the license plate “WEENR” was targeted by officers in Chicago. Apparently, the driver had left the hot dog in a “no hot dog zone”, aka no parking zone, along the city’s Magnificent Mile.