Celebrating 75 years of the Wienermobile
July 18th, 2011
09:15 AM ET
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Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia (CNN) - Driving cross-country in small-bus-size hot dog is kind of a big deal.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 college seniors apply for the 12 posts piloting Oscar Mayer’s six Wienermobiles. Hopefuls have been applying for the position since 1988.

“The lucky dogs who cut the mustard are known as ‘hotdoggers,’ ” said Reese Brammel, a hotdogger who just graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in “Economnomnomics,” according to his bio on the hotdogger blog.

Brammel, who plans to apply to law school after his year-long tenure with Oscar Mayer, will face much more forgiving acceptance rates at even the most selective schools.

Brammel and his co-hotdogger, Lauren Oliver, are part of the 24th class of Oscar Mayer hotdoggers, but the Wienermobile is much older. In fact, it is 75 years old today.

To celebrate, the hotdoggers who cover the Northeast will appear on CNN’s “American Morning,” and Oscar Mayer representatives will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

“We want to celebrate the 75th birthday in style,” said Ed Roland, who oversees Wienermobile marketing for Oscar Mayer.

The Wienermobile was born in 1936, when Carl Mayer approached his uncle Oscar with the idea of driving a giant hot dog through Chicago streets, selling Oscar Mayer wieners, Roland said. Over the years, the Wienermobile developed from a smallish 13-foot affair (Carl Mayer drove around with his head sticking through a hole in the roof) into a fleet of mobile marketing hot spots. Children in the ’50s and ’60s knew to look out for the Wienermobile.

The Wienermobile went on hiatus during the fuel woes of the ’70s, when Oscar Mayer could more effectively reach its audience through television advertising. This was the heyday of the jingle-laden commercials featuring bologna’s first name and last name, and children who wished only to be loved like Oscar Mayer wieners.

When the Wienermobiles reappeared, the children who had blown their Wiener Whistles upon spotting it were parents themselves. They brought their kids to see the Wienermobile and propelled it beyond a commercial status to a cultural icon, Roland said. This renewed effort was driven, in every sense, by the hotdoggers.

“In the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the hotdoggers first hit the road and reintroduced the Wienermobile, it made that leap from ‘This is something I got when I was a kid’ to ‘This is quite the icon. I want a picture with it,’ ” Roland said.

Riding around in today’s Wienermobile is comparable to how one might imagine being surrounded by European paparazzi on motorcycles. During a drive around Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, on Thursday, cars on the interstate passed in front of the dog and then hit the brakes to get a picture.

A dark green pickup loaded down with straw erosion-control blankets pulled up next to the Wienermobile. In the cab, young men in mirrored sunglasses jubilantly held up their cell phones to take pictures. In town, at every point of an intersection, people would whip out their phones to document the moment.

As one might imagine, the hotdoggers are unrelentingly upbeat. Even as every other driver on the road creates a veritable deathtrap, they smile, wave and honk the horn that plays a little bit of the Oscar Mayer jingle (the one they listen to on a loop for at least six hours each day).

“I was surprised about how well it handles,” Brammel said. “I was worried about driving it. I mean, it’s a 27-foot hot dog, but it turns on a dime.”

Brammel and Oliver had a 40-hour training session to learn to operate their Weinermobile, which is named “Oh I Wish.” Each of the six vehicles has an Oscar Mayer nickname, as do all 12 hotdoggers. “Reese with Relish” and “Lucky Dog Lauren” said they worked with the other hotdoggers to brainstorm on their nicknames. And they operate it well. The ride is a little smoother than that of a yellow school bus.

There’s something reminiscent of a fraternity about the hotdogger legacy. Oliver and Brammel’s forbears have left CDs (old-school ’90s mixes and the like) for them to listen to on the road, as well as a book of travel tips.

The fraternity parallels end at comportment, though.  From the confines of a yacht-sized hot dog in which puns are a constant, each play on words is 100% family-friendly. As a rule, the person who rides “shotbun” must also wave at each person who wants to interact with the Wienermobile. No exceptions are made for bloggers.

The hotdoggers said that when they’re done with their 27-foot automotive homage to encased meat for the day, they forget that other drivers are no longer expecting them to smile and wave. Brammel likened the sensation to his previous position as a mascot at the University of Kentucky. He’d take off the costume, forget he was no longer the Wildcat and try to give a kid a high five.

“I forgot I was just this sweaty guy they wanted nothing to do with,” Brammel said.

Brammel and Oliver are the Southeast team. In January, they will switch partners and regions. The regions are not set in stone. Brammel and Oliver filled in and handled appearances in the Dakotas for their Midwestern co-doggers, who had to be at the Chicago Pride Parade. Coincidentally, they wound up in Minot, North Dakota, in the middle of the late June flooding.

“It took their mind off it for a little while,” Brammel said. “We tried to bring a sense of normalcy.”

Oliver said they were distributing food at shelters and wound up at a senior center. Though pressed for resources in a dangerous situation, the senior citizens “just went nuts when they saw the Wienermobile.”

The hotdoggers’ adventures have taken them to several parts of the country that have been dealt weather difficulties. Guests at Thursday’s Fort Oglethorpe event were still talking about the tornado that struck the area in late April. Along the side of the Wienermobile’s route on I-75, trees are uprooted and broken like toothpicks.

At the end of the hotdoggers day in Fort Oglethorpe, a slight drizzle began.

“It doesn’t matter how much it rains, sleets or snows out here,” Brammel said. “The skies in the Wienermobile are always blue.”

Tim Hubbert, 63, who visited the Wienermobile with his daughter and grandchildren, was not as focused on recent regional hardships as on his childhood ambition to see the Wienermobile.

“When I was a kid, that was a big deal,” Hubbert said.

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Filed under: Culture • Food History • Hot dogs

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