PUNXSUTAWNEY — Dylan Hackbarth is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, but he’s deferring a graduate program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for a year in order to take on a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
The experience? Driving the legendary Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to locations between the East Coast and the Midwest for the next year.
“It’s a great way to travel the country, it’s a great product, and it’s cool to be in these places where you might not normally go,” said Hackbarth, who is undertaking the year-long, wiener-ful journey with fellow “Hotdogger” Kylie Hodges, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, who plans to go into live TV studio production in Los Angeles next year.
But why put off academia and a career for a year to drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile?
It’s not such a stretch, according to these two Hotdoggers — both Wisconsin natives, both using the Hot-dogger names “Dyl-Icious” and “Kylie Ketchup” during a stop at the Wal-Mart Plaza Thursday in Young Township — since they are both natives of the Midwest, the home of Oscar Mayer.
Each year, current and alumni Hotdoggers recruit from college campuses — including Penn State — and accept applications from seniors about to graduate to serve as Hotdoggers for the Wienermobile’s annual excursions across the United States.
Hackbarth, of Appleton, Wisc., said this year, 1,500 students applied to become Hotdoggers, and he and Hodges were among 12 chosen.
Hodges, of Madison, Wisc., said she grew up with Oscar Mayer as a child, entering the company’s “sing-the-jingle” contest and seeing the Wienermobile “all the time.”
It’s a special year to be a Hotdogger driving across the country, Hackbarth said, as 2011 marks the 75th birthday of the Wienermobile, designed in 1936 by Carl Mayer, the nephew of Oscar Mayer himself.
After starting their journey in June, Hackbarth and Hodges were in New York City July 18, the actual date of the Wienermobile’s creation.
“It was insane,” Hackbarth said. “We rang the bell and closed the Stock Exchange on Wall Street.
You don’t have these opportunities in everyday life.”
Since beginning their trip in June, Hackbarth and Hodges have been in Maine, Virginia and Missouri. They had to postpone stops in Connecticut and depart before the arrival of Hurricane Irene a few weeks ago but plan to make up those stops later.
There are eight Wienermobiles trolling the United States, six full-sized and two mini-vehicles. This week, they were in Arlington, Wash.; Los Angeles; Little Rock, Ark.; St. Louis, Mo.; Wrightsville Beach, N.C.; and of course, Punxsy.
Hackbarth said Hotdoggers can drive without a CDL license, but must undergo extensive training to operate the massive vehicles, which weighs only 140,000 hot dogs — or seven tons.
“We never go over 65 mph,” Hackbarth said.
The mustard-and-ketchup-colored, six-seat Wienermobiles are operated by teams of two Hotdoggers each.
Hackbarth said the vast amount of glass on the front of the vehicle makes the driver “feel like a piece of meat,” because other drivers can very easily see them — something the Hotdoggers don’t relish.
Hodges said, “We spilled mustard on the floor” — or what looked like a painted design of mustard — as she pointed out other highlights of the Wienermobile, including Hotdogger voice-activated GPS navigation, a bunroof and a rear navigational camera,” so we don’t lose our buns,” she said.
Since Oscar Mayer wants to maintain a good family-oriented image of the Wienermobile, it is not available for party rentals, Hodges said.
However, she added, it has been loaned for the weddings of Hotdogger alumni.
While the Wienermobile is spacious inside and includes storage areas capable of holding 11,000 Wienie-Whistles, the Hotdoggers stay in motels — not inside the Wienermobile — while on the road.
“It’s not a Wienie-Bago,” Hackbarth noted.