Dakota “Bubba” Cadd eagerly reached into the replica Irv Gullickson semitrailer truck and honked its small horn.
First he jumped, a bit startled by the sound, but then honked it again and again with a smile on his face.
The smile lingered for a moment as Bubba rode in a golf cart looking at the 182 semitrailer trucks that lined Schilberg Park on Saturday afternoon.
Bubba’s father, Rick Cadd, was amazed. The trucks were there to honor his son.
Hundreds of people from across the country gathered at the park Saturday for 18 Wheels for Bubba—a surprise 16th birthday party for Bubba that spread like wildfire on social media after a moment of kindness went viral.
Bubba has Dandy Walker syndrome, a congenital brain malformation that delays development of motor skills, and cerebral palsy, said Peggy Cadd, Bubba’s mother. Because of his conditions, he needs assistance to walk and gets around by wheelchair.
Bubba enjoys sitting in the yard of his home along Highway 26, waiting for semitrailer trucks to drive by and honk their horns. He does this nearly every day.
Mark King, a truck driver for CH Hall Trucking in Stillman Valley, Illinois, passes Bubba on his route to and from Jefferson, he said. King doesn’t have a horn to honk but wanted to find a way to make Bubba feel special.
Last month, King left a CH Hall Trucking shirt and toy semitrailer truck on the lawn for Bubba, he said. He has a “soft spot” for kids with special needs because he grew up with a sister who has special needs.
Peggy shared the story of King’s generosity on Facebook, garnering hundreds of shares and comments from people all over the world.
From that, 18 Wheels for Bubba was born.
At the party, Bubba was named an honorary member of Owner-Operated Independent Drivers Association and of Dairyland Diesel, both organizations for truck drivers.
Ray Hagen, a truck driver from Ontario, California, felt drawn to bring his bright orange truck to the party. He wanted to show Bubba there is plenty of good in the world.
Hagen, a second-generation truck driver, said he is disappointed when he sees kids show him the middle finger or throw things at his truck. Bubba reminds Hagen of his own childhood, when he would travel with his dad and signal to other drivers to honk their horns.
Donations and proceeds from T-shirt sales at the event will go to the Kadd family.
Bubba is one of Peggy and Rick’s 14 adopted children, Peggy said. Seven kids, including Bubba, live at home with them now. They adopted Bubba when he was 9 months old.
The family kept the party a secret to Bubba until they pulled up to the park Saturday afternoon, Rick said. His son was completely “amazed” at what he saw.
Despite the fanfare, Bubba’s birthday was like many others. There was cake, presents, music and balloons.
There was even time for Bubba to get away from the crowd and enjoy a Diet Coke with his girlfriend, Kimmy Peterson.
The two laughed and carried on as teenagers do, in the shadow of an impressive line of big rigs.