"Honey Mustard" Molly Segall and "Hungry" Hannah Carlson talk about their experience working as Hotdoggers in the Wienermobile. (Posted on Feb.3, 2013)

For Hungry Hannah Carlson and Honey Mustard Molly Segall, it’s a hot dog life where everyone is a wiener.

The Midwestern natives are spending their post-graduate year as Hotdoggers in the famed Wienermobile, a 27-foot long vehicle powered by a 6-liter V8 engine and all the enthusiasm that comes with a giant mobile Oscar Mayer wiener.

“This was a dream job for me,” says Honey Mustard Molly Segall, a retailing graduate from the University of Madison, which is also home to Oscar Mayer. The Madison native grew up in the shadow of the Wienermobile. “I was that kid who really wanted to do it my whole life. I was really grateful I cut the mustard.”

Not only are puns are unavoidable, they are encouraged at Hot Dog High in Madison, where trainees spend 2 weeks and 40 hours of driving one of six giant frankfurters before hitting the road.  

On an early Feburary afternoon, we caught up with the Hotdoggers at an Ultra Foods in Prospect Heights, a northwest suburb of Chicago and one of three regional stops before they proceeded bunward.

“We’re a chili dog here in Chicago,” says Hungry Hannah Carlson. The University of Missouri graduate in Strategic Communications was on her 24th state in her one-year tour of doggie. “Traveling the country in a giant hotdog was so weird, so absurd that I had to do it.”

While the novelty is always noteworthy to encounter, the Wienermobiles have been touring the country to promote America’s food for over 60 years. The first Wienermobile was designed by Carl Mayer, nephew of Oscar, in 1936, though it didn’t see all of America until 1952.

The fleet of 6 Wienermobiles is divided into 6 regions nationally, captained by 2 graduates each. It’s an exclusive position awarded to fewer than 450 graduates since 1988, which was the birth of Hotdoggers.

“It feels like you’re in a parade all the time,” says Hungry Hannah. “The hardest part to get used to is that just because people are honking at you doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job.”

The 6-speed automatic transmission, mated to the 300 Vortec engine, is surprisingly smooth, say the Hotdoggers, who created their own nicknames.

“You’re just high up,” says Honey Mustard Molly. “It’s a very cool way to see the country.”

The chassis by Michigan-based Spartan Motors, which specializes in Class A motorhomes, carries the jumbo Wienermobile, which weighs in at over 7 tons at 14,050 pounds. Put another way, it’s the equivalent of 140,500 hot dogs.

Traveling is just part of the job. The other part is connecting with people putting a face with the iconic brand.

Hotdoggers park at various locations for 3 to 4 hour stretches, where they’ll open the gull-wing door and give away stickers, wiener whistles and, if you’re lucky, a honk from the Wiener horn, which plays the “I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener” song.

The horn, as well as the interior electronics, are powered by twin solar panels that garnish the top of the dog, which enables the Hotdoggers to cut the engine when they’re at a promotional stop.

Access to the inside of the Wienermobile is limited but we were able to step inside the casing to digest its innards.

At 8 feet wide and 11 feet high, the 2012 model is spacious enough to fit 6 captain’s chairs decked in ketchup red and mustard yellow. An enormous hot dog serves as a dash ornament and at the opposite end, in the tail of the dog, is a closet and an auxiliary components panel. There is no bathroom on board and the Hotdoggers stay at hotels throughout their assigned region.  

Fuel economy was unknown. What is known is the joy dished up by the Wienermobile, says Honey Mustard Molly. “Everyone is happy to see us.” 

rduffer@tribune.com

@DufferRobert