Imagine making a plan to order a new truck — make, model, engine, transmission, even the paint color. Then imagine finding that truck on the lot of your favorite dealer, already built and ready to run. That’s how it happened for Ryan Tune when he found his 2016 Peterbilt 389 in November 2015.
Before taking delivery of his new truck, Tune already had the 14-inch stainless-steel visor and super-low half-fenders ready to mount. Then came air cleaner, cab and sleeper light bars, followed by more chrome. The results were good enough to be selected for the Cat Scale Super Trucks card series #19.
Tune’s Peterbilt, equipped with a Cummins ISX engine rated for 550 horsepower and a 13-speed transmission, became part of the fleet at the family business, Tune Rock and Fertilizer of Patoka, Illinois. But make no mistake, the truck is Ryan’s. Every truck in the Tune’s 25-truck fleet isn’t equipped with all the chrome and features, but those driven by members of the family might get a few extra touches.
“My dad had a Peterbilt 379 that was his truck,” Tune said. “Mine looks almost identical to his.”
Ryan represents the fourth generation of the Tune family business, which was founded by his great-grandfather in 1945 upon his return from World War II. The family lives and works in the agricultural community of Patoka, Illinois, about 75 miles east of St. Louis.
“Granddad had some of his own trucks that he added to the business,” Tune said. “These days, Dad works in the office. Granddad has gone back to driving.”
According to Tune, each truck in the fleet has a dump trailer, but the business also has some hopper-bottom units, a step-deck and a few van trailers for special runs and local deliveries. A typical run is hauling grain to elevators in St. Louis where it is loaded on barges for travel on the Mississippi river. Return trips bring crushed rock or fertilizer back to Patoka or to other local rock yards, as ordered.
In addition to the rock and fertilizer business, the Tune family farms 200 acres and raises cattle and hogs, many of which are sold locally.
Tune works wherever he’s needed, as he has ever since he can remember. As a child, he helped in the office and the shop, doing anything he was capable of handling. He often rode with his father on trips, and began driving trucks himself at age 16. At 18, while still in high school, he got his intrastate commercial driver’s license (CDL) and entered the family business full-time.
Now, he might spend a day hauling grain and gravel, followed by a day spreading fertilizer in local fields or tending to crops or livestock. In his “spare” time, Tune says, there is always equipment to clean or repair and he washes his truck frequently.
“There’s always plenty to do around here,” he said. “In the springtime, when we’re in the fields, I generally work 100 hours a week. At other times when it isn’t so busy, I cut back to 70 or 80 hours.”
Fortunately, his usual runs are short enough that he can be home every night.
“It’s pretty rare when I have to spend the night on the road,” he said.
Ryan lives near his childhood home with his wife and two children, ages 5 and 1.
“The kids don’t play video games; they’re outside kids,” he said, adding that the oldest is already showing off his driving skills.
“My son has his own four-wheeler and some power wheels (battery-operated vehicles for children),” he explained. “The funny thing is, he always has some kind of trailer he’s pulling around.”
Ryan and his oldest son also raise a few rabbits, a suggestion made by his son.
When he isn’t working, Tune and the family like to go camping.
“I take more time off than I used to,” he explained. “Kids grow up so fast, and I want to be there for them.”
As for the family business, Ryan doesn’t see a lot of change coming.
“Help is hard to find,” he said. “It seems that we either go all in and try to get to 500 trucks, or we just keep it at the current size. Right now, we’ve got a really good group of drivers.”
While he knows his role in the family business will change over time, Tune knows that his most important role is raising the next generation of the family.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.