Trucking has been a part of Lynnette Reeves’ life ever since her father perched her on his knee behind the wheel at nine months old. She can’t recall a time when trucks weren’t at the forefront of her existence — as a bond with her dad during her childhood and now, and as a means to put food on the table through her company, L.H. Reeves LLC in Fargo, North Dakota.
“I turned 21 on June 24, 1991, and I got my first trucking job June 25, 1991, working with my daddy,” she said.
“I spent the first five years not knowing where the hell I was going because all he did was tell me, ‘Follow me.’ I’m like, ‘Where are we going?’ He goes, ‘If you keep up, you’ll find out.’ Fair enough,” she noted.
“We hauled heavy haul,” she continued. “He was heavy haul as far as huge trailers and tri-axle trucks and sh*t like that. He was ‘Big Jim,’ and I was called ‘Baby Haul.’”
Reeves grew up just over the border in Minnesota, where, during her early days of trucking she enjoyed steady trucking gigs serving local farmers. She also took a turn as a farrier and broke and trained horses while her son was small. But she never quit working — something her late father, James Stanley Winter, would undoubtedly approve.
In fact, the aura of Big Jim is still everywhere at L.H. Reeves, if you know where to look.
“The truck that I have now, I built it for my dad who passed in 2013,” she said. “This truck here is built for my dad, 100% built from the ground up for my daddy. The number on it is 717, my dad’s birthdate, and that’s on the hood. That means my dad’s always leading me, just like he did when I was little and had no idea where I was going. I still follow my dad around.”
One part of the truck is uniquely Reeves’.
“There’s a pig on my hood because we raised pigs growing up. We also had cows, but I couldn’t find a cool cow head that didn’t look mean and crabby,” she explained. “So, I went with the cute little Wilbur smiling pig. I didn’t want anything mean on my truck.”
Reeves beams as she talks about her latest rig, a 1999 Kenworth W900 she’s christened Amazing Grace. And well she should, for her history with trucks is like that person who is unlucky in love but finally finds a keeper. Things are great now she says, but boy … what she had to go through to get here! As the saying goes, “third time’s the charm.”
“My first truck was an old 2003 W900 with a 550 CAT bored up to a 613 speed,” she said. “But honestly, he was an alcoholic. He wouldn’t quit drinking. He just kept burning fuel. It was horrible.”
Excessive drinking finally did in The Count, as she called that rig, leading her to a 1996 Peterbilt 379. And like many rebounds, that one was cursed from the start, leading her to dub the pink rig High Maintenance.
“I had it nine months,” she said. “I put $35,000 worth of repairs into it. It was just a money pit. That truck was seriously possessed.”
High Maintenance had an annoying habit of catching fire — three times during its short life to be exact. The final flare-up happened on Christmas 2020.
“When I do liquid cattle feed, I go from the plant and then I go to the location. The particular location that I was going to was only about 15 miles from the plant on this night,” she said. “It was Christmas, and we were running what you want to call ‘short-handed’ because nobody wanted to work. I was like, I’m fine with working.”
That Christmas run was short-lived, however.
“I went out there and crawled on top to undo the lid, went to the back, opened it up, ran up, ducked underneath the trailer and I saw the smoke coming out of the door,” she recalled.
Inside the cab, smoke was streaming out from behind the dash. Reeves’ husband opened the cover and a fireball erupted.
“He was yelling at me to grab the fire extinguisher, and I opened the back door, grabbed the fire extinguisher,” she said. “He dumped the entire fire extinguisher in there. and I swear to God, all it did was make the fire bigger. It was over before it started … horrible. It was also like, 20 below that night. It was just awful.”
High Maintenance went up like a comet, burning to a charred skeleton. Two days later, Reeves discovered the truck what would become Amazing Grace for sale 200 miles away in Mandan, North Dakota. The owner agreed to haul a load to Fargo so she could see it, and she directed him straight to her longtime mechanic.
“My mechanic looked at it and told me, ‘There’s your truck, girl. There’s a few things, but they’re all little,’” Reeves recalled. “I said, ‘We’re good?’ He goes, ‘We’re good.’”
Reeves wasn’t taken with the look of the truck, but knowing it was sound mechanically, she made the deal, taking possession in March 2021, after her insurance came through. She drove it “as-is” until September, when she brought Amazing Grace in for a makeover.
“The first time I drove it, it felt like, ‘This is mine,’” she said. “But all the chrome was rusty, there was not a drop of clear coat on it, the paint was ugly. No offense, but it did not scream, ‘I’m Lynnette’s truck!’ because I like really pretty trucks.”
After upgrading kingpins, drag lines and reworking the AC, Reeves got down to what she terms the “sexy stuff.” New paint, lavish chrome and a revamped interior turned the ugly duckling truck into a swan. She estimates she has about $15,000 in work left to do, but what’s been done is enough to bring a note of joy to her voice.
Today, while she’s still following her dad’s example, she’s also leading the company’s newest employee, Jack, her husband of 26 years.
“He lost his job due to COVID, and guess who drives for his wife now?” she laughed. “He worked in industrial ag, building grain bins and towers, and they couldn’t get parts. They weren’t calling him back and weren’t calling him back. So, I told him, ‘’Just quit your job, seriously. Get your CDL and just be done.’’
At first, Reeves’ husband didn’t believe her.
“I told him, ‘I’m serious. I’ll buy you a truck,’ she recalled. “He goes, ‘I want to drive your truck.’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
Reeves isn’t quite ready to give up her “Amazing Grace.”
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.