Depending on the day, James Weverka pops up in his TikTok videos wearing a well-shaped baseball cap, a bone-white straw cowboy hat or occasionally a stocking cap. All of these are appropriate, considering the number of “hats” the father of three wears during the course of his life on the road and in service to others.
Weverka, an owner-operator based in Nebraska, has quickly risen to social media fame as his alter-ego “Cowboy” maneuvers through one situation after another behind the wheel of “Hercules,” the real-life Kenworth with which he hauls livestock across five states. From TikTok Weverka has expanded to Facebook, Instagram and his own YouTube channel, where fans can keep up on his adventures.
And it all started on a bet.
“(It was) my kids, believe it or not. They downloaded this TikTok app and they’re like, ‘Hey Dad, you really need to download this.’ I was like, ‘No, if I do that, I’ll blow you guys out of the water,’” Weverka said.
If responding to a challenge from his kids was all there was to Weverka’s start on TikTok, viewers might have dismissed the 33-year-old Texas native as little more than an attention-hungry loudmouth, posting videos to satisfy his ego.
But there’s a lot more to James Weverka than meets the eye — or the ear. His goal is actually to use social media to reach others, provide fellow truckers a chuckle or, when needed, to rally his followers for a cause.
“The whole point of the TikTok was I wanted to do something good,” Weverka said. “I got in touch with another gentleman who goes by Doc Cowboy. He said he also wanted to do something positive.”
The duo decided to launch a TikTok charity run and donate the money raised to help someone in need. The first charity run benefited a man dealing with spina bifida whom they nicknamed Teddy Bear, aka Wheelz, and a sensation was born.
“When I did that TikTok, within the first 48 hours, I had over 20,000 followers on my account,” Weverka said. “We ran this charity run and it came out very, very successful. I think we raised just under $10,000 to build a wheelchair-accessible porch for Teddy Bear at his house. We ended up getting about 50 people together to go up there and actually build the porch for him.”
Inspired, Weverka and Doc started looking for more opportunities to help others — and they didn’t have to look far. People passed along news of families who were going through tough times because of personal illness, a sick child or some other difficult situation.
Since that first charity run, every step of the process has been refined, from Weverka’s manic marketing on social media to setting up cash apps and financial audit procedures to assure the public that everything is above board. People can donate money directly during each 30-day fundraiser. Many drivers play a bounty game, where a specific trucker is called out by his or her peers, who pledge money to be donated once they are “caught.”
“We have a person who keeps track of who the money comes from and where it comes from. Once the money is all added up, on that 30th day, we transfer the funds,” Weverka said.
“All of the funds. Every dime of the funds. Whatever we raise, we transfer to the person that we were running the charity for,” he said. “On top of that, we also send information about who donated so that whoever receives the money can send out thank-you cards or whatever they want to do for everybody that donated for them.”
Of course, not all of Weverka’s videos support a charitable cause.
On TikTok he’s a naturally rowdy performer. He’s completely in his element, whether lip-syncing to music, providing comic relief or ranting about something that’s gotten under his skin as the mood hits him.
He’s even created a skit character — the hapless “Rookie” — and will occasionally get into a discussion with Hercules, with the truck talking back to him. Weverka’s loud-and-proud, not-politically correct banter rates a solid PG-13, but no more so than a group of buddies sharing a few beers and swapping stories.
And that, Weverka said, is exactly what he wants to do.
“My ultimate goal is to put a smile on everybody’s face, whether they’re having a bad day or not,” he said. “I come up with crazy content. I’ve been told hundreds of thousands of times that when people are having a bad day, they just look at one of my videos and I change their lives.”
Weverka feels such a connection to his fellow drivers that you’d think he’s been in the trucking game his whole his life. In fact, he’s only been on the road about five years, finally following a childhood dream.
“My dad was married to this woman back in the day. I was about 9 or 10 years old, and her dad was a trucker. He pulled flatbed, and every summer I would go ride with him in the truck all summer long. We would go down to Vegas and do all kinds of stuff,” Weverka recalled.
“He’d always put me to work and make me crawl up on the trailer and tarp it down and stuff like that. He had a Kenworth W900 back in the day, and it was my dream truck,” he continued. “I would go with him for weeks on end. He kept me busy, and I had a blast. I just was fascinated with the size of the trucks. I felt like I was the king of the road when I was a kid riding with him, and it just kind of stuck with me as I got older.”
As fate would have it, Weverka got the chance three years ago to buy his dream truck — Hercules — and he promptly started tricking out the 2005 Kenworth W900L from nose to mudflaps, investing thousands of dollars.
“I slowly started adding stuff to it and customizing it and making it look pretty and stuff like that,” he said. “I was into car shows big-time for a while there, and I was like, that’d be cool to start going to shows and doing something crazy. Before I started my whole TikTok thing, we started on the truck just getting it better looking.”
Today, Hercules has a life of its own and is as much of a draw on social media as its fast-talking owner. As the notoriety of “Cowboy and Hercules” has grown coast-to-coast and around the world, requests for tributes and mentions roll in regularly.
One message reads, “My dad was a trucker all his life. His CB handle was Hillbilly. He passed away from cancer in 2004 and today is his anniversary. Can you do a call for him on the CB please?”
Another reads, “Could you do this for my dad? He was a driver for Werner. He passed away February 13, 2021. He went by Eagle. If you would, could you post it for me?”
As brash and hyped-up as many of his videos are, Weverka hits the listener just as hard when he softens his tone to honor these requests, talking about the fallen or the sick or the struggling. It’s easy to care, he says, when you’re surrounded by the kind of people he’s met and befriended in trucking.
“A lot of this stuff I can relate to, and there’s a lot of this stuff that I can’t,” he said. “I have a tremendous heart and a softness for people who are struggling because I know what it’s like to struggle.
“I had a rough childhood myself, losing people. I lost my best friend of 19 years almost three years ago, killed in a head-on collision,” he explained. “And going through medical conditions is something that hits hard with me, especially when it comes to kids. I’ve got three of my own, and my daughter went through medical issues herself.”
Weverka hopes to bring back the “old school” of trucking — revive the image of truckers as the “Knights of the Highway,” as they were once known.
“I’m trying to bring back the way it’s supposed to be, where you see a truck on the side of the road, you pull over and help them out. You don’t drive by,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. As soon as you join the trucking community, you’re family for life. The people are the best part.”
Much like his driving career, Weverka’s social media adventure has come a long way in a very short period of time. But he has no intention of slowing down, having seen the impact he has had on so many.
In a cruel twist, Doc himself was recently diagnosed with some serious health issues, leading Weverka to do a charity run in his honor. It was yet another reminder of how social media can be a powerful tool for good, matching regular people in difficult circumstances to others who care enough to help them.
“I have met so many friends doing this, it’s ridiculous. Lifelong friends, friends that will drop anything they’re doing in the middle of the night to come help you. And those are the friends that you want,” Weverka said.
“It’s funny. Everybody looks at me as if I’m an inspiration,” he mused. “But in all reality, everybody else is the inspiration to me. We wanted to take this nationwide and because of them, we did that. It’s been a heck of a ride, and I’m going to continue to take that ride.”
To keep up with the latest charity runs and chases by Weverka and Doc, visit truckercharitychase.com.
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.