GLADWIN, Mich. — The phrase “living the dream” is usually spoken as a whimsical answer to the question, “How are you?” In the case of one Michigan trucker, however, the statement rings true.
“I knew, when I was in 6th grade, that I wanted to drive a truck,” said owner-operator Jeremy Ward. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”
Ward lives in Gladwin, Michigan, about 80 miles north of Lansing, with his wife, two daughters and a stepson. When he’s not spending time with the family, he’s driving his 1995 Peterbilt 379, which is equipped with a Caterpillar 3406E engine and an 18-speed transmission. It’s a special truck, but more for its history than its make and model.
“I was in high school and I saw this truck going down the highway,” Ward said. “I told my dad about the Kawasaki-green paint job and the checkered flag, and he said he couldn’t picture it. A year later, he ended up buying it.”
Ward said his father sold the truck — but not before putting more than a million miles on it. Even then, the company that bought the truck hired Ward’s father to drive it for two more years. The truck became part of the family history.
While this was happening, Jeremy was busy with his own trucking company, Wild Ride Express, which he started in 2005. He had built the company to four trucks when the Great Recession hit in late 2007. With loads hard to come by and freight rates too low to operate, Ward sold his equipment and drove for someone else. However, he never lost the desire to operate on his own.
In 2014, Ward was presented with the opportunity to buy back his father’s Peterbilt from the company it had been sold to. He ended up with a lease-purchase deal, driving his father’s truck for the company his dad had worked for.
Ward now owns two trucks; he drives one and his dad drives the other. Currently, the trucks are leased to Indianapolis-based VTI Specialized, at least until the economy recovers. Pulling flatbeds, the two haul prefabricated building sections out and pick up whatever is available for a backhaul.
Ward said he has put a lot of effort into his Peterbilt, repainting everything except the distinctive checkered flags that adorn the sides, which he sanded and clear-coated. He also added lime-green lighting designed by American SuperLite in North Hollywood, California.
Diesel Freaks in Gaylord, Michigan, took care of the engine work. The 3406E engine now puts out 800 horsepower, creating enough torque to break the gears in the 13-speed transmission Ward replaced. In fact, the entire drive train, from differentials forward, is new.
Although the truck is definitely show quality, Ward hasn’t entered it in any truck shows.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I’d rather go see the shows and watch everyone else. I don’t like the attention; I’d rather be a spectator.”
At the suggestion of the staff at Diesel Freaks, Ward entered the Great Lakes Big Rig Challenge at Michigan’s Onaway Motor Speedway. Participating in the bobtail drag-racing competition, he won two preliminary rounds before being eliminated.
“It was a great experience, and I’m glad I did it,” he said.
When he isn’t driving or working on his equipment, Ward spends time with his family.
“I’m no different than anyone else,” he explained. “I’m really a homebody.”
That home includes 25 acres and a shop he is building to work on his own trucks. He enjoys hunting when time permits, and likes to use his bodywork talents to help out friends and neighbors.
With the ups and downs of the trucking economy, Ward has no plans to expand.
“I’m in a good place right now,” he explained. “I don’t plan on growing. It creates more headaches.”
Ward misses the old days of trucking, particularly the camaraderie between drivers.
“It used to be like a brotherhood. Drivers would talk to one another on the C.B. and stop for coffee together. Now, everyone is in a rush,” he said, adding that he blames ELDs for some of the difference.
To promote engagement between drivers, Ward started and administers the Facebook group “All-Out Trucking,” dedicated to drivers and people who love the trucking lifestyle. The page currently has more than 2,600 members. The rules are simple: No nudity, racism, politics or “raunchiness.” Members are asked to refrain from criticizing others for what they drive or who they drive for.
Ward echoed this sentiment to The Trucker.
“We’re all out here doing a job,” he said. “I never cut someone down for what they drive. We’re supposed to be a brotherhood.”
Ward said he plans to continue working on his truck but would like to buy a newer one so his current ride can be retired and worked on at leisure. He said may even enter the show circuit.
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.