The hay business isn’t what it used to be – but what business is, these days? Before the squeeze came along and “revolutionized” (or maybe ruined) the way hay was loaded and unloaded, skilled hay-hauling professionals (with strong backs) were needed to accommodate the special demands of hauling hay. Today, you don’t need any special skills to run hay – it is pretty much the same as running any type of flatbed freight. But, there are a handful of outfits still out there that remember the good old days of boom trucks and stacking hay by hand, and D&M Hay Sales in Chino, CA is one of them. Owners Darrell Elam & Mike Puppi worked together bucking hay long before they ever even dreamed of owning their own hay sales business – they both grew up around dairies and in hay trucks, just like most of their drivers, and they all get to drive these brightly-colored “hay rides” all over the west.
When D&M was first formed in 1991, it was just Mike and his dad, Dave (that’s where the D&M came from). Later, as Dave got closer to retirement, Mike’s old friend Darrell slowly bought into the company. By the time Dave retired in 2002, Darrell was a full 50-50 partner with Mike, and they didn’t even have to change the name of the company, as one “D” (Darrell) replaced the other (Dave). Mike joked, “Now, if I could just find someone with an “M” name to replace me, I could retire, too!” Today, the D&M fleet consists of 11 trucks – 8 Peterbilt conventionals like the one seen here, 1 Freightliner daycab, and 3 older Peterbilt cabover truck and trailer combinations. Forced to upgrade their fleet because of the new CARB emission rules, Darrell & Mike have had to replace several of their older cabovers with new Pete 389s (whether they liked it or not). In fact, to remain compliant, they need to either buy another new truck this year or get rid of an old one – neither of which they really want to do.
Growing up on a small horse ranch in San Jacinto, CA, Darrell (53) grew up around animals, dairies, trucks and equipment. Throughout high school, he took part-time jobs at local dairies doing all sorts of things. At 12, he remembers running a big combine out in the fields for only $2.25 an hour. After high school, he went off to Cal Poly Pomona to study Ag Science, and drove a hay truck at night. But, before he could earn his degree, he got married and started having kids. Needless to say, he left college to go make some money to support his new family. After driving for a few local hay companies for several years, Darrell eventually bought his own boom truck and started loading/unloading hay.
Mike Puppi (51) was born in the farming community of Porterville in California’s fertile Central Valley. His dad, Dave, had moved the family up there to start farming black-eyed peas, but the market collapsed after just a year, so he moved them back to Southern California. After the farming fiasco, Mike’s dad started driving a ready-mix truck in the day and a hay truck at night. Mike spent a lot of time with his dad in the hay trucks, and after graduating high school, he started loading/unloading hay. He did this for about seven years on his own, and then he and Darrell met and went into business together bucking hay. Averaging six to eight loads a day, the two worked together for about eight years, until 1991, when they both went out and bought their own trucks and started driving.
Purchasing a 1987 Freightliner cabover with a 400 Big Cam Cummins (an old Shell Oil tanker truck), Mike took the yellow tanker and converted it into a hay truck. Taking advice from his then-wife and mother, he had his dad spray purple and red stripes on the truck right in their backyard. Although it has never been Mike’s favorite color scheme, the trucks stood out and looked good, so they stuck. Around that same time, Darrell bought a 1987 Peterbilt cabover truck and trailer, and then the two headed off in different directions to go trucking. This is when Mike formed D&M Hay Sales with his dad.
After they both did their own thing for a few years, Darrell came back to work with Mike in 1997 and began buying into the company. As mentioned before, in 2002, Mike’s father fully retired and Darrell became Mike’s partner in the business. Mike’s dad is 77-years old now, but he still enjoys coming into the office a few days a week and always brings the donuts.
Almost every one of the D&M trucks over the years has been painted yellow with purple and red stripes, like Mike’s first truck. Mike’s dad painted the first two trucks himself, but every one after that has been a factory three-color paint job. D&M is one of the few companies that is still allowed to order a three-color paint scheme from Peterbilt. The truck on our centerfold and cover this month (and these pages) is a typical D&M rig. This one, unit #35, is a 2012 Peterbilt 389 with a 600 hp Cummins and an 18-speed transmission. Custom ordered by Rush Peterbilt in Fontana, this truck has a 63-inch flattop sleeper, Hogebuilt quarter fenders, Dynaflex pipes, and all of the bells and whistles. They also installed a new front bumper, a rear light bar, a deck plate, a drop visor and air cleaner light panels. The entire interior was done-up with Rockwood accessories, the stock seats were replaced with custom seats, and a 2,000-watt sound system was installed. Hooked to a set of matching Western trailers, this eye-catching combination turns a lot of heads while running up and down the road.
Tom Boeckeler (36) of Riverside, CA is the lucky driver that gets to run unit #35. Born and raised around the dairies in Chino, CA, Tom also grew up in a hay truck. He has been with D&M for about three years now, and is a great, old-school type of hay hauler (he would actually prefer to load and unload the hay by hand himself if given the choice). Tom runs “the northern loop” for D&M, which includes all of California, Nevada, Southern Oregon, and occasionally Idaho.
Six months ago, Mike quit driving. Now, he spends all of his time in the office booking loads or out on the road buying hay. Darrell still drives every day, making four or five runs a week in one of the company’s older rigs – a 1998 Peterbilt cabover (unit #9) with over 2 million miles on it. Married for almost 30 years to his wife Becky, Darrell has three grown kids and one grandchild. Married for 18 years but divorced for the last 11, Mike has two kids – a son named David (27) and a daughter named Courtney (24). David and his fiancé recently bought a house down the street from Mike, and they have a 5-year-old daughter. Mike’s daughter recently graduated from college and is currently looking for a teaching job.
Darrell wanted to thank Mike’s parents, Dave & Betty, for giving him this opportunity to get in the company, and he wanted to thank Mike for being such a great business partner for all these years. Mike wanted to thank his parents, as well (who have been married for 52 years), in addition to Darrell and all of their drivers. He also wanted to say thanks to John Richmond, their longtime salesman at Rush Peterbilt in Fontana. We at 10-4 Magazine want to send out a big “thank you” to Vic Caliva for helping us get this hard-working truck ready for the photo shoot in the middle of winter. The day after we took our pictures, this truck was headed back to Idaho to go play in the snow and get dirty again!
Although the hay business is not what it used to be, Darrell and Mike can’t complain – it has been good to them over the years. And even though CARB and all of the new rules have taken a lot of the fun (and profit) out of it, these guys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – unless someone makes them an offer they can’t refuse! But for now, the brightly-colored D&M rigs will continue to be a common sight out west, and the cow-chow they haul will continue to get moved around on some wild yellow hay rides.