Mike Lowrie started trucking hard when he formed his company back in 1978, and 37 years later, he has not slowed down a bit. Always looking to “follow the money” and grow when needed, Mike and his boys, Mike Jr. and Josh, have hustled and fought their way to the top, being one of the largest and most diverse family-owned operations in California today.
Based out of Dixon, California, just west of Sacramento, Mike Lowrie Trucking has almost 300 Peterbilts and almost a thousand sets of trailers, and, except for the two “mascot” trucks seen on our centerfold this month, and on these pages, their fleet is 100% CARB-compliant – and they are very proud of that fact.
Mike Lowrie grew up in trucking. His father, Dudley Lowrie, started trucking in 1946, after returning from WW-II, hauling sand and gravel in the summer for Madison Sand & Gravel, and sacks of feed and hay in the winter for Tandy Brothers. Back then, there were no forklifts, so all of the sacks of feed had to be hand loaded and unloaded – it was a lot of work.
In 1953, Dudley bought his first truck – a 1946 Peterbilt – and became an owner operator. In 1960, he bought his first new Peterbilt, and then, every five years after that, he replaced it with another new one. Like a lot of old-school drivers back then, Dudley was hard-headed and hot-tempered, and he never had more than one truck at a time.
Born in 1949, Mike was raised in the small town of Winters, right next to Dixon. Mike watched his dad struggle his entire life, and vowed not to follow in his footsteps. After high school, Mike went to the local community college where he played football and learned how to be a refrigeration mechanic. After graduating, he went into the refrigeration business and did very well for the next ten years.
In 1974, he started doing some part-time trucking with his dad, while still working as a refrigeration mechanic full-time. When he started Mike Lowrie Trucking in 1978, more or less as an investment, he was still a refrigeration mechanic. As a refrigeration mechanic, he was living a good life, but he wasn’t building anything to leave behind for his boys, which is how (and why) trucking came into the equation.
Buying a brand new 1978 Peterbilt 352 cabover, just like the one on our cover this month, Mike started trucking part-time. Six months later he bought a second brand new Peterbilt cabover. Within three years, he had five trucks and then decided to leave the refrigeration industry to focus on trucking. Back then, Mike worked like a dog – the first ten years were 24/7, buying, selling and hauling dairy feed of all sorts between northern California and southern California.
There was an outfit in California that sold their Peterbilt cabover trucks when they hit a certain mileage, and Mike Lowrie was the guy that bought them all – for a mere $10,000 each. His first two trucks were brand new, but everything he bought after that, for quite some time, was used. Before he knew it, Mike had 30 trucks… and then 40… and then 50, and all of them were painted in his signature colors of Metallic Royal Blue and white. By 1983, Mike’s fleet had grown to 75 trucks. That year, they built a new yard and office in Dixon, California, which is still their home base, today.
Back in the early days, Mike Lowrie and his mechanics would do all of the maintenance and truck repairs on the weekends themselves – and they got pretty good at it (they could completely overhaul a Big Cam Cummins 350 in 12 hours, and they did it all the time). They were not fancy show trucks, but they were nice, hard-working rigs that got the job done. Pulling mostly hopper trailers and walking floor trailers, they kept very busy delivering feed to the dairies in southern California. But, occasionally, some of their trucks ventured as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as Phoenix, Arizona. Back then, you couldn’t go over the Grapevine without seeing at least one Mike Lowrie truck.
In 1985, looking to diversify, Mike Lowrie Trucking began hauling tomatoes and onions locally. Running less miles meant less expenses, which was a good thing, so Mike really started getting into the ag hauling. The only downside was that it was seasonal work, not year-round, which brought about new challenges to keep their drivers (and trucks) busy.
When the length laws in California began to loosen-up in 1989, Mike, wanting to be a little different and have some fun, ordered 20 brand new Peterbilt conventionals. Many of these square-hooded rigs were 2-axle trucks with small 36-inch sleepers, which was pretty unheard of in those days.
A couple years later, in 1991, the dairy industry took a dive, and Mike walked away from all of his feed hauling, focusing entirely on the agricultural hauling, which included tomatoes, garlic and onions, and kept them busy for about seven months out of the year.
The following year, in 1992, Mike’s son Josh (now 40) graduated from high school and came to work full-time at Mike Lowrie Trucking, running the shop. A few years later, in 1995, he decided that he wanted to get out of the shop and start hauling some hay, so he bought his first rig – a short-hood Peterbilt 379 and a set of hay trailers – and got on it. Before long, Josh had built this division up to ten trucks, and things were going great. In 1999 he bought his second truck – a long-hood Peterbilt – and then in 2002, he bought the 2-axle conventional seen on our centerfold and these pages here.
Not long after the hay division took off, a local block company asked Mike if he wanted to haul all of the raw materials into their plant, and he said, “Yes!” They immediately put 35 bottom dumps on this haul, and, before long, their sand and gravel division had grown to include 80 rigs, including some transfers and other pieces of miscellaneous equipment. Then, as you might guess, the company needed flatbed trucks to haul the finished blocks out of the plant, as well, and alas, the flatbed freight division began.
In 2005, Mike Lowrie Trucking opened a new office in Bakersfield, CA and began hauling carrots. Their focus has always been to “fill in the gaps” of the seasonal ag hauling, and now, with the carrots, onions, tomatoes, garlic and then more onions, Mike was able to keep his ag haulers busy eleven months of the year, which works out perfect, because most of his drivers enjoy taking a month off in December anyways. In 2009, they added some step-decks to their flatbed fleet and expanded their operations to include all of the 11 western states. Today, this division has grown to include about 60 trucks.
Over the decades, Mike Lowrie’s fleet of Peterbilts has grown from one to 300 by being a diversified and reliable carrier of California’s agriculture products and building industry raw and finished goods. And, on top of that, their entire fleet is 100% CARB-compliant – except for the two trucks featured on our centerfold and these pages – which are just the “mascots” of the fleet these days.
Getting compliant meant spending a lot of money and taking on a lot of new truck payments, and Mike was fine with that. He only hopes that CARB can get everyone else to comply, because his costs have skyrocketed, and it has become harder for him to compete with companies that are running non-compliant equipment.
The conventional is the last truck Josh bought for himself before getting off the road. The truck is a 2-axle 2002 Peterbilt 379 long hood with a 550-hp 3406 Cat and a 13-speed transmission. Sitting on a 185-inch wheelbase, the truck features twin stacks and air cleaners, extra lights, a drop visor, upgraded seats and a big stereo. All of the work was done in their own shop, except for the flames and pinstriping, which was done by Harry’s Signs in Hollister, California. After finishing the truck, Josh drove it every day for four years, until he retired from driving.
The cabover “mascot truck” is an exact replica of Mike’s first two trucks – except for the year. Mike’s first trucks were 1978 Pete 352s, but the one seen here is a 1976 model. Sitting on a 140-inch wheelbase and equipped with a Big Cam Cummins 350 hooked to a 9-speed transmission, the cabover is still pretty stock, like Mike’s original trucks were, except for the custom paint and a little bit of extra chrome.
Josh’s older brother, Mike Jr. (45), also works at the family company. Mikie has been driving for the company since he was 18 years old, and he has no desire to be in the office – he likes to drive. His personal truck is a 2004 Peterbilt 379 Ext. Hood with a C15 Cat, and it is flamed, as well. Mike has had the opportunity to upgrade to a newer truck or a glider, but he really likes his old truck. In fact, they just retrofitted it with a DPF, so it is good to go with CARB, as well. This is Mikie’s daily driver, and he loves it. Mike Jr. married his wife, Suzie, about five years ago, and the two have no children.
Another family member that has been around for a long time – since 1993 – is Mike’s little brother, David Lowrie (50), who started out as an owner operator and then came to work for his brother as a dispatcher. David was the one who taught Josh how to drive, and he also helped Mike with the maintenance of the fleet back in the early days.
Mike Lowrie Trucking has also had the same accountant, Steve Barlow, since 1981. Steve is like a second father to Josh, and he has always been treated like a member of the family. Dennis Braga is another family friend who has been around for a long time. He came to work part-time at Mike Lowrie Trucking in 1993, and then went full-time in 2000. Dennis handles all of the safety, advertising, logbooks, driver hiring and various other office-related duties. Mike and Josh wanted to personally thank and acknowledge all of their drivers and office staff at their four yards (two in Dixon, one in Bakersfield, and one in Hanford) for all of their hard work – they are the ones who keep Mike Lowrie Trucking going!
At 65 years old, Mike Lowrie is still a very hands-on president, working up to 12 hours a day, and very involved in every decision. Josh, who is a vice president, has been married for 18 years to his wife Alisson, and the two have four kids – Madison (18), Cody (15), Meagan (11) and Molly (7). Mike and his wife, Margee, have been married for almost 50 years. She worked at a local beauty shop in Dixon for 30 years before retiring. Mike, Mike Jr. and Josh have all worked hard to keep their wives out of the business, which makes having a personal life possible – and that is important.
Poised to one day take the reins, Josh is a real go-getter and a hustler. He loves trucks and he loves trucking, but, for him, it comes down to making money. If an opportunity arises, Josh jumps on it. If that means buying 100 more trucks and hiring 100 more drivers, so be it. He has never been afraid to fail – or succeed! His oldest daughter, Madison, and his son, Cody, both seem interested in getting involved with the company, so they may be the next generation of Mike Lowrie Trucking.
When not trucking, which is not very often, the family likes to get away to their vacation home in Lake Havasu, Arizona, where they have plenty of toys, including a 30-foot “tunnel boat” with twin, 800-hp motors on the back. This boat can skim the water, with five people on board, at a mere 150 mph! Mike also enjoys riding his Harley, and has trekked across the entire United States twice on his hog. Outside of trucking, Mike is also getting into farming, planting 400 acres of almonds, hoping, maybe, his grandkids might prefer farming over trucking. Time will tell.
We at 10-4 Magazine would like to thank the entire Lowrie family for making us feel at home with them during the two days we spent in Dixon. Special thanks go out to Mike Jr. and Dennis for dragging the trucks all over town so we could take our pictures at various locations throughout the day. Josh and Mike really wanted to be out there with us, but Josh’s phone was just too crazy and Mike was recovering from rotator cuff surgery, so we did not see either of these guys until the end of the day. But, once we were all together, we made up for the lost time, for sure (these guys are a blast to hang out with).
Being flexible and diverse has allowed Mike Lowrie Trucking to rise to the top of the trucking food-chain in California. All of their trucks are super-clean, blue and white Peterbilts, and they spare no expense. But, always making sound business decisions, they keep one eye looking forward and the other eye on the bottom line.
Trucking is a tightrope, these days, and most companies, no matter how successful, are just a few bad weeks away from going belly-up. But Mike Lowrie Trucking has no intention of going out of business – in fact, they want to grow and thrive. They have been going at it hard since 1978, and that’s just the way they like it!