The “Cream of the Crop” is a common phrase used to describe something that is the best of the best, and Aaron Spiniolas hit the nail on the head when he decided to call his recently-built, award-winning, truck this perfect name. Why? In addition to its actual cream color, it also relates to Aaron’s family background in dairy farming and, quite frankly, because it is one of the best of the best out there today. And, unlike many of the other “working” trucks out there winning shows, Aaron (36) of Ridge Crest Trucking in Harvard, Illinois, really does run this truck every day, in and out of Chicago, pulling a belt trailer, along with his six other trucks.
Growing up on a farm, Aaron is no stranger to running heavy equipment, taking care of animals, growing crops, and putting in a hard day’s work. But he’s not just a farmer – he is a sharp businessman, as well, running several different companies, while piloting his rig down the road. His grandparents had a dairy farm, but they sold out when Aaron was about eight years old. From there, his parents moved to their present location in Harvard, Illinois, and started a dairy farm of their own. Today, Ridge Crest Farms is still in operation on that same land, and Aaron and his siblings, who are all part owners, either live on the farm or within a mile of it.
In addition to the dairy farm, they also grow crops like wheat, corn, beans and alfalfa, do custom harvesting, produce and sell feed, and haul it all. Milking about 325 cows a day, with a total herd of around 600-700, about one-third of everything they grow on their 2,000 acres is used to feed their own cows, while the other two-thirds is sold. The farm acquired its first truck – a 1980 Peterbilt 359 that was handed down to them by an uncle – when Aaron was still pretty young. He learned to drive in this rig at an early age, pulling a flatbed through the fields, as they baled their hay.
After high school, Aaron considered going to a technical school to study mechanics, but he eventually changed his mind and then got a job at a local fabrication shop, instead. He worked there for about a year, and then took a union driving job, running heavy equipment, like big off-road dump trucks and such, for about a year, as well. However, after realizing that a “union job” was not for him, he went back to the farm, which was really beginning to grow, and started building the harvesting side of the business.
In 2001, at just 20 years old, Aaron bought his first truck – a 1990 T800 daycab KW – and Ridge Crest Trucking was born. A few years later, he added a second truck – a 1998 T800. Then, in 2006, he sold both of the Kenworths and bought a slightly-used 2004 extended-hood Peterbilt 379 with a 550 Cat, an 18-speed, 3.73 rears, a 245-inch wheelbase, and a 36-inch flattop sleeper. When he found this rig, it was painted white with a purple roof and fenders. He told the dealer he would buy it, but they would have to paint that purple stuff burgundy, which they did. And, so began his basic color scheme. Aaron proceeded to drive this truck almost a million miles over the next ten years.
Around 2011, Aaron bought the rig you see here on these pages (and on our centerfold and cover this month), but it looked nothing like it does now. Painted all Viper Red with a 70-inch stand-up sleeper and an UltraCab roof, the extended-hood 2001 Pete 379 had 1.3 million miles on its 550 Cat, and was equipped with an 18-speed and 3.55 rears. But, Aaron knew the guy he was buying it from, and he knew that he had taken very good care of it, so he added the 275-inch long rig to his fledgling fleet. Over the next few years, Aaron put about 400,000 miles on this dependable truck.
Wanting something new, he sold his “baby” (the 2004) and ordered a new 2016 glider kit in 2015. After watching the Metallic Silver and Velvet Effect rig go down the assembly line at the Peterbilt plant in Denton, Texas, Aaron had it delivered directly to their shop, where he and one of his mechanics dropped in a 550-hp Cat 6NZ and an 18-speed. They had that truck put together and on the road in just six weeks after delivery. This truck, which he still has, features a 36-inch flattop sleeper, 3.55 rears, Flex Air suspension and disc brakes all around.
Shortly after putting the glider on the road, he needed to buy another truck – and this one was really special. Buying it from Bill Long, who had built it to be a “mascot” and showpiece for his chrome shop, this one was a 2003 Peterbilt 379 with a 600-hp C-16 Cat, an 18-speed, 3.36 rears, a 36-inch flattop sleeper, and a 280-inch wheelbase. Painted Merlot Jewel with a Muscle Beige stripe outlined with gold, this rig has many custom items (Aaron still has this one, too).
Late in 2016, with 1.7 million miles on the odometer, the engine finally gave out in Aaron’s 2001 Peterbilt. After rebuilding the motor, he put it back in service to get through the harvest, and then, during that following winter, shut it down with the intent of removing the stand-up sleeper and replacing it with a 36-inch flattop, like all his other trucks have. Of course, this one also had an UltraCab, so the roof cap had to be replaced, as well, which proved to be a big job. Well, you know how these things go… before Aaron knew it, he was tearing it all down to the frame rails to rebuild everything!
Starting with two completely bare frame rails sitting on his shop floor, his goal was to finish it and then take it to the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville, KY at the end of March. Completing the project the night before the show began, Aaron rolled into MATS and earned a trophy just for being the last truck on the lot (the Rockwood “Runnin’ Late” award). But that was not his only trophy – in fact, he earned three 1st Place trophies and one 2nd Place, which also qualified him to take home the coveted Best of Show Working Bobtail award. He was pretty blown away, to say the least – and now, not surprisingly, hooked on truck shows.
The 2001 Peterbilt now features smooth frame rails, a Jones Performance fiberglass hood, a 36-inch flattop sleeper, single round headlights on Double JJ brackets, front and rear bumpers from Valley Chrome, 8-inch Dynaflex exhaust, Fibertech fiberglass front fenders, single-hump fiberglass rear fenders from Shift on custom brackets, and cab and sleeper extensions from 12 Ga. Customs. It also has a custom punched grille and stainless front fender bracket covers from RoadWorks, custom strapless air cleaner brackets with built-in lights, Roadsknz battery box covers, custom mirror brackets with cut-down mirrors, and custom visors (front and back) from Bub’s Weld Shop in Leavenworth, KS.
Final exterior touches include a painted three-piece deck plate (made in-house) with recessed connection box, four load lights on the back of the sleeper and billet step plates. It also has a painted I-panel between the fuel tanks from 12 Ga. Customs, Lifetime hub and nut covers all around, and seven small LED cab lights up on the new flat roof, which also match the top row of lights on the front of all his trailers. Borrowing the colors from his 2003 Pete (the one he bought from Bill Long), the truck is painted Muscle Beige (a Kia Motors color) and Merlot Jewel (a GM color).
Under the hood, the 550 Cat has been completely painted to match, including all the air tubes – no detail was left untouched. Also, the turbo and exhaust manifold were ceramic coated with bright silver to avoid discoloration, metal braided hoses were added, and the shocks and steering linkage were painted. Adding another nice touch underneath, one of Aaron’s drivers, Mike Huff, pinstriped the front brake drums!
Moving inside the truck, the interior was done by Brandon Shields of Shields Interior in Harvard, IL. Featuring extensive amounts of custom hand-stitched diamond-tuck in cream and maroon colors on the seats, door panels and ceilings, the cab also has a painted dash and dash panels, a painted steering wheel and column, Lifetime billet pedals, sill plates with the truck’s name engraved on them, a painted aluminum floor (made in-house), and a cool wrap-around bench seat in the sleeper, instead of a bed. Above the windshield, a custom box was built to hold the CB, the stereo and some speakers, with the remainder of the speakers, ten in all, including two 10-inch subs under the bench seat in the sleeper, mounted throughout the interior. The sound system also has two amps – one is 1,000 watts and one is 600.
A conversation piece inside the truck is an extra tall “twisted” chrome shifter from SH Tube in Kentucky. When Aaron ordered it, he just picked a length, not thinking much about it, and after it arrived, he just put it in the corner of the shop until it was time to install it. Not expecting it to be as tall as it was, by the time they were putting it in, there was no time to do anything about it. So, at the show in Louisville, as everybody kept asking him (or giving him a hard time) about the tall shifter, he started saying, “Yea, they sent me the wrong one – it was supposed to be taller!”
We met-up with Aaron at the truck show in Rantoul, IL last July to shoot the pictures. With Aaron was Mike Bowles, a mechanic that helped him build the truck and who also helps him get it ready for the shows. We had a great time just hanging out and getting to know the both of them at the show. On Saturday, another one of Aaron’s rigs rolled in (the silver and burgundy 2016 glider) to participate in the show, driven by Mike Huff, and then on Sunday, as the show ended, Aaron’s father-in-law David Pfaff showed up in the 2003, bringing the truck out to the show so we could take some shots of all three trucks together. The regular driver of the 2003 is Nate Coon, but he had plans that weekend and couldn’t make it out. Needless to say, we got some great shots of these three beautiful rigs together, out on the grass.
A project like this requires a lot of help, and Aaron wanted to make sure to thank some of the people who helped, including Mike Bowles, Bryan Kroening (who did most of the painting) and Brandon Shields. He also wanted to thank his wife, Natalie, for all her help and support (and for putting up with all this nonsense). She works a full-time job as an interior designer, and before the MATS show in Louisville, she was only slightly interested in all of this truck stuff. But, after winning all those trophies – which their cute little two-year-old daughter Ella calls “Wows!” – she is totally hooked. In fact, she is pushing Aaron to get on his next project for MATS 2018, and is helping him with some designs and ideas!
Thanks also go out to the folks at Renegade Products (Rami and Evan) for encouraging Aaron to show his truck, and to Stephanie Haas, one of our newest contributors here at 10-4, for making sure we didn’t miss Aaron’s truck (she also took the great family picture included in this article). She stayed in contact with Aaron throughout the build, and kept telling us, “Guys, it’s going to be really special – I promise.” And she was right!
In addition to all the other shows Aaron has competed in this year, he has also been a part of this year’s American Truck Show Circuit (ATSC), which hosted events in Florida, Indiana and Oklahoma, so far, with the series culminating in California at the end of October. Having placed high at each of these first three events, Aaron has already secured the points to take the title as champion of the Working Bobtail class. Barring something weird happening, he will be crowned as the National Champion in Ventura, CA at the Dynaflex Monster Stacks Shootout.
The current fleet at Ridge Crest Trucking includes seven trucks (all Peterbilts except for one KW), and ten or eleven trailers. Most of the trailers are 42-foot spread-axle Wilson belt trailers with a lift-axle, but they also have an RGN, some tankers, step-decks and others. Most of the trucks run in and out of Chicago every day, hauling feed and other ag-related products. Aaron also has another business, known as Ridge Crest Resources, which sells the feed products he grows and hauls. In addition to all of this, he is still expected to help out on the farm, too.
In today’s business culture, diversity and service are the keys to success. Aaron gets a lot of pleasure from driving down the road, hauling loads, and running his other businesses, at the same time, from the seat of his truck. As he put it, “I love to multi-task. It makes me feel like a lot more than just a steering wheel holder.” But, when the steering wheel you are holding is attached to a “Cream of the Crop” rig like his, it would be hard not to enjoy the ride!