They say getting there is half the fun, but when you’ve spent so much of your life driving, it is easy to forget. Many of you got into trucking for the adventure and freedom, but as the years rolled by, you thought less of that and more about just getting the job done. Eventually, some of you even began to hate your profession of choice. Well, Todd Campbell (49) of Knoxville, TN has made it his personal mission to embrace the journey for himself – but he also hopes to inspire a few others, as well.
Born in Kentucky, Todd and his family moved to Indiana when he was just a couple years old, and then his dad got into trucking. His dad Dale, known as Bernie to most, never cared much about nice trucks, and instead opted to drive older, beat-up equipment like Freightliners, Internationals and GMCs. Many of those old rigs were Freightliner cabovers, so Todd has a lot of childhood memories tied to these classic rigs. Going out on the road with his dad whenever he could, by the time he was 12 years old, Todd had been to practically every state in the lower 48.
When he got older, Todd told his dad that he wanted to be a truck driver, but his dad told him that he should go to college. So, after graduating from high school in 1986, he headed to Indiana University, where he mostly remembers doodling pictures of trucks and dreaming of the open road. At 21, Todd convinced his dad to buy him a truck (a cabover Freightliner with manual steering, spring suspension and a very short wheelbase) on the agreement that he would just drive part time and finish his schooling. His dad taught him to drive in that Freightliner, but he was a tough teacher! Another one of Todd’s mentors was his uncle Hovie, who also drove truck.
Once Todd started driving, well, you know how that story goes. He said, “I promised my dad I would finish, but I didn’t tell him what – I finished my Junior year.” Jumping in head-first, Todd started pulling a flatbed “stretch trailer” and hauling extra-long I-beams from downtown Chicago to Elkhart, IN. What a way to start his career – fighting terrible roads, in Chicago traffic with 65-foot beams on his trailer!
About a year later, in 1990, he bought his first truck – a 1977 black Peterbilt conventional with a Magnum 400 Cummins (which is basically a factory hopped-up Small Cam 290) and no air conditioning. Pulling an old 1972 Fruehauf steel flatbed with spring suspension and spoke wheels, Todd was running on a shoestring – he couldn’t even afford real “bungee” cords so he used rope for his tarps. Two years later, he upgraded to a bigger and better 1988 Peterbilt 379.
Learning the ropes, little by little, Todd had to figure out this whole owner operator thing on his own through much trial-and-error. Back in those days, before load boards and the Internet, you had to find your loads by actually talking to brokers and/or agents who had offices at the truck stops. Todd was really shy back then, and he hated this part of trucking – but he did what he had to do. Talking to these strangers really helped him come out of his shell and, eventually, build his business. After buying that Pete 379, Todd wanted to stretch his legs and see the country – especially California – so he signed-on with a tanker outfit called Montgomery Tank Lines out of Gary, IN with the hopes of getting to the west coast. Of course, after six months there, that never happened, so he moved on.
Back in those days, Todd was terrible with his money. There was so much revenue coming in, it was hard for him not to feel “rich” and spend it. But, before long, it was all gone, so he’d have to take an advance against his next settlement, which started a vicious cycle many of us still know today. Thankfully, Todd is not one of them – he eventually learned his lesson, and is now an advocate of teaching the young and newer drivers that managing their money is paramount to their success in trucking.
After leaving the tanker outfit, Todd went to Cardinal Transport out of Jolliet, IL (where his uncle Hovie had been leased to for years) and finally started running to California – hauling steel to Riverside and onions back on a regular basis. These were great times for Todd, as he was really feeling like a big strapper, now! In 1997, Todd’s dad started his own company, Cross Transportation, and began hauling metal shelving and pallet racks to Home Depot and Lowe’s stores, which were opening everywhere at a staggering pace – it was a good gig. Todd left Cardinal to start pulling for his dad.
Within two years, Cross Transportation was running over 25 trucks, so Todd sold his truck and got off the road to help his dad in the office, dispatching and such. Since the two of them were always butting heads, that only lasted a couple years. Looking to make a change and get a fresh start, Todd had always dreamed about living in the south, so he uprooted his wife and kids and moved the family down to Knoxville, TN. Wanting to be home more and spend time with his growing family, he started looking for a local job, but it was not easy.
As it turned out, Todd’s idealized view of the south was not correct at all. He had always figured that the cost of living would be less, and the pace would be slower – which was kind of true. What he quickly realized was that the cost of living was higher, and the pay was about half of what he was used to. The pace was slower, but that was only because the people there were content to have less, not because the pace was actually slower. Looking for that local driving job, Todd went to a fuel delivery company, but all they were looking for was owner operators, so Todd bought a truck – an old 1982 International 9670 cabover – and started hauling gas.
Hauling gas for a brief time, Todd eventually returned to his roots – flatbedding – for an outfit called Admiral Merchants Motor Freight out of Minneapolis, MN (which has been around since 1929). While driving, Todd began taking notes about the businesses he saw – companies with a loading dock that might need something hauled at some point. Later, he would “cold call” them and solicit their business, which eventually led to him becoming an agent for Admiral. With the credibility of this well-known company behind him, Todd began to find a lot of loads – for himself and other truckers. And when he found the load for himself, he got paid twice – the commission for getting the load and the fee for hauling it. Building a strong customer base, he began making more money as an agent than a trucker, so he parked his rig and became an agent full-time. Then, the 911 terrorist attacks happened, which derailed his entire deal.
After 911 happened, Todd had to go back to driving in 2002. Eventually, things began to pick up again, and on April 1, 2005 (April Fool’s Day), with help from his friend Rick Carlson, who is still with him today, Todd formed his own company – Knox Transportation. Back then, Todd did not drive much, as the company had a couple T800 Kenworths with drivers in them. On occasion, Todd got to haul a load with his K100 Kenworth cabover, but it didn’t take long for him to start missing the road. So, in 2009, he bought a 1997 Pete 379. With a recession in full-swing, they diversified the operation to include reefers (people might not be building or buying houses, but they were still eating), and that helped them to survive the next few lean years.
Today, Todd and his company have three trucks and about ten owner operators. Rick still runs the office, and Todd drives – and that’s how he likes it! Always a fan of classic trucks, which goes back to his days of running with his father, Todd has a bunch of old iron – some he runs and some he doesn’t – but the truck he loves (and runs) the most is the Freightliner FLB you see here on these pages (and the centerfold and cover). Many think they can guess the year of this cabover by looking at it, but because of the changes Todd has made, most get it wrong!
Starting its life as a typical plain-Jane 1995 Freightliner cabover fleet truck painted all white, Todd used it as a spare truck for the company. Powered by a 430 Detroit hooked to a Super-10 transmission – that was not too super – the truck, which had a plastic front bumper and a fiberglass grille, was eventually used on a regular basis to haul rebar (its short wheelbase made it ideal for this haul). Around 2009, Todd decided to paint the truck himself, and chose a scheme that his uncle Hovie had on a 1968 Freightliner cabover that he always loved. He also had an old 1979 cabover parts truck sitting out in the weeds, and thought it might be cool to put the headlight panels, side steps and visor from that older rig on his ’95 to give it a classic look. And with that, the modification process began.
Since the rivets in the front of the ’79 were steel and not too easy to drill out, he decided to just cut the panels below the rivet line and then reattached them to his ’95, along with the grille. The panels on the side, below the doors, were easy to replace, as the rivet lines were exactly the same. Learning to paint on this truck, he did his best, but it took a few tries. At some point, he got busy or lost interest and the truck ended up just sitting, unfinished, for about two years.
One day in September 2012, while at a truck wash in Barstow, Todd met a guy (Ray) who said he’d love to build an older cabover with a modern engine in it. Todd said, “I’ve got the truck for you,” and then proceeded to show him pictures of his modified Freightliner cabover. The guy loved it and agreed to buy it from Todd right then and there.
When Todd got back to Knoxville, he started putting the truck back together, preparing it for this guy to take. But, along the way, he started wondering if selling it was the right thing to do. Calling the guy on the phone, Todd said, “I think I want to keep it, if that’s alright with you?” Ray agreed saying, “You remembered why you began the project, right?” This was on a Friday, and Todd decided that on Monday, he was going to start working on this project full-time, until it was finished. And that is what he did.
That following Monday, in November of 2012, he began working on the old Freightliner for 16 hours a day, six days a week, and just 30 days later, the rig was ready to roll. Everything you see here today, except for a few things, was done in that 30-day window. In addition to finishing the bright red, white, black and gold paint job, Todd also converted the single exhaust to a dual system, and then built the brackets for the pipes behind the cab. Adding extra lights, an 18-inch bumper with a four-inch extension, a deck plate and 24.5 rubber all around, Todd was going for the look of a classic 80s cabover that had been customized a bit by its owner at that time – and we think he nailed it!
Working on the inside of the truck, Todd was able to find a complete interior from a 1982 Freightliner cabover at the local junkyard and bought the whole thing, screws included, for just $50. He had to dye it red and install it himself, but it turned out really nice. One day, he’d like to learn how to do upholstery and make his own brand new red leather interior, but for now, the $50 one will do just fine! Todd also added more gauges, painted the dash panels, and installed an old-style white steering wheel, with red glitter added. The finishing touch was his signature “hula girl” mounted atop the dash.
After the truck made its maiden voyage, Todd immediately brought it back into the “Toy Box” – what he calls his 6-bay shop where all his trucks get worked on and customized – and stretched the frame. With help from John Lett, a guy who works at the local Peterbilt dealer, they stretched the frame from 172 inches to 232 inches, and then painted it red. Later, Todd swapped out the original narrow fuel tanks with the larger-diameter ones you see on it today, built and painted the aluminum panel between the stacks to hide all the brackets and clean-up the back of the sleeper, and replaced the grille with a perfect brand new one, from the 1970s, given to him by Scott Dapper at the big ATHS National Convention when it was in York, PA.
During the entire build and beyond, people have always told Todd what they thought he should (or shouldn’t) do to the truck. And his response was always the same: “I’m building this truck for the guy who is paying the bill, and I’m doing it just the way he wants to do it – and that guy just happens to be me.” This prompted him to put “My Own Kind of Cool” on the back.
Earlier this year, after the truck started eating oil, Todd parked it for a few months and replaced the engine with a newer 500-hp DDEC 4 Series 60 Detroit and a 13-speed transmission. The name “Icy Red” came from the title of a 1985 song by The Motels, but it also refers to how the truck is both red hot and cool.
In addition to this “Icy Red” Freightliner, Todd has a bevy of neat old trucks – some run and some don’t, but they are all cool rides. His other trucks include a completely rebuilt black and red 1997 Peterbilt 379 with an E-model Cat and a 305-inch wheelbase; a restored black 1972 “little window” Peterbilt 359 with a Small Cam Cummins 350 and a set of 6+4 sticks; a refurbished two-tone green 1980 Peterbilt 352 cabover with a 475-hp Silver 92 Detroit and a 13-speed; a 1962 Freightliner cabover (a future project truck); a 1970 Freightliner cabover with a long wheelbase and 4+4 transmission; a 1996 Kenworth K100 Aerodyne with Detroit power; (2) K100 cabovers with flattop sleepers and Cat power (one is a 1981 and the other is a 1984); a 1965 International Emeryville with a Cummins engine; a 1996 Freightliner cabover with a Cat (he is thinking about building a sister to “Icy Red” but painting it blue and white); and a 1980 A-model KW with an extended hood, which he is thinking about rebuilding to be his second truck, when he feels like “slumming” with a hood.
Last year, in May 2016, Todd and his best friend Kevin Young (who also drives a classic Freightliner cabover), ran from Tulsa, OK to Salem, OR (after making a delivery in Moses Lake, WA) to attend the big ATHS antique show being held there. These two friends did the entire trip taking nothing but old two-lane highways and back roads, and documented the whole journey with pictures and posts on social media. Calling it the “Back in Time Tour,” these two guys wore vintage clothes and grew beards or sideburns, and avoided truck stops and interstates. They cooked most of their meals on the side of the road, they slept in their trucks, and they stopped to enjoy the scenery and take pictures often. All-in-all, they traveled over 2,500 miles, and only drove about 20 of them on an interstate. This is when we (and many others out there) first got to know Todd and Kevin.
These days, Todd’s mission in life is to give non-trucking people a better attitude toward truckers, and to inspire the people in trucking to remember why they got into it in the first place. “Life is a journey” is a common saying, but it is an even truer statement when it comes to truck driving. Those in trucking, who truly have it in their heart, need to remember to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Open your eyes to see the amazing places you get to run through, and take the time to stop and explore, from time to time, or as often as you can. Make your life more than just going from Point A to Point B – look past the bad parts of trucking and rekindle your passion. It will make you a better driver and a happier person, and studies show that happier people live longer, so you just might be extending your life, too.
In regard to the company’s future, Todd is happy with the current size and scope of his operation, and is thankful that he has Rick to run the office so he can go trucking on a regular basis. He also thanks his dad for giving him this love for old cabovers (whether he meant to or not), and for allowing him to drive for him in the beginning. Regarding his trucking future, he hopes that he and Kevin can take another back-road journey soon, maybe from the Pacific Northwest to the famous produce market in Hunts Point, NY during the dead of winter, taking nothing but two-lane roads. And, if and when they do this trip, Todd wants to up their social media game by adding some professional quality videos and drone coverage. You can bet we will be writing about this trip, if they do it.
Early in his driving career, when he had nothing, Todd saw a cool rig parked at a truck stop in Indiana. Mustering up the courage to compliment this guy on his sweet ride, he just grunted and walked away. Todd thought to himself, “What a jerk! If I ever have a nice truck, I’ll never be that guy!!” Well, he now has a nice truck (actually a few of them), and he works very hard to be nice to everyone – because he does not want to be that guy. At the shows, he even leaves his doors open and encourages people to climb on up into his cab to check it out (you don’t see that very often).
Remembering to enjoy the journey, like Todd Campbell, will ignite your faded passion for trucking and remind you why you chose this crazy career. So, stop seeing the bad and look for the good – it’s out there if you look hard enough. And, if you still can’t see it, try taking an alternate route for a new view. Get off the boring interstate and run some two-lane roads, and just keep telling yourself how lucky you are to do this job until you believe it again. Getting there is half the fun, but the other half is pretty awesome, too – so don’t miss any of it!