Miles & Memories

One man, one truck and the silent co-pilot that rides along on every mile. This is the story of Lucas Ratcliffe of Ceylon, Minnesota, his wife Heather and their children that support him, and the memory that will never let him sell his truck. This one’s for Thomas.

A 34-year-old Minnesota native, Lucas was the third child born to Jim and Jennie Ratcliffe on January 1, 1983. Following Lucas, two years later, his brother Thomas was born. Fast forward to December 2004, and Lucas got his CDL to begin following in his father’s footsteps by becoming a truck driver. Lucas is part of the third generation of the Ratcliffe family to drive truck, as their grandfather drove straight truck in the farming community and hauled some of their own livestock. Later, all three of Jim’s sons came to be truck drivers, carrying on the family tradition.

Married on October 4, 2004, Lucas met his now wife Heather when he was just 14 years old and she was only 13. On September 4, 2005, they welcomed their first child, Emily, into the world. This was followed by their son, Riley, born on January 16, 2007, and then their youngest daughter Kyra, born on February 23, 2011.

Lucas bought his first truck in September of 2007 – a 1998 Freightliner Century. That truck was traded in June 2009 for a 2004 Freightliner Coronado. He quickly realized that this truck wasn’t what he really wanted (not to mention the continued motor problems that cost him a lot of money). So, on a Sunday in December of 2009, Lucas and his father drove to the Freightliner dealership in Mankato to see what kind of trucks they had on the lot. Lucas had his heart set on a pre-emissions truck when they came across a Peterbilt that fit the bill. As soon as Lucas saw it, he knew he needed to come back during normal business hours the next day for a test drive.

Since his father had to drive on Monday, he told Lucas to take his mom with him. So, that next day, Lucas and his mom, along with his Coronado, drove back up to Mankato with the intent that the Coronado would not be coming home with them. During the test drive, Lucas and his mom almost got into a wreck. While traveling north, a westbound pickup truck, that was going way too fast on the gravel road, slammed on its brakes just short of the stop sign, nearly hitting Lucas and his mom. But that scare did not derail the transaction, and the purchase/trade was made. Lucas bought the 2003 Pete 379 with a pre-emissions 12.7-liter Detroit motor, pushing 475 horsepower, and the truck came home with them that day.

Although not a fan of big hoods, Lucas’ dad liked the truck, but Lucas’ younger brother Thomas absolutely loved it. When Thomas saw it, the first thing he wanted to do was drive it. Thomas actually got his CDL three years before Lucas did so, of course, he threw him the keys so he could take it for a drive. Why was the trip with his mom so significant? Lucas’ mom was always interested in whatever he was interested in, and he loved that about her. Sadly, at the beginning of 2010, his mother fell ill, and on April 29, 2010, her organs shut down and she passed away.

As time passed, Lucas, with the help of family and friends, slowly began accessorizing the Peterbilt. Changing the rear fenders, along with a number of different rear taillight assemblies, Lucas is always trying to make the truck look a little different from all the other trucks you see on the road. His brother Thomas actually nicknamed the truck “Selfie” due to the fact that Lucas had more pictures of his rig than of his family on Facebook. “It was as if every time Lucas parked the truck, the truck took its own picture of itself,” said Thomas. The vinyl changed several times until they landed on the scheme you see here.

Thomas loved driving Lucas’ rig, and would sometimes pick it up without Lucas even knowing and go pick up a load or deliver one for Lucas, so he could spend more time with his precious family. Lucas pulls a 6,500-gallon 2012 stainless Walker tanker, that he hooked to for the first time, at the end of October, for Goettsch Transportation Services. He mainly hauls corn oil throughout the Midwest, loading out of ethanol plants. Throughout the years he has pulled livestock trailers, dry vans, reefers, hoppers and, now, a tanker.

Attending a driving school in South Bend, IN to get his CDL, Lucas’ first driving job was at Covenant Transport out of Chattanooga, TN pulling a dry van. Through the years, Lucas has learned that you need to pay attention to everything you do and have a lot of patience to survive in trucking. When he decided to finally become an owner operator in 2007 it was because he wanted to work with his dad and brother, Thomas. In fact, his brother Thomas sold him his first truck (that 1998 Freightliner Century mentioned before) so he could get started. At that point, he started pulling a grain hopper. Later, wanting to step up his game, Lucas got his own authority on January 3, 2012.

On March 5, 2015, Lucas was just west of Atlanta, GA when a call came in that changed everything. Thomas was at Jack Links in Underwood, IA and had just finished loading. Walking back to shut his doors, Thomas experienced heart failure and collapsed at the back of his trailer. He had been talking to another driver at the time who called 911, but once there, the paramedics were unable to revive him, and Thomas passed away at just 30 years old. The authorities looked at his driver’s license to figure out what county he was from and then contacted the Martin County Sheriff’s Department in Minnesota, who then sent someone to his father’s farm to inform him of what happened. At that point, Lucas’ dad had to make that terrible phone call to his son.

Bound for Dallas, Texas, Lucas and his friend Ronald got to their destination as quickly as possible, then Ronald parked his truck where they unloaded, and then the two of them drove “Selfie” back to Underwood, IA so Lucas could pick up Thomas’ truck (known as “The General”). Ronald dropped off “Selfie” at Lucas’ house and Lucas continued on to his dad’s farm in Truman, MN. “The General” is no longer with the family, which was very unsettling for Lucas, at first. But, Lucas’ dad told him something that he’ll never forget and sticks with him every day: “Don’t be upset about Tommy’s truck being gone, because the one he loved the most is the one you get to drive every day.” Now, with every day, every mile and every load, Lucas trucks in honor of his brother, Thomas. Also, every show, any trophy they might receive, and every other proud moment with the truck, is all for Thomas.

Some men prefer to truck alone, and some prefer to team drive, but Lucas has a silent co-pilot, riding along with him, and always watching over him. Lucas’ truck isn’t just a truck anymore. If she breaks, she gets fixed, because this truck is family, and Lucas and his family love her. I am blessed to know Lucas and Heather, and to be able to call them friends. I am proud to not only have had the opportunity to photograph their rig, but even prouder to be able to tell their story and how this truck came to be. As always, to all the truckers out there doing the deal, truck safe.

About Stephanie Haas