Life is not always easy, and for some, faced with life-and-death challenges, it is even harder. But, when faced with these difficulties, how we react to them can teach us a lot about who we are and what we can do. At just 50 years old, John Jaikes of Precision Transportation out of Nanticoke, PA has already survived several bouts of cancer and a head-on collision, but he just keeps smiling – and beating the odds! Known for his jokes, his cap, his Oakley M-frame shades and his megawatt smile, John takes nothing for granted and tries to live every day as if it were his last… because you just never know.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, John did not grow up in a trucking family. At about eight years old, he started BMX racing, which spurned his father to open a bike shop. In those days, John was like a little Evel Knievel on his bike, and remembers taking the door off his parent’s bedroom and making a jump in the street with it. Needless to say, he broke a lot of stuff, so his dad’s store came in handy. When John wasn’t in school or racing, he was at the bike shop.
Not long after John graduated from high school in 1985, his parents got him a beat-up 1974 Trans Am for his 18th birthday. John spent a lot of time working on that car over the years, and eventually got the bright red beauty up to show-quality standards – and even won a few trophies with it, too. John ordered personalized license plates for this car, which were supposed to say “M.R.T.A” (which stood for My Red Trans Am), but when he got them they said “MR. TA” instead. Because of this, people started calling John “Trans Am” and the name stuck (at least with the people who knew him back then).
After high school, looking for a career, John went into the Air Force and got stationed at Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix, AZ as a flight scheduler. His official title was Operation Systems Management Specialist, which is fancy talk for a plane dispatcher! It didn’t take John long to realize that military life was not for him, but he stuck it out for four years active service, and then another four inactive. After completing his active service duty in 1989, John went to truck driving school and got his CDL, then got a job at Calex (California Express), running dry vans back and forth between Pennsylvania and California. John stayed with Calex for 11 years, until they started replacing their Kenworths with Freightliners. At that point, he decided it was time to move on.
Moving on to Bill Noll Trucking based out of Moscow, PA in 2000, Bill ordered John a new 2000 Kenworth W900L, painted Wild Orchid Purple, and powered by a 475 Cat hooked to an 18-speed. This truck had a 72-inch Aerocab and featured plenty of chrome and 126 lights, including neon strips that lit-up the stacks. Pulling a reefer trailer, John continued to run the coast-to-coast route between Pennsylvania and California. We met John at the truck show in Las Vegas when he was driving this “Unnecessary Expense” rig, and featured him in a “Readers And Their Rigs” article in September 2001.
Staying with Bill for three years, John went through a divorce in 2003, and then bounced around between a few companies for the next two years. In 2005, with some help from the Cleaver family, John bought a truck that was supposed to be for their son, but before they could give it to him, he was killed by a drunk driver at just 18 years old. The family held on to it for several years before finally offering it to John, who said, “I don’t know nothin’ about being an owner operator.” Well, he learned fast.
The truck was a 1995 Kenworth W900L with a 475 Cat and a 13-speed, painted gray and black with purple stripes. His new company, Precision Transportation, was named by one of his daughters, because John is so accurate and precise with everything (and a little OCD). Those first few years were tough – the very first week, his batteries and alternator failed and had to be replaced; a few months later the rear-ends went out; then the transmission went out; and a few months after that, the engine died. He may have not known much when he got started, but he learned fast and never forgot!
Once he got through all that junk and then paid the truck off in 2008, he bought his own trailer – a 2006 48-foot spread-axle Utility 3000R with a Thermo King SB-210 unit (which is the trailer he still pulls today). After purchasing the trailer, he got his own authority and became a true owner operator, finding his own loads, with help from a good friend named Carl McMichaels. Finding those coveted loads from the east coast to the west coast and back, John ran with Carl for several years, hauling titanium west and produce east, to Hunts Point in New York.
In 2008, John was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent emergency surgery the very next day. After getting a grim prognosis of 3-6 months to live, he opted to undergo an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy for the next six months. In that time, he lost all his hair, his fingernails and toenails, and his weight dropped to 92 pounds. After all the treatments, they still only gave him a 10% chance for survival, but he beat it! During this time, since he wasn’t driving, he took his truck in and had it painted, because he always wanted a purple truck.
After beating his cancer, he finally got back on the road. Unfortunately, six months later, he was diagnosed with lymph node cancer, which they were able to treat, and then he got breast cancer, which required laser surgery. In 2011, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which they were also able to treat. All these cancers were by-products of his first bout, but since they were caught early, they were all treatable. Now, fast-forward five years to April 2016, and John was given a clean bill of health and deemed “in remission” from all these cancers.
Still driving the 1995 Kenworth W900L, another life-changing event occurred on July 21, 2013, when a man driving a full-sized Chevy Silverado pickup deliberately crossed the center line and hit John and his Kenworth head-on, attempting to commit suicide. Amazingly, the man in the pickup survived, but John and his truck were in bad shape. Everything on the truck from the dash forward was annihilated, and John ended up with some serious injuries to his knees, arm and head. After five months of rehab, he overcame his injuries, but due to the severity of his knee damage, he’ll never run again.
Needing a new truck, John found a stock 1999 Kenworth W900L with an 86-inch Studio sleeper, painted red, with a 550 Cat, a 15-speed and 3.55 rears. At the time it had about two million miles on it and, since then, John has added another 750,000. At first, he left it alone and didn’t do anything to it, but after some encouragement from his daughters, he went ahead and had Quality Collision in Courtdale, PA paint it Metallic Purple in 2015, and thus began the transformation into the rig you see on our cover and centerfold this month, as well as on these pages, here.
The exterior of John’s truck now features a big 20-inch Valley Chrome bumper, a Jones Performance hood fitted with side vents (which not only look cool but also dissipate 12-15 degrees of heat from the engine compartment in the summer), hot-rod-style headlights with LEDs from Optronics on Double JJ brackets, 8-inch Lincoln pipes, 15-inch Vortox air cleaners and polished 150-gallon fuel tanks on each side. The rig also has a Wingmaster whale tail on the roof, Alcoa wheels with Firestone rubber, a Trux visor, RoadWorks window chops and stainless Hogebuilt half-fenders. John and a friend made a bunch of custom stainless pieces, including the cab and sleeper skirts, a boltless frame wrap, corner light boxes behind the sleeper, and step and battery box covers. 4 State Trucks installed channeled stainless-steel panels on the back of the sleeper, a painted deck plate was added, as well, along with plenty of Lifetime nut covers and lettering, graphics and pinstripes by “Pooch” (a local freelance graphic artist).
Moving inside the truck, the dash was painted purple by Quality Collision and covered with stainless, and every gauge (19 of them) was replaced with a digital version from Teltek. This is one of the only trucks you’ll see out there fitted entirely with digital gauges. The interior of the rig also features a purple steering wheel from Steering Creations, billet pedals, and custom two-tone gray leather seats, door panels, couch and shifter cover made by Darryl at California Customs in Ontario, CA. In the sleeper, there are chrome covers – hundreds of them – on all the buttons of the stock button-tuck interior, a TV, refrigerator and custom stainless trim.
The trailer, as mentioned before, is a purple 2006 Utility spread-axle reefer with a painted Thermo King SB-210 unit, stainless Hogebuilt quarter-fenders and polished Bawer stainless-steel boxes. Again, John and his friend did some custom stainless-steel work, including boxing-out and wrapping the landing gear and the space between the spread axles. The lights add the finishing touch to this combo – 527 of them! The truck alone has 364 LEDs, and the trailer has 163, including 96 underneath the trailer for a bright under-glow that can’t be missed. Needless to say, John has won a lot of awards for his lights. He likes to say, “I’m not too bright, but my equipment is!”
A few years ago, John started competing at truck shows and has done very well. Back in July of 2016, while attending the Walcott Truckers Jamboree in Walcott, Iowa for the very first time, he met our friend and contributor Kim Grimm (Trucker Talk). After a few short months, and many long phone calls, they began dating in September 2016, and it has been a whirlwind romance ever since. John’s outlook on life, after beating cancer several times and cheating death in his big accident, has really opened Kim up to just relax and enjoy life – to “live and not just exist,” as John likes to put it. He named his truck ONLY CLASS, which is an acronym for “One Night Loving You Chrome Lights And Stainless Steel” – he really does love his acronyms!
Another thing he loves is NASCAR racing, and his favorite driver is Jeff Gordon. In fact, it would be fair to say that he is a Jeff Gordon fanatic! Following his career since before he was even racing in the Cup Series, John has toy cars, banners, license plates, pins, shirts, hats, jackets, key-chains, sweatshirts, pajamas, you name it, all featuring that illustrious #24. In fact, all his trucks have been #24, too. His sunglasses holder, clipped to his sun visor, is a little #24 race car, and it holds John’s signature Oakley M-frame sunglasses, which he bought back in 1992 – and he still wears them every day! Since Jeff Gordon’s retirement two years ago, John has updated his “favorite driver” designation to #42 (#24 backwards) – Kyle Larson. And, admittedly, this young driver with a bright future in the sport has been very fun to watch over these past few years.
For John’s 50th birthday last July, Kim surprised him with a custom-made model of his truck and trailer by David Gordanier of Ontario, Canada. Making the model from pictures Kim sent him, David finished the project and sent it to Iowa 80, where Kim surprised John with it during the Walcott Truckers Jamboree. It was a few days after his actual birthday, but the look on John’s face when she handed it to him was priceless, and worth the wait. Walcott is a special place for both John and Kim, for many reasons, and this is just another one of them, now!
Wanting to give credit and thanks where it is due, John wanted to thank his old friend Carl McMichaels, who has since passed away, for helping him get started, Little Sister’s Truck Wash for always keeping his rig looking good, and the TA/Petro Stopping Centers, for always being a safe and clean place to stop for fuel and a shower. He also wanted to thank his daughters, Jessica (26) and Jennifer (22), for their support and encouragement, along with Kim, for showing him what love is. Big thanks to Quality Collision for all the work they have done on his truck, Home Again Truck Brokerage, Matt Bradley, Bill at Peter’s Brothers, and Ira, Shelly, Mike, Sergio and Jessica at Nathel & Nathel Produce.
Currently running back and forth between the east and west coast, like he has been since the beginning of his driving career, John hauls plastics west and produce east. Happy to be just a single-truck owner operator, with Kim as his co-pilot and occasional relief driver, along with Reno, his Shih Tzu, John loves talking to people, and always answers their questions and thanks them for any compliments given. He is humble, and he doesn’t take anything or anyone for granted – he loves life. After all, when you’ve beaten the odds as many times as John Jaikes, you tend to appreciate more than just the little things – you appreciate everything!