A Long Road

By Chad Violet

About an hour east of Cincinnati lies the small town of Sardinia, Ohio. With a population of less than a thousand, Andy Strasinger has managed to do what many from this rural area of Ohio could not… build a thriving business that has grown into a highly-respected and profitable specialized carrier of the trucking industry. But, like a large majority of the owner operators in transportation, the journey to get to where Andy is today, has been a long road.

Back in the mid- to late-90s, Andy got his CDL and drove for some local farmers hauling grain. Not seeing the future in driving an old farm truck on and off throughout the year, Andy left the farm and approached several companies, pursuing a driving job that would provide more stability and income. Many of these companies did not recognize his farm driving to qualify as experience. For most people, these dead-ends would be discouraging, but they motivated Andy to do what he knew in his heart he could.

In 1998, Andy bought his first truck – a 1980 Peterbilt 359 – and leased to Redbank Transport of Milford, Ohio, pulling one of their Alumatec dump trailers. Andy saw the profit of pulling dump trailers and continued doing that for nearly three years, then went over-the-road with the dump for another two. The dollars that Andy was bringing in eventually trickled down to mere pennies, and he knew that getting out of the dump business was inevitable.

Still seeing the money that the open road could provide, Andy hooked under a reefer for J & A Sons of Goshen, Ohio, and he started bumping docks. The refrigerated business was quite a learning experience for Andy. Seeing firsthand the food industry’s shippers, receivers and grocery warehouses, Andy was questioning if this was the right move. Discouraged and disgruntled at the struggles in front of him, Andy sought different angles to solve the issues.

In 2004, Andy applied and received his own operating authority and then continued working for J & A, looking to see if the reefer game could be any better with him at the helm of the decisions and choices. Unfortunately, the grocery transport world was even more difficult this go around, even after the responsibility was shifted to his control.

Through all of Andy’s travels, he crossed paths with a man that would prove to be a pivotal figure in the future of AJ Strasinger Trucking. Jerry Tillman, a freight agent for Underwood Machinery of Indianapolis, hired Andy’s services to move specialized machinery. Andy could not believe what a difference it made, financially, just by switching trailers and adding some physical labor, hauling those big machines. Jerry showed Andy how well he could do, and it lit a fire.

Formulating a plan, Andy called his mother and father and asked them if they would work for him. Not knowing anything about the trucking industry, they believed in their son and took the leap, even though it was a difficult time for Andy’s father, as he was battling health issues. Andy bought another truck and hired his first driver. Adding to the stress of everyday life, Andy’s first daughter was born. AJ Strasinger Trucking was thriving thanks to hard work and great customer service from his dedicated staff – his mom and dad. Andy’s father was a bit ornery with the customers, but he loved having his wife and son within arm’s reach each day. Sadly, in January of 2008, Andy’s dad passed away.

With help from his mom and five-year-old daughter, AJ Strasinger Trucking managed to make it through the economy dive of 2008, 2009 and most of 2010. Freight finally started to pick up and show signs of a glimmering light as Andy’s three-year doldrum ended, leaving him with five company trucks and several leased-on owner operators still with him.

Two years after his dad’s passing, Andy’s mom was diagnosed with small cell cancer in her lungs. She was given two options – live out her life with no time-line, or take chemotherapy, giving her another year or so. Andy’s mom, who was also his best friend, business partner and his driving strength, was able to enjoy her son and beautiful granddaughter for eight months before losing her battle with cancer. She told Andy to stay true to the business and promise to see it through – for himself and his daughter.

Immediately following his mother’s death, AJ Strasinger Trucking was audited by the IRS. Faced with an uphill battle, Andy reached out to his friend and mentor, CPA Richard Kissick. With the promise made to his mother, Andy picked up the pieces and followed Richard’s lead as they pressed forward through the time-consuming audit. Just after the audit was finished, timing could not have been better, as Andy was blessed to meet Crystal, now his beautiful wife. Crystal returned the smile back to Andy’s face and renewed his drive, which had taken a back seat for a year, as Andy dealt with life’s tribulations.

During this time frame, good news started coming Andy’s way (finally). His old friend, Jerry Tillman, retired from the business and entrusted Andy to take over where he was leaving off. Jerry could not think of anyone better to take care of the needs of his customer-base, that took him over forty years to grow and develop. Andy knew this was the opportunity that he had been looking for these past twelve years, and he was definitely not going to let it slip away.

Since then, AJ Strasinger Trucking has continued to grow, one step at a time. Now, with eight drivers, Matt is the longest employed driver, at eleven years, along with four owner operators. The office staff is made up of five employees, and he now has a second location, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, that is run by Brad and Paula Puls. The shop has three full time technicians who keep Andy’s equipment in pristine operating condition.

Eventually, the time came when Andy found himself in a position to buy a special truck that represents him – a “calling card” ride to acknowledge and celebrate where his hard work and dedication had brought him. A truck that demonstrates to him that he’s reached the top of his uphill battle. But, Andy is not a “look at me” flashy kind of guy – he is humble and enjoys giving back to those who have helped him get to where he is today. So that is what he did.

Matt has been driving for Andy longer than anyone else and he’s never had a late delivery, taken a sick day, not showed up for work or received any negative reports from any of their customers. Andy bought and built the truck you see here, on these pages, for Matt to drive – and he wanted to make it special.

Andy looked and looked for the right truck, and when he found it, he knew instantly that this was it – the Kenworth ICON series W900. The ICON number given to this special truck is 230. Equipped with a Cummins ISX backed by an 18-speed transmission, this limited-edition truck got the preferential treatment worthy enough to earn its way onto the pages of this magazine.

First on the list was to give the rig’s height an altitude adjustment. Andy called upon Big Iron Customs in Pennsylvania to have the front air-ride installed, and to get the steer tires tucked up tightly inside those big W9 fenders. While in their hands, the Big Iron crew also cut down the factory battery boxes to accommodate big seven-inch Dynaflex straight stacks, which they installed with their own custom-fabricated hidden mounting brackets. Andy chose to ditch the infamous Kenworth angled elbows, opting instead for that clean and straight, 90-degree, low and cool appearance.

Once the truck arrived back at Andy’s shop, his guys, Joe and Bill, fabricated brackets to hang the rear boxes and custom fenders. Joe then added the front bumper and a custom flip kit from 12 Ga. Customs. To get that “just right” attitude, Andy reached out to 12 Ga. once again. Jim “Higgs” Higgins and Jeff Battler designed and built the visor, while Jim Anderson painted it to match. The truck now had “the look” they wanted, but Andy was still not totally satisfied. He wanted more. He wanted better.

Looking to up his game even higher, Andy had another vision that he took to Joe. Knowing that Joe could pull off almost anything, Andy had him fabricate a custom work box behind the cab that is functional yet cool and blends nicely into the deck plate. And Joe did not disappoint, hitting a home run with the incredibly-cool box and deck combination.

Wanting to make a statement with the paint but still remain subtle and true to the Kenworth history and reputation that the ICON badge symbolizes, Andy chose to stick with the Seminole paint scheme, and incorporated the classiness of the mocha and gray colors, that were then pinstriped with bright orange. But, to accomplish that jaw-dropping affect he was looking for and a glimmering flare to this paint job, crushed glass was sprayed into the mocha, to make the rig sparkle like a bass boat on the lake, in the high-noon sun. It is spectacular!

Moving into the cab, Andy wanted to make sure Matt was comfortable and cool. A fiberglass floor from Bad Ass Custom Truck Parts in Indiana was shipped to Andy’s shop so that AJ, Ron and Kyle could get it fitted, painted and pinstriped. Once installed, the dash panels and steering wheel were painted orange by AJ in the shop, and a marbleized orange shift knob was installed atop the chromed shifter, along with matching marbleized orange brake control knobs. Scott at Peterbilt of Cincinnati is responsible for finding the custom, low back, black leather seats in the truck that makes America’s rough roadways a little easier on Matt’s back.

The journey has not been easy for Andy. Where others would have given up, Andy pushed forward, through the struggles and heartaches, while recognizing the right opportunities to grab a hold of and see them through. Striving to be the best helps drive Andy to take care of his
family, his employees and the company.

Andy would like to thank all his dedicated employees. From day one or only employed for one day, each has played a vital role in the success of the company. The two guys that were most instrumental in guiding Andy along this path were Phil Lane, now 76, who still helps from time to time, and Joseph Sapp, who was Andy’s best friend. Joseph was an owner operator who knew the business and was a huge help to Andy, but, unfortunately, he passed away at an early age.

Keeping this truck looking top-notch is the team of wash-man Kyle Jones and polisher Donovan Klable. Special thanks go to his wife Crystal and his amazing kids, Haley (14), Myra (4) and Jake (3), for believing in Andy and his decisions – they are his number one fans.

Not a day goes by that Andy Strasinger does not reflect on a thought of his wonderful parents who took a blind chance and believed that their boy could and would do great things. Yes, it has been a long road, but sometimes the destination is worth the journey!

About Guest Author