It takes a lot of fuel to run this country, but even more to fuel pride. For over 50 years, Joe Gomes & Sons has proudly delivered oil and fuel products throughout California’s Central Valley with a small fleet of beautiful Peterbilts. These rigs, with matching paint schemes in white, red, orange and purple, have been turning heads for decades, and are well-known in the area they run, in and around Turlock, CA. Wanting to build something a bit more special than usual, with a slight twist on the traditional paint scheme and some extra custom pieces, John Chamorro of J & A Truck Painting helped them put together their latest amazing working showpiece, seen here and on our cover and centerfold.
Joe Gomes was born in Los Banos, CA in 1933. His dad, Henry Gomes, had a big dairy there, but after he sold out in 1939, he moved his family about an hour north to a 30-acre piece of property in Turlock, where Joe still lives today. The “ranch” is home to Joe and his wife, Emily, and a couple of their grown kids, in their own houses, as well. One of Joe’s four boys, Gary (58), has his own trucking company and a nice fleet of fuel tankers, painted green, that he parks on the property, in front of their large almond orchard (Joe has been selling his almonds to Blue Diamond for 53 years).
Growing up on a dairy, Joe milked a lot of cows. In Turlock, has dad started another dairy, but it was a lot smaller than the one they owned before in Los Banos. When his dad finally decided to quit the dairy business altogether, Joe bought a milk truck – not a tractor and big semi-trailer like today, but a small gas-powered Dodge bobtail that hauled 10-gallon steel milk cans – 200 of them. Weighing about 125-pounds each when full, Joe, at just 145-pounds himself, had to lift those heavy cans over his head to throw them on the back of the truck.
Servicing about 40 local farms and dairies, Joe did two runs a day, delivering the milk to Golden State Creamery in Newman, CA. Leaving for the morning run at 5:00 a.m. and finishing it at about 2:00 p.m., Joe would rest for a short bit and then head out for the afternoon run at 5:00 p.m., only to finish at 2:00 a.m., sleep a couple hours, and then get up and do it all over again. Times were different, back then, for sure!
After hauling milk for about five years, Joe sold out to Ralph Serpa around 1964. Having a friend in the oil business that wanted to sell out, Joe bought his company and became a distributor for Tidewater, a large oil refining outfit based in Los Angeles, servicing their network of “Flying A” gas stations. Phillips Petroleum Company (now ConocoPhillips) purchased Tidewater’s western refining operation, distribution and retail network in 1966, and then immediately re-branded all the “Flying A” stations to Phillips 66. When this happened, Joe was forced to become a Jobber (wholesaler) for Phillips.
Back then, Joe drove a gas-powered Chevy with a 1,200-gallon tank. Delivering fuel locally around his town of Turlock, he serviced mostly farmers and a few filling stations, working from 2:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., five days a week.
Running the 1,200-gallon Chevy for a while, Joe eventually upgraded to a “big” 1,800-gallon tanker. In 1980, he bought his first truck and trailer – the rig was a brand-new GMC General, and it came with a cool factory paint job with white on top and Scarlet red on the bottom, separated by three stripes that were Persimmon (a purple color), Scarlett red and Omaha orange. Joe really liked this scheme, and almost every truck he has owned since then has been painted to match that original GMC General.
A few years after purchasing the GMC, in 1985, one of Joe’s sons convinced him to “step up” and buy a new Peterbilt 359, and Joe never looked back. Owning and running various 359s, 379s, 377s, 348s, 388s and 389s, Joe has had a lot of Peterbilts over the years. Currently, the fleet includes eight rigs: (4) semis with trailers, (2) truck and trailers and (2) bobtails, most of which are newer models. For years, Bill Rocha of Oakdale, CA painted all the Gomes trucks, until he retired in 2013, and then John Chamorro of J & A Truck Painting took over the business.
When it came time to order a new semi to pull one of their older tanker trailers, the Gomes family once again reached out to John at J & A. Ordering a 2018 Peterbilt 389 daycab with a 565-hp high-torque Cummins ISX and an 18-speed from Valley Peterbilt (a.k.a. Golden State Peterbilt) in Turlock, CA, the truck was delivered directly to John’s shop in Oakdale, CA, where it spent a few months being customized. Wanting to shake things up a bit and do it a little different, this rig, with a 245-inch wheelbase, was ordered all black (instead of white) with a Scarlet red frame. Originally, the truck was just going to get the standard Gomes stripes and a few add-ons, but, somehow, the project became a lot bigger. “These things just happen,” said Jeff York, the lucky driver of this nice combination and the one who oversaw the build.
After getting another stellar “Gomes” paint job from J & A Painting, John also made custom steel fender brackets/light bars to hold the heavy Hogebuilt stainless full fenders, along with a custom painted cover to hide the sleeper air bags and a two-piece stainless deck plate. He also added seven-inch Dynaflex dummy pipes (the rig has a weed-burner exhaust underneath), which were modified to fit tighter against the cab, old-style smooth step boxes, a painted visor and customized body drop panels from Valley Chrome, and custom step pads from Roadsknz, which feature the Gomes & Sons logo. John also customized the breathers to be strapless and chopped the screens, painted the fuel tank straps, door handle cups and window chops, and added lights inside the breathers. Up front, the stock headlights were replaced with “Blackout” projection headlights from United Pacific, giving the truck a dark, sinister look. The rig was also ordered with vintage-style wheels, with smaller holes, to match the wheels on the older trailer.
Hooked behind this stunning tractor is a 2004 Beall West Coast Petroleum Semi trailer with over a million miles on it. This is the third rig to pull this trailer, which was completely polished by Vic Caliva – the best in the business! The 42-foot multiple-compartment tanker has a capacity of 9,500 gallons, but they can’t haul that much, because it’s too heavy. All the older “top hat” tanker-style lights on the trailer were gutted inside and then upgraded to super-bright LEDs, and then several LED light bars were hidden underneath, for a nice glow at night. Leather handles on the levers that control the compartment valves were hand-stitched by a guy who makes custom holsters, and all the valve caps were chromed – they even chromed a bucket, which hangs under the trailer!
Not much has been done to the interior of this Peterbilt, but it was ordered with all the bells and whistles, including a touch-screen and in-dash navigation. They also added a painted steering wheel and Legacy Lo black leather seats from Sears Seating (there are plans to add a dark wood floor in the near future, as well). Under the hood, the red Cummins engine was spit-shined, and has some nicely-polished air tubes. When the truck was finally completed, it headed south to a truck show in Fresno, CA where it earned the Best of Show trophy. Needless to say, the boys were pretty pleased.
After that show in Fresno, the truck went to work. Ran every day by driver Jeff York, who has been at Gomes & Sons for almost 22 years, the truck earns its keep, delivering fuel around the city of Turlock. The only time the truck doesn’t go out is when it is raining, which is not that often in California’s hot Central Valley. Photographed at the Gomes Ranch, their yard/shop, RDB Hulling & Shelling in Ceres, CA (thank you Richard Baptista), and Aemetis Advanced Fuels in Keyes, CA (a local ethanol plant), this truck photographs well, but it looks even better in person.
Another key player in this deal is Derek Ellis (34), a bobtail driver at Gomes & Sons, who is also in charge of maintenance on the trucks in the fleet, as well as any simple customizing and lights – this guy is the electrical guru at Gomes. Derek is the one responsible for this truck’s amazing nighttime glow. Derek worked at George H. Nunes, Inc. out of Keyes, CA for 12 years, delivering fuel in a bobtail, until they went out of business. After that, he jumped over to Gomes & Sons, where he has been for the past four years. Derek said the same thing everyone else I talked to said – “There is a true family atmosphere at Joe Gomes & Sons.”
The other person that deserves a lot of credit for this cool build is John Chamorro at J & A Truck Painting in Oakdale, CA. Along with his small crew, that includes his 15-year-old son Tyler, these guys have consistently knocked it out of the park for not only Joe Gomes & Sons, but a bunch of our other past cover truckers. Having recently moved into a larger facility, John and his team can do everything from bumper installs to full builds, along with truck collision repair, painting and in-house powder-coating. Everything he fabricates is built to last, and that is evident on the Gomes rigs, which rarely ever get sent back to John for a fix (that is also because the drivers at Gomes take such good care of their equipment, too).
These days, Joe is semi-retired, but he still comes to the office every day to stay connected, tinker around and keep busy. Joe and his wife Emily have been married for 66 years and the couple has four grown boys – Greg (60), Gary (58), Jeff (56) and Ronnie (55). As mentioned before, Gary has his own fleet of fuel tankers. Jeff is now the president of Gomes & Sons, and he handles most of the day-to-day operations and dispatching, while Greg oversees the oil accounts and lubricants, including the service and maintenance of their customers’ pumps and such, and runs the ranch. Ronnie is not involved in the trucking company. Emily, Joe’s wife, does some of the office work for the trucking company, as well as the ranch, which is a separate deal. This outfit truly is a family affair.
Liking the size of their business to remain between six and eight trucks, Joe and his boys are happy with where they are right now, although they do have another new truck coming soon. Next to their yard and shop in Turlock, just off Highway 99 on the east side, between Fulkerth Road and W. Main, they have a CFN/Fleetwide 24-hour commercial fueling location which they have operated for decades. This is very convenient for them to have, but if you need fuel in Turlock, stop in and fill up, because the public is always welcome.
At 84 years young, Joe Gomes is still sharp as a tack, and feels blessed to have lived such a good life. Having lived on the same piece of property for almost 80 years, been married to the same woman for 66 years, and operated a successful business for over 50 years, this man is as good as they come, and the epitome of what it means to be honest, strong-willed and dependable. And, if his boys are anything like him – and I’m sure they are – Joe Gomes & Sons will continue fueling pride in the trucking industry for many years to come.