Every truck has a story, but if trucks could talk, they would offer lessons on life and trucking. Both on how trucking was in the past, and how it is today. Like the trucks, the men and women who operate these machines have stories of their own. Stories of family, marriage, love, struggles, life on the road and somewhere, amidst the lessons, are goals set and what dreams may come. This is the story of a man born into the industry, his family that supports him, and a bright red KW (A.K.A. “The Freak”).
The first time I saw this truck was February of 2016 at the Milwaukee, WI “World of Wheels” show. Then owner, Joel Dawes of Dawes Contract Carriage of Waterford, WI and I met at that show. Back then, the truck was called “Thrills, Chills & Dollar Bills” and, at that time, it pulled a reefer trailer. This rig made a big impression on me, as did its present owner, Albert Preston Branch III, also known as Bubba Branch, to his friends and family.
Born and raised in Mulberry, FL, Bubba had not one but two men in his life that he looked up to for guidance while growing up. These men taught Bubba a work ethic and knowledge of the industry that no driving school can teach you. The first man, his grandfather, Albert Preston Branch, was calm, cool and collected. His grandmother often said that Bubba reminded her so much of his grandpa with his demeanor and “silver tongue” (grandpa was a gifted communicator). As far back as Bubba can remember, he rode along with his grandfather. He remembers a story his father told him that his grandpa would take him along as a baby and would have been willing to take him further on trips, but he had to be able to use the bathroom on his own, as there was just no time for diaper changing on the road.
One story in particular that Bubba remembers vividly was when he was around eight years old. His grandpa, at the time, was hauling fertilizer for a phosphate outfit called IMC Rainbow. There was a little store in Balm, FL and around lunch one day, they decided to stop there to eat. His grandpa swung the truck right into the parking spot like it was a car. Bubba saw a sign that read in big bold letters “NO SEMI PARKING” but it wasn’t his place to say anything. There was a little old woman who was yelling at them in very broken English and they couldn’t understand her. They went inside to eat, came back out, and she was still hollering. Bubba asked his grandpa if he saw the sign, but he hadn’t. He then realized, even if he did, he couldn’t have read it anyway. Bubba’s grandpa came from a time that school wasn’t of high importance and you went to work at an early age. His grandpa only made it to the 3rd grade and then started working. As soon as he could, his grandpa was driving a truck, and did so his remaining working years.
The other man Bubba looked up to while growing up was his dad, Albert Preston Branch, Jr. His dad was old school with a hardcore, stern and almost cold personality. But, there was also a different side to his father that Bubba saw when they were out in the truck.
Out of seven children, Bubba was the only one that wanted to be a truck driver. From the time he was little (yes, this mammoth man was once little), when people asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, the answer remained consistent… he wanted to be a trucker like his daddy. The different side to his father came out when Bubba went out trucking with him, which was every chance he could get. If the truck needed to be cleaned, his father didn’t have to ask him twice. On the road, his father was softer and more loving to his son.
Now, Bubba is the truck driver he always said he would become. His dad’s health is quickly deteriorating, with the aid of cirrhosis of the liver. Bubba recently asked his father what he had done to make him proud, and he said he was proud of Bubba’s professionalism, the kind of professionalism he wished he would have had, and most proud of the truck driver he has become. His dad drove over the road for 46 years before retiring about 12 years ago.
Everything Bubba learned about trucking he learned from his grandpa and father – from starting the truck properly, to maintenance, and everything between. The most important lessons that Bubba remembers, in detailed words, were how to listen to the sound of the motor to know when to shift, and how to back up a trailer. Bubba was already driving and helping his dad at age 17, who worked with a company hauling sugar cane and steel cages (the cages were for the cane harvesting trailers) from Homestead, FL to North Florida and Georgia. He legally started driving at the age of 18, driving a 1970s model GMC Brigadier General dump truck, hauling clay out of Dade City, FL. Bubba said he sure appreciated the nicer trucks he drove later, as that dump truck was like driving a tank with rusted-out floor boards!
As previously mentioned, Bubba was truck crazy already as a toddler. The first show he ever attended was the 75 Chrome Shop show in Wildwood, FL some 18 years ago. This year, the 75 Chrome Shop is celebrating their 20th year putting on a show, and except for the first two, Bubba hasn’t missed one. It has become a family tradition, and the memories made at that annual show are priceless, including the last time his father attended the show with him back in 2016. Over the years, attending the 75 Chrome Shop show, Bubba has met plenty of people, but the ones that have stuck out in his mind as real, genuine people are Todd and Beth Roccapriore and Truett Novosad. He speaks highly of them as individuals who were always helpful, kind and great people to be around and associate with.
Bubba purchased his first truck in 2004 – it was a 1999 Kenworth W900 long hood. The first time he saw the “Thrills, Chills and Dollar Bills” T660, he knew he wanted to buy that truck one day. Fast forward to 2017, and Joel Dawes and Bubba struck a deal for him to purchase that truck. It was sent to the shop to get the lift-axle put on, and then, in June 2017, Bubba ordered a custom 2018 Globe 50-ton detach trailer and had it powder-coated Viper Red to match. He took delivery of the trailer at the end of July 2017, and then took delivery of the T660, the 5th truck he has ever owned, in August of 2017.
The red T660 is a 2014 Kenworth glider kit, put together by Fitzgeralds, with a 60 Series Detroit under the hood that pushes over 500 hp. The truck has a sleek 273” wheelbase, an 86” Studio sleeper and a 20,000-pound rated pusher axle. Since purchasing this truck, Bubba changed its name to “The Freak” – which is a nickname given to Bubba because of his hobby of lifting weights. But, it is also fitting for the truck, because it is not your normal heavy-haul rig.
The exterior of the truck sports rear fiberglass fenders from Bad Ass Customs, Wicked visors, cab lights by Panelite, lights by Tecniq on the trailer, lights by Grand General on the visor, and even more lights from Truck-Lite. The cover for the pony motor on the front of the trailer has “The Freak” laser-cut into it with LEDs underneath to light it up. All the custom paint work and polishing is done by Matt McCall of McCalls Big Rig and Auto in Winter Haven, FL. Between Bubba and his brother Dennis, since getting the truck, the two added even more lights and re-worked the look of the combo to make it his own.
Moving on to the interior, you’ll find Bostrom Low Profile Wide Ride seats, a checkered floor, a shifter from SH Tube, along with custom interior buttons, shifter knob and dash panels from 75 Chrome Shop. There is also a phenomenal sound system, compliments of JL Audio, throughout the truck.
Today, Bubba is married to his wife Krystal. They were married March 9, 2012 and have since had a son together, Kolt, who is five years old. Bubba has two older children, his 19-year-old son Albert Preston Branch V (Albert Preston Branch IV was Bubba’s younger brother who passed away at only 8 weeks old) and his 15-year-old daughter Alysa. The family resides in Lakeland, FL on their own little slice of heaven, which proved a perfect location for the photo shoot.
About 99% of what Bubba and his bright red Kenworth haul is usually earth-moving equipment that is oversize and overweight. The equipment, for the most part, is hauled in the southeastern states of FL, AL, GA, TN, SC and VA.
I had asked Bubba his thoughts on being an owner operator, and if someone wanted to purchase their own rig for the first time, what would he tell them? He stated that a person needs to make sure they have saved as much money as they can for the ever-famous “rainy day” that will come. He also said, “If you want something bad enough, it’s not going to come to you – you gotta go get it!”
The day we chose wasn’t exactly typical “Sunshine State” weather, as it was cold and raining. January 1, 2018 was when we did the photo shoot. But, regardless of the weather, I can’t think of a better way to start off the new year than with great friends, amazing scenery and a beautiful truck. Ah, dreams do come true. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.