A Hay-Hauling Heritage

With four generations of hauling hay, it is fair to say that the Gravance family has seen and done it all in the world of relocating cow-chow. Based out of Laton in California’s ag-centered Central Valley, all four generations have called this tiny town home. Baptized in hay hauling, the most-recent generation, which includes three Gravance boys, was raised in the cab of a hay truck – more specifically, a Freightliner cabover hay truck. Today, the company, called Gravance Trucking, which is owned and operated by Kevin and Lathele Gravance, has a few conventional Peterbilts, but their youngest son, Pierson, still prefers to drive their current cabover, which is the sweet 1983 Peterbilt 362 seen here.

After the family immigrated to the United States from Portugal, Kevin’s grandfather, Frank Avila, was born here in the US and is thought to be the first generation of Americans. Frank began hauling hay way back when, and then later his son (Kevin’s dad) Richard Gravance started hauling it, too. Kevin (57) was very close to his grandfather and has fond memories of riding in his trucks and driving them in the fields while his grandfather loaded the bales of hay. Kevin was just a little kid back then, so Frank would put wood blocks on the pedals so Kevin could reach. Sadly, Frank Avila passed away in 1996.

Growing up in Laton, Kevin and his brothers started a dairy while they were still in school. Milking cows every morning before school and then again later that evening eventually became a chore Kevin was not too excited about. Over time, the dairy grew to about 700-800 head with 400 milking cows, so Kevin started focusing on hauling the hay into their dairy. When it was decided to shut the dairy down, Kevin started hauling hay full-time with his father. Knowing Lathele since grade school, who was also from Laton, the two eventually got together in high school and were married in 1979. Back then, Lathele was a dental technician, but after a few years of that, she was ready to be done.

After being married for a while and starting their family, Kevin and Lathele decided it was time to go out on their own and bought their first truck – a 1981 Freightliner 2-axle cabover (which they still have) – and started Gravance Trucking around 1990. This old Freightliner, with no air conditioning or power steering, was not easy to drive, but it was a good truck. Buying a hay squeeze, possibly one of the first ever made, Kevin would drive the truck and Lathele would drive the squeeze. Later, Lathele got her CDL and started driving, too. Their three boys, Preston (34), Parker (32) and Pierson (27), were all raised in that old Freightliner, which had a 75-inch cab and a twin-turbo 475 Cummins.

As Gravance Trucking grew, Kevin’s dad Richard began running his Freightliner cabover for the company. In 1999, they added a 2-axle 1997 Peterbilt 379 to the fleet. Powered by an E-model Cat hooked to a 13-speed, this little rig came used from the dealership painted Teal green. Kevin once had a GMC pickup painted the same color, and he really liked it, so when he saw the conventional for sale, he knew he had to have it. At that point, Teal green became the new company color (their original Freightliner cabover was just a plain blue). Later, while Kevin was away on a hunting trip, Lathele took the old Freightliner to the local dealership and had it painted the new Teal green color.

After Kevin’s dad retired, the company eventually needed to buy another truck to make up for the lost one. In 2002, Kevin and Lathele bought the 1983 Peterbilt 362 cabover you see on our cover and centerfold (and these pages here). The truck, which was originally a 3-axle, was converted into a 2-axle hay truck by its previous owner before Gravance bought it. The COE is powered by a 400 Big Cam Cummins hooked to a 13-speed transmission. At the time, it was dark blue and had a single stack. Not long after his retirement, Kevin’s father, Richard Gravance, passed away on Easter Sunday in 2004. Having been very involved with the local rodeo for most of his life, the rodeo arena in nearby Squaw Valley, CA is named “Gravance Arena” in honor of Kevin’s dad, Richard.

Running the cabover like it was when they bought it until 2006, it was at that point that they decided to repaint the rig in the company color and do a few extra embellishments. Aside from having the local Peterbilt dealership cut the back panel on the driver’s side to create the recessed space for the dual exhaust, the Gravance boys did almost all the work themselves, including much of the paint work, with help from local painter and friend Scott Gobel.

After painting the truck Teal green, Parker painstakingly laid out the intricate stripes, and then Scott painted them. After the light metallic purple, Lemon yellow and light orange stripes were painted, Preston did all the “trash” by hand himself, which included Lime green, white and black outlines and pinstripes. Then, they added nine cab lights and extra horns, mounted the new dual exhaust and a 20-inch Valley Chrome bumper (which is still on the truck), added KW grille bars and two-sided LED blinkers on each side of the cab, and painted the deck plate. The factory visor was polished on top and painted underneath, newer-style headlights and polished quarter fenders were added, and the red gel was removed from all the Peterbilt emblems. As a final touch, Scott painted small murals behind the bumper and on the deck plate, featuring a cigar-smoking skull wearing a top hat.

Once the exterior was finished, they went to work inside. Most of the interior work, which included custom door panels, seats, sleeper walls and headliner, was done by Tony Corona of Central Valley Upholstery in Hanford, CA. Tony made custom gray door panels with stitched-in lines to match the stripes on the exterior of the truck, and then everything else was covered in turquoise or gray leather. They also installed a nice sound system, which includes (2) 10-inch Rockford Fosgate subs, (8) mid-range speakers and a couple small tweeters.

After the truck was painted and customized back in 2006, it went to work – and it was never babied. Back then, it was Parker’s truck, but when his younger brother Pierson became old enough to get his license, he handed him the keys. It is hard to say how many miles this truck has on it because the engine has been rebuilt several times and the speedometer has been replaced a time or two, but Preston guesses that it has probably rolled between three and four million miles – and it still looks this good!

Two or three years later, Gravance added another conventional to the fleet – a 2-axle 1993 Peterbilt 379 with a B-model Cat and a 13-speed. Eventually, Scott painted and/or striped both the conventionals, as well. One looks more like the cabover, with stripes, while the other is Teal green with purple tears/rips on the front.

The trailers seen behind the cabover, which were acquired later, are a set of 1969 Fruehaufs. Originally, these were 24-foot trailers, but they were later stretched to the more typical 28’-6” length of today’s hay doubles. The trailers had already been stretched when Gravance bought them, but the boys painted them to match the trucks and added extra lights, a Pro-Tech box, polished quarter fenders, stainless-steel tail plates and old-school white mud flaps. These are not the typical trailers pulled by this truck, but they are the best-looking set in the fleet, so they hooked them up for the photo shoot.

Over the years, Gravance has developed and expanded their hay squeeze operation, and today they run three of them. Since hauling hay is somewhat seasonal, the hay squeeze part of their business helps carry them through the slow times. The company has its own yard and shop for maintenance and repairs, which is good, because those squeezes have a lot of moving parts to maintain. Most of the maintenance, smaller repairs, welding and even painting can be done in-house, but if something major needs to be done, they send it out. These days, Kevin drives one of the conventionals and buys/sells hay. He is the “commander” out there on the road, while Lathele controls the office.

Preston is the oldest son and he is the truck guru of the family (he also turned out to be an excellent fluffer at the truck photo shoot). He loves fixing up the trucks, and especially likes all the tiny details the average person won’t even notice. He was married for several years but is now divorced and has joint custody of their 7-year-old son Paxton – who is a truck nut! This kid can tell you what kind of engine a truck has by the sound of it driving by. Normally, Preston spends most of his time in a hay squeeze, but he still gets out and hauls hay sometimes, too.

When Preston’s grandfather retired, he gave him his last truck – a 1981 Freightliner cabover with factory dual everything (boxes, pipes, breathers, etc.). Originally powered by an 8V92 Detroit, after that motor blew up it was re-powered with a Big Cam 400. Then, it was painted and striped in the company colors, but after that, it was just parked. Years later, it is still sitting in the same place, waiting to one day be finished by Preston.

Parker is the middle boy, and when the cabover was first redone, it was for him. But, he enjoys driving a squeeze more than a truck, so when it came time for his younger brother Pierson to start driving, he gladly passed him the keys. These days, Pierson switches between the cabover and a conventional, but he truly enjoys driving the cabover more. In fact, he says that driving the conventional makes him lazier – because it is just too easy! The fact that the cabover is hard to get in and out of, hard to steer and hard to shift, keeps Pierson honest. After all, the truck is always in charge!

Since the 1983 cabover was built for his brother, everyone still sort of considers it to be Parker’s truck, even though Pierson drives it most of the time now. With that in mind, Pierson wanted a project truck of his own, and recently acquired a 1999 Peterbilt 362 cabover with an E-model Cat from Anthony Peters of Gustine, CA. Still painted in Anthony’s brown and white company colors, the truck runs great, and Pierson has all the parts needed to make it look good, he just hasn’t had the time or motivation to complete the job. So, like Preston’s project truck, it just sits… waiting.

Always busy, the Gravance clan rarely ever attends truck shows. But, last April, they did take the cabover out to an antique farm equipment show in Tulare, CA to participate in an old-style hay bucking contest, where small bales of hay are hand-stacked on a trailer with help from an old boom truck. Kevin and all three of his sons competed in the contest and had a blast. This, in fact, is how we at 10-4 saw their rig and started asking questions about it and its owner. Long story short, a week or so later we were out in a field near my home taking the pictures!

Getting the truck “dialed-in” on such short notice required a lot of help from family and friends. In addition to Kevin and Lathele and their three boys, big thanks go out to Kris Gaare, Angelina Lopez, Anthony “Bones” Ghidelli, Zack and Pete for getting the truck shined-up and camera-ready! Another shout-out goes to Bob Loyd and his son KC of Riverdale, CA for getting the cabover running perfect for the Tulare show so they could take it to the hay bucking contest. They hustled to get the injectors replaced and then “ran the rack” to make sure everything was properly adjusted. One last “thank you” goes out to their driver, Lenard, who has been with Gravance for about five years now and is a true asset to the operation.

Lathele is a true “California girl” so she has no plans to leave the state, even though Kevin would like to move to Utah. In this uncertain business climate in California, especially for dairy farming and trucking, at some point they may be forced to make the decision of either changing the work they do or following it to another state. But for now, things are good, so they’ll just keep doing what they do, and hope that over time things will change for the better. Lathele does not get out and drive very often anymore, but she does keeps her CDL current, just in case.

In a time when quantity matters more to most than quality, the Gravance family, and their trucking company, are quite the opposite. As Lathele put it, “This is a family business, and it represents our family. It’s important for us to do things right, to be conscientious and caring to each other, our trucks, our business and our customers.” Preston said, “Be proud of what you have – new or otherwise. Take care of your equipment and your customers and everything else will work out, because integrity matters.” And, after all these years and four generations, this family tradition of hauling hay endures with no signs of it slowing down – and now, with the fifth generation already excited to take the wheel (literally), this heritage will continue.

About Daniel J. Linss - Editor

Daniel J. Linss has been with 10-4 Magazine since the beginning in September of 1993 and has been the Editor and Art Director since March of 1994. Over the years, he has also become one of the main photographers for 10-4 and is well-known for his insightful cover feature articles and honest show reports. Married for over 25 years with three children, Daniel operates a marketing and production company (Daniel Designs) which produces 10-4 Magazine each and every month from his office in Squaw Valley, CA.