Like Jason Aldean sang, “Roads and rails under their feet, yeah that sounds like a first-class seat.” Some drivers, like Foxfire Cummins, have been all over the United States, including those “Flyover States” that most don’t get to visit unless they are driven through. Seeing this great nation and getting paid to do it has always been the silver lining in a dark place, for Foxfire. And getting to do it in an epic Patriotic Peterbilt, for decades, has only made it better.
Known by all as Foxfire Cummins, Bryan Levernier was born and raised in Illinois and spent the beginning of his working years at the family nursery, where he became very familiar with a hoe and cultivation. He didn’t like this line of work, but he did get splendid views of the trucks that rolled past the nursery, making him realize, that was what he wanted to do one day. Working at the nursery, he did get to drive their single-axle dump truck, which had a 5-speed with a 2-speed rear axle, giving him vast experience at shifting a manual transmission truck.
In 1969, Foxfire test drove with a guy for 2-3 days, learning not only what to do in a truck, but some less than desirable suggestions for emergency situations, that were never utilized. Less than a year into driving, Foxfire was drafted into the Army, where he served from 1970-1972. The one thing Foxfire repeated to his buddies while in the Army was that when he got out, he was going to buy himself a purple Peterbilt. Through the course of two years, Foxfire saved up $17,000, but there was no rush to buy that Pete. Exiting the Army, he began working for a company, driving a dump truck, hauling gravel, then moved to a dump trailer. Over-the-road life was discovered in 1974 when he was offered a position at Aluminum Mills hauling coils and flat stock in a cabover Peterbilt.
How did Foxfire Cummins get his odd CB handle? Some may know of the books written about living outdoors, but his nickname was given by the mother of one of his friends because of all the lights on a truck he drove. The meaning? There is a moss in the woods that foxes eat as part of their diet. When it comes time to extract it, it glows in the dark – and with his truck lit up like it was at night, it only seemed fitting… and the nickname stuck (the Cummins part came from the fact that he ran a Cummins motor under the hood, of course).
In 1976, the 200th anniversary of the day our great nation declared its independence, Peterbilt Motors Company was one of the truck makers to acknowledge that by way of creating a limited-edition line of cabover and conventional trucks signifying this milestone. 100 cabovers and 100 conventional trucks were built, and on September 13, 1976, one of Foxfire’s friends said he found the truck Foxfire needed to buy in Elmhurst, IL. Together, they drove to United Diesel Services, and set their eyes on one of those limited-edition 1976 Bicentennial Peterbilt 359 Patriots. Foxfire was not sold on the color, but once he opened the door and saw that Oxblood Classic interior, he bought the truck that day and took her home three days later.
Having purchased the truck, Foxfire wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with it as far as work. He started out pulling a tanker, hauling calcium chloride and urea fertilizer. During that first year, he realized doing what everyone else was doing wasn’t going to make him the money he wanted to earn, so he went back to his roots. Foxfire knew trees, and he knew how to care for them, so he started calling on nurseries in the area, and less than a year after purchasing the truck, he was hauling nursery stock and has thrived doing so ever since. He stated that there is some competition, but it is very limited.
With the purchase of his truck also came a company name – Starship Transport Co. The name came about while he was pulling a tanker through Minneapolis one day. After passing another truck, its driver called out for Foxfire to change lanes, saying, “OK tanker, bring it over. That thing looks like it is from outer space – it must be the starship.” At that moment, Foxfire named his trucking company.
What makes this truck so unique, along with the other 99 conventionals designed for the Bicentennial? Among other things, it would be the signature red, white and blue exterior paint, the “Patriot” dash plaque, and the Classic interior in Oxblood (this was the first year Peterbilt offered the Classic interior in the Oxblood color). This truck stands apart from most of the other Bicentennial rigs because it is 42 years old and still works every day, and it has its untouched original factory paint job! There was a point Foxfire was considering repainting the rig, but after asking a couple hundred people, only one said to do it, so he opted to leave her as-is, and continues running her that way to this day.
Another unique feature on Foxfire’s Patriot is a rare Cummins header, which the company referred to as an octopus. The header was made by a manufacturing company in California. There were four inserts that went into the heads to deflect the exhaust to spool the turbo, but many of those pieces failed, causing them to go through the turbocharger, and destroying it. The manufacturing company had an overwhelming amount of warranty issues which sent them into bankruptcy, but Foxfire’s “octopus” header is still genuine and fully intact.
The truck started out with an NTC 350 Cummins under the hood, along with 4:11 gears and a 13-speed transmission. Today, it boasts a Big Cam III 400 Cummins and a big overdrive 13-speed, but it still has the 4:11 rears. Though the truck has never seen a dyno, Foxfire knows his horsepower is good, since he can keep up with the guys running the newer and bigger engines. What you see today also sports 7-inch Dynaflex stacks, a Valley Chrome bumper (it was won at the 2014 Richard Crane Memorial Truck Show in St. Ignace, MI), a working steam whistle, Groves train horns, WTI rear fenders and an array of Rockwood accessories inside.
This truck runs 5-6 days a week from the beginning of spring to the beginning of winter. Foxfire’s season isn’t by the calendar, but how cooperative Mother Nature is. This truck is the only truck Foxfire has ever purchased and the only one he has ever owned. And this piece of American trucking history, with four million miles on her, is still going strong (they just don’t make them like this anymore). Typically, you’ll find this truck hooked to either a 1982 Dorsey flatbed or a 2014 Reitnouer Big Bubba stepdeck, with large potted trees on her back.
There is not only history in Foxfire’s life and truck, but in his home, as well. After he and his wife Claudia married on September 4, 1999, they bought a house in Bristol, Wisconsin in 2000. This house was originally built in 1822 and holds the status of the oldest house in Kenosha County. And, stuck in the ground on the road outside of this historic house, is an equally-unique mailbox, painted to match Foxfire’s truck, which is a nice touch, to say the least.
Upon meeting Foxfire, he is humble, kind and full of wisdom. To the young drivers just starting out, if they are willing and ask for the guidance, Foxfire is more than happy to take them under his wing to guide them in the ways of trucking and how to do things the right way. The older generations know the way, but if the older generations do not mentor the younger ones, real trucking will end up getting lost.
Talking with Foxfire, he said trucking was different back in the day. What he misses the most is the camaraderie. If you were a decent human being and drove truck, you earned respect. If you ever broke down on the side of the road, other drivers stopped to help, no matter what time of the year. At a breakdown, before you knew it, it looked like a truck stop parking lot! Truck stops aren’t what they used to be, either. What there is today are fuel stops. Back then, truck stops had everything a driver needed, including a restaurant and a shop that could handle all of your truck’s needs. The restaurants provided quality sit-down meals, and the waitresses were not only friendly, but they remembered your name, too.
Out on the road, back then, communication was done on the CB radio. In those days, the FCC was out in full force, checking to make sure that drivers held a proper CB radio license, and wanting to know if the driver ran a legal amount of power, because it was illegal to run anything over 5 watts. Nowadays, you can do anything you want with a CB radio. Foxfire also said it wasn’t uncommon to roll into a city and call out on the CB radio for directions, as there was always someone with a base station that could give you turn-by-turn instructions. These base stations were also used by the wives of truckers, because they could turn up the heat (higher power/linear amplifiers) and call out to their husbands, even when far from home.
Foxfire is part of a truck club called the All American Big Rigger Association. This was all started by one of his best friends, Duane “The Magician” Furry, initially as a joke, as he was always clowning around. Since it was such a long name, Duane changed it to BFO (Big “Flying” Objects), but like all truck clubs, they needed club-specific lights so, again, joking around, they came up with blue lights – a spin-off of the Blue Light Specials K-Mart used to have. Although it started out as a joke, eventually it took off, and today the BFO still holds the prestige and respect alongside the truck clubs of yesteryear.
Truck clubs were really prominent in the 70s and 80s. Each club had a name and possessed a distinct color of light, along with a unique placement of that light, to make it easy for other drivers to pick out members of a certain club. The lights were called porch lights and were usually small lights placed on the visor of the truck. If you pay attention, the BFO’s blue light placement is inside the cab, in the upper corner of the windshield, on the passenger side.
Outlaw trucking is something many drivers try to mimic these days but are unable to do so. It was a different time, back then. In the 80s, straight-through hauls from Los Angeles to Illinois were common. To accomplish this trip meant running at an average speed of almost 70 mph (that was fast back then) with little or no sleep. On these non-stop runs, other trucks would often tag-along until they couldn’t do it anymore, and then duck into a truck stop.
Foxfire ran a lot with a guy known as Time Bomb, and one night, Mama’s Worst Nightmare joined them for a long while. Fast forward a year, and Foxfire and Time Bomb were heading to Idaho to load apples. It was the middle of the night, running through a gorge, when someone called out on the radio, “Hey, who are those two BFOs?” It was Mama’s Worst Nightmare! He didn’t think the two men would remember him, but they did, which proved the porch lights worked – and were useful in identification.
Foxfire holds BFO #13 (at one point, the club was up to 45 members). Several members have since passed away and their numbers have been retired, but over the years, numbers have been awarded to new members. Regardless of the years that have passed, the club still exists. The prominent era of the truck clubs came to an end in the 90s when most of the clubs disbanded because of the tougher new federal regulations that came into play regarding log books, hours of service and such. Most can recall a time when you obtained a Chauffeur License instead of a CDL. When the CDLs were later introduced, those with a Chauffeur License, like Foxfire, were “grandfathered” into the new regulations.
Special thanks go out to Bryan and Claudia for welcoming me into their home, taking the time to allow me to photograph their amazing truck and telling me all their fantastic stories. Bryan also provided loaded pictures of the truck for use in this article. Thanks also to Bryan’s father, Ozzie, for chauffeuring me around while I was taking the rolling shots. The photographs were taken on their property and along 104th Street, near Bryan and Claudia’s home.
Though it was a short trip to Wisconsin, the stories I was told, information I was provided and the education I received made me realize it wasn’t enough time. That being said, let this be a reminder to make sure to listen and soak up words of wisdom and guidance from the drivers that have the history, earned the respect and can provide a vast amount of information. These legends won’t be around forever, and don’t let the pride they have for the industry they love get lost in the shuffle of new regulations and new drivers that don’t have any guidance.
Foxfire Cummins not only drives a Patriot, but he is one, as well. There are not many truck drivers out there who can say they bought a rig new in 1976 (42 years ago) and have since ran it over four million miles – and continue to run it, even more! I would like to thank Foxfire for both his service in the military and his lifetime of service to the trucking industry. Like his truck, they just don’t make drivers like Foxfire Cummins anymore, either. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.