If you want to shape metal and make it stronger, you need to add some heat and a lot of pressure. This is also the case for people. It’s been said that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, and stories of people being “refined” by difficult times are boundless. Ken Sanders of Manteca, California is one of those individuals. Starting at a very young age, Ken has walked through the fire more than once, but, like forged metal, he has always come through stronger and better than before. Today, Ken is a successful owner operator with a loving and supportive family, and to Ken, that is everything!
Born and raised in Henderson, Texas, Ken Sanders (40) did not have an easy childhood. Along with his siblings, including a twin sister, Ken’s family moved around a lot. For most of his life, Ken’s father was not in the picture, but he had a step dad that used to drive a dump truck, and Ken sometimes got to go out with him. One of Ken’s earliest memories as a kid was when he decided that he wanted to be a truck driver – but that did not happen until much later.
Because of some difficult circumstances at home, the family – minus Ken’s step dad – moved to Los Angeles, California when Ken was about seven years old. Shortly after that, the family was relocated again – this time to San Jose, CA. These were not good times for the young Ken Sanders. Due to a string of unfortunate events out of Ken’s control, his mother disappeared, forcing Ken, his twin sister and another sister to move in with their aunt, Marjorie Nichols. Aunt Marjorie did not have much and she lived in a dangerous neighborhood, but she became their “mom” and provided a home to these three children. Aunt Marjorie passed away several years ago, but Ken is still very grateful for what she did for him and his sisters.
Aunt Marjorie was known for taking in “strays” so their house was always full – she just couldn’t say “no” to people and/or families in need (a trait she obviously passed on to Ken, who today is a very generous and compassionate person). In an attempt to stay out of trouble (drugs, gangs, etc.), Ken turned to sports. All through school he played baseball, football and track, and was quite good, from what we were told. After graduating from high school, Ken headed to the local junior college for a while, mostly “studying” sports. About this time, Ken found out from his grandmother that his mother and father were alive and well and living in Texas. On a whim, Ken and his twin sister flew out to see them at a family function. It was a little awkward, as it had been about 14 years since they had seen each other or spoken, but Ken, not one to hold a grudge, was happy to see them.
After flying home, Ken decided that he wanted to be nearer to the rest of his family, so he packed up his stuff and drove to Longview, Texas, where he moved in with another aunt. Ken began attending the junior college in Tyler, Texas, studying accounting and playing football. After earning his Associate’s Degree in Business Accounting, he got a job at a local company and began working. In May of 1996, Ken went back to San Jose for a week-long visit, but while there, he decided that he did not want to go back to Texas. He called home and said, “You guys can keep my stuff, I’m staying here!” And with that, Ken was back in California.
Back in the bay area, Ken took a job at State Farm Insurance. Later that year, he met a girl named Shannon. When he met her, Ken claims, he literally heard an audible voice (at least in his own head) that said this would be the woman he would marry and have children with – and the voice was right! The two were married in 1998 and had their first daughter, Kennedy (12), the next year. Since then, they have had two more daughters – Kaleah (9) and Delaney (7). Ken was at State Farm until 1999, and then he moved over to American E & S Insurance Brokers, a commercial insurance company in San Francisco. Starting out in the mail room, Ken quickly worked his way up to broker. About this time, Ken and Shannon bought a new house in Manteca and began commuting together into the city every day. With traffic, the drive took over two hours each way! Shannon worked at a hospital in San Francisco, and things seemed to be going good (except for the long commute) – then the tragedies of September 11, 2001 happened.
The events that occurred on 9-11 hit the insurance industry hard and fast, and it reacted accordingly – Ken was laid off just a few weeks later. But, the truth was, he wasn’t too upset about losing his job. All those days and nights out on the highway, commuting to and from work, caused him to start noticing trucks again. In fact, one day, out of the blue, shortly before being laid off, Ken turned to his wife while they drove down the road and said, “I think I want to buy a truck!” Of course, she thought he was crazy – he was a full-fledged broker, making good money – so she just shrugged him off. But the moment he was let go, he knew exactly what he was going to do.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Ken did not waste a day. Being on unemployment, he could attend truck driving school at no charge to himself, so he signed up and got started on the two-month program. After about six weeks, his instructor told him that he did not need to come for any more instruction – he could tell that Ken had got it. Two weeks later, he went back for the test and aced it. Now that he had a CDL, it was time to find a job, but for Ken, that was easy.
Ken is a likeable, trustworthy kind of guy and he is not afraid of hard work, so he got several job offers immediately. He ended up taking a driving job at Boyett Petroleum out of Modesto, CA, driving a tanker, delivering fuel locally. After about a year, he switched over to a roofing company, driving one of their flatbed lift trucks. While working there, he met a guy from MPT, Inc. out of Madera, CA who offered Ken a job driving one of their company trucks, pulling flatbed loads. At first, Ken was just running locally around Central California, but eventually they started sending him out on longer runs to neighboring states. Before he knew it, he found himself out on the road for days (or weeks) on end. Having a young family at home, Ken did not like this situation, so he left MPT.
After leaving MPT, Ken began running a truck for a guy named Danny Verdugo out of Manteca, CA. Hauling flatbed loads, mostly for Golden State Lumber, Ken drove for Danny for about a year, until Danny offered to sell the truck Ken was driving to him in 2004. Ken bought the truck – a 1988 Peterbilt 379 – and then formed Ken Sanders Trucking that same year. Ken was still hauling for Golden State and had forged a good relationship with one of the managers (Dave Houck), so he was allowed to continue hauling for them – exclusively – and was even allowed to pull one of their trailers for free.
Not long after that, Ken bought his second truck – a newly refurbished 1994 Peterbilt 379 extended hood daycab with a 435 Detroit that got great fuel mileage. This truck, which had a long wheelbase and was painted maroon and black, was very nice. When times started to get a little tough (thanks to the economic slowdown), Ken started finding backhauls for his trips delivering the lumber. At some point, the folks at Golden State Lumber found out about this and decided that they did not want Ken hauling his own loads on their trailers. So, Ken went out and bought his own trailer – a 1988 step-deck – and then began finding all of his own loads.
Being a true owner operator, Ken was now in charge of finding all of his own freight. He still hauled some loads for Golden State Lumber (he and Dave are still great friends), but he quickly found himself hauling a lot of corrugated pipe and steel, as well as many other things. A couple years ago, Ken got the opportunity to haul steel pipe out of the Port of Oakland. This is a rather small port, so Ken got to know everybody pretty fast and made some great contacts. Today, Ken has all sorts of customers, but he still only has the one truck. For all of the other loads, he has other owner operators (who are also his friends) available to pick up the slack. On any given day, besides running his own truck, Ken might have anywhere from ten to twenty owner operators hauling loads for him. In addition to the one truck, he also has five trailers.
When it came time for Ken to upgrade to a newer truck, he found a 2006 Peterbilt 379 with a 550 Cat, an 18-speed and a 63” flat top sleeper. The red truck was pretty plain but it had low miles (200,000) so Ken purchased it in December of 2008 and then immediately took it to Jeff Botelho at Botelho Custom Trucks in Los Banos, CA. Originally, Jeff was just supposed to lower the front, replace the stacks and do a few small cosmetic changes, but after the two talked for a while, the project grew. The truck spent over two months in Los Banos – and it got a whole lot more than just new pipes! We were lucky enough to meet Ken by chance in February of 2009 when he came to pick up the truck (we were on our way to a nearby photo shoot and had just stopped to say “hello” to Jeff). We were very impressed with Ken and his truck, and are glad we could finally get it featured on our cover.
While at Jeff’s shop, the truck got a new 36” flat top sleeper, as well as a complete paint job featuring black with old school red flake mixed into the paint. Jim at 100 Proof Ink in San Jose, CA (Jeff’s brother) prepared and applied a cool vinyl graphic with two stripes featuring a Peterbilt logo and real fire “burned” into them. After the graphics were applied, Jeff sprayed a few coats of clear over the entire truck. The stripes were modeled after a classic Peterbilt stripe pattern, but instead of the stripes just crossing over the top of the hood, they turned them back toward the cab and brought them to points.
In addition to the paint and graphics, Jeff added 9” aluminum cab and sleeper extensions, longer rocker panels, and replaced the front fenders with a set of fiberglass fenders from Jones Performance. All of the door handles were shaved and electric door poppers were installed. The doors on the sides of the sleeper were turned around (suicide style) and a window was added to the back. The final exterior touches included an 18” stainless steel bumper from Aranda, 8” stacks, stainless steel deck plating, airline box and Hogebuilt quarter-fenders.
Inside the cab, the seats were replaced with new Bostrom Wide Ride black leather seats, a custom steering wheel and chrome pedals were installed, and most of the knobs and switches on the dash were replaced. As soon as Ken picked up the truck, he immediately took it to a friend in Manteca to have the door panels redone. Since all the door handles had been removed, all of the door panels inside the cab and sleeper had to be reupholstered. Ken chose a two-tone grey vinyl that would match the factory headliner. When it was all said and done, Ken had a truck he could really be proud of – and he thanks his wife for that, because she pushed him to do it.
Although Ken has a show-worthy ride, he has never taken his rig to any truck shows (he always felt like it would be showing off, and he’s not one to do that). Ken’s wife still works for the hospital in San Francisco as a consultant, but now she does it from home. Ken loves the freedom his job affords because it allows him to have a life. He likes being in control of his time so that he can do what he wants, when he wants, with whomever he chooses – which is usually his wife and kids. Trucking has given Ken a great life, and after his rough start, he deserves it.
Ken loves to help people, and has been known to give folks on the street whatever they ask for. The way he put it, “I don’t care what they do with the money – that is between them and God. But if I don’t help someone in need, that is between me and God. Besides, there is nothing wrong with having some compassion.” Ken Sanders may have been burned many times throughout his difficult life, but since fire forges and refines, he just keeps getting better!
EDITOR’S NOTE: The night before this article went to press, Ken’s truck was stolen from the yard where he parks it in near his home. Thankfully, it was recovered a week later in an abandoned warehouse in Stockton, CA. The truck was pretty messed up and was partially stripped, but Ken hopes to put it back together very close to what you see here as soon as possible and get it back on the road!