Trucking has always been a gamble – some win, some lose. But the odds of success are still pretty favorable if you have a good reputation, work hard and always put business first. Ray R. Rodriquez Jr. of Lil. Rays Transport in Salinas, CA works hard every day, but he also knows how to have fun, too. Ray loves to roll the dice, so when he recently built two working “show” trucks, he gave them gambling-related themes, names and numbers. Ray’s beautiful yet practical Peterbilt combos seen here show just how much fun this “high roller” can have, but when it comes to his business, success has never been a gamble.
Ray R. Rodriquez Jr. (45) was, as he put it, born in a truck. Having lived in Salinas, California his entire life, Ray grew up in a trucking family. His father, Ray Sr., started driving rigs in the 1960s around the same time Ray was born. Back then, Ray’s father pulled nothing but double flatbeds, hauling pallets, corrugated boxes and other items needed for the produce industry. Ray Sr. partnered up with a friend, and then the two of them formed Ray & Jim Trucking. Later, Ray Sr. bought out his partner Jim, but kept the name the same. At one point, Ray & Jim Trucking grew to include five trucks and eighteen sets of double flatbed trailers. But it did not take Ray Sr. very long to get burned out with owning trucks and running a company, and in 1983 he shut the business down and went to work with his son (Ray Jr.), who had just started his own outfit.
Growing up, Lil. Ray always loved to go out trucking with his dad. As soon as he could reach the pedals, Ray was driving trucks and moving trailers around their yard. At 16, he got his license and started driving. Ray bought his first truck – a 1974 International cabover (not the smoothest riding rig) – in 1983 while he was still a senior in high school. At that time, Ray also partnered up with his brother Jerry (Jerry was a “silent” partner) and formed Lil. Ray & JR’s Trucking. But since Ray was still going to school, he had to hire a driver, John Padilla, to run his truck. John had been a driver for Ray’s dad for years, so when Ray Sr. shut his company down, both of them went to Lil. Ray’s company, where Ray Sr. became Lil. Ray’s right-hand-man.
After graduating in 1984, Ray signed up at the Sequoia Diesel & Automotive Institute in Sunnyvale, CA to learn more about truck mechanics. Ray worked at his shop in the day and attended classes at night. Like his father, Ray Jr. hauled a lot of corrugated cardboard boxes and other items for the packing houses, but he also hauled bulk tomatoes, bulk onions and bulk garlic. By 1989, with plenty of hard work and determination, Ray’s business grew to nine trucks and twelve sets of trailers – and Ray never bought a running truck off a lot. Besides that first cabover, all of his trucks were purchased as pieces – a motor here, a used glider kit there, rear-ends from another place, etc. – and then the pieces were all assembled in the shop.
Things were going good until 1994 when Ray Sr. was diagnosed with cancer. At that point, he was still very involved in his son’s company, but that changed quickly. As his father’s cancer progressed, Ray found himself more and more frustrated, overwhelmed and distraught with the situation. After Ray Sr. passed away in 1995, Ray just started selling his equipment, one by one, piece by piece, until it was all gone. He just didn’t have it in him any longer and he needed to take a break – plus, his mother, Raquel, really needed him to be around to help.
From 1995 to 2000, Ray took a sabbatical from trucking, but he always stayed in touch with his customers, and, occasionally, did some fill-in driving here and there for a few local companies. So, when it was time for Lil. Ray to get back to work, he was able to get started up again rather easily. In 2000, he bought one truck and one trailer – a 1988 Peterbilt 379 with a 63” flat top and a 48’ Fruehauf flatbed – and formed Lil. Rays Transport. Then, he got busy (that 1988 Peterbilt is one of the trucks pictured here). Back then, the truck was painted green with black fenders, and it was pretty simple. In 2002, Ray bought a new Wabash step-deck and started focusing his business on hauling the harvesting machines and cooling equipment, instead of the produce and boxes, for the packing houses.
For about five years it was just Ray and his one truck, but in 2005, he bought a second one – a 2000 Peterbilt 379 road tractor with a 63” standup sleeper and an Ultra Cab. Being a flat top guy, Ray immediately took the truck to a shop in Phoenix, AZ and had the sleeper chopped. He then had the entire truck painted in what would become his signature colors and scheme – metallic lilac with plum fenders, frame rails and roof caps (this is the other truck seen here). Ray brought driver John Padilla back to run this second rig. The next year, Ray had his 1988 Peterbilt painted to match the other one. About this same time, Ray also bought three more trailers – two step-decks and one flatbed. Then, in 2008, he bought a third truck – a 1999 Peterbilt 379. Things were going good.
Ray always wanted to have a rig he could show, so in early 2009 he decided to fix-up the 2000 Peterbilt for the show held in Las Vegas every year. The entire project took about two months. In that time, the truck got fresh paint (done by Valley Fab in Salinas), 8” Dynaflex stacks, a new visor, 13 cab lights, a 20” Valley Chrome bumper and WTI fiberglass full fenders. The truck also got a custom Protech headache rack, a visor for the rear window, new step boxes, chrome spotlight pedestals on the back of the sleeper, cab and sleeper extensions with extra lights, diamond plate decking, and a stainless steel tail plate with four lights. To finish it off, Mike’s Signs out of Salinas, CA embellished the fenders with bright pink flames, and then added pinstriping and graphics to the entire truck.
Over that same two-month period, Ray also completely re-did a 2006 spread-axle Transcraft flatbed to pull behind his newly customized rig. The frame was painted plum to match the truck, as well as the four new WTI fiberglass fenders that were installed. Vic Caliva out of Montebello, CA polished the entire deck, rub rails and rear of the trailer. Underneath the deck, on each side, Ray mounted (9) 4’ long purple neon tubes and then hid them with a piece of stainless steel trim. Then, once again, Mike’s Signs worked their magic by adding the bright pink flames to the fenders and frame rails, as well as a bunch of “old school” pinstriping.
With both pieces of this cool combination complete and connected, it was off to Las Vegas, where Ray learned a lot. Being his first real competition, Ray had no idea just how much cleaning needed to be done to win at a show like this – he lost a lot of points for the dirt and grime the judges found underneath the rig. But, he was still able to earn a 1st place trophy in the Paint & Graphics class, which made him happy. Taking what he learned, he vowed to do better the next time. That year (2009), Ray took this rig to many local shows and did very well, but later that year, he decided to “step up his game” for 2010 by adding a second combination to his lineup.
At the end of 2009, during a slow period, Ray shut down his 1988 Peterbilt so he could customize it and then show it alongside his other Peterbilt combo. He started out with fresh paint (also done by Valley Fab in Salinas) and then added extra cab lights, deck plating, new tool boxes, polished half-fenders, 7” stacks, a drop visor, a new grille with horizontal bars and a new front bumper. After that, Alan Signs of Salinas, CA flamed the truck’s hood to match Ray’s lowered 1998 Chevy Dually pickup truck, and then added several dice-related murals, as well as graphics and pinstriping, all over the rig (now known as “88 the Hardway”) and its trailer. The trailer is a 2003 spread-axle Fontaine flatbed that, like the other one, was painted plum underneath. Then, the entire deck, rub rails and rear were polished by Arturo’s Polishing in Thousand Palms, CA. This trailer, like the other one, was also fitted with the hidden neon light tubes under the deck.
Throughout the 2010 show season, Ray took both of his stellar working combinations to many shows, including Las Vegas and Dallas, and did very well. But getting two combinations ready for a show is a lot of work! Thankfully, Ray gets a lot of help from his longtime girlfriend Suzie Nunez, who learned the hard way not to get her nails done before a show. Ray and Suzie have known each other for 25 years, but they didn’t “get together” until 2004. Suzie worked for 25 years in produce sales, but recently retired to help Ray in the office full-time.
Today, Ray’s company owns and operates three trucks and six trailers regularly, and brings in anywhere from 15-20 owner operators a few times a year to fill in the gaps when it gets busy. Following the produce harvesting seasons, Ray’s work starts in Salinas, then goes to Huron, then to Yuma, and then back to Salinas. Each time the harvest season changes to a new area, all of the equipment needs to be moved, and that is Ray’s job. So, basically, he hauls the same pieces, over and over again, from one place to the next. The work is sort of “feast or famine” but when you have show-worthy rigs, that is a good thing because it allows you time to shut down and clean up your stuff real good a few times a year – until the next rush begins.
Ray wanted to thank his three dedicated polishers for their fantastic work keeping his trucks and trailers looking top-notch, including Caliva’s Polishing, Arturo’s Polishing and Mirror Image out of Salinas, CA. He also wanted to give some props to the guys in the parts department at Coast Counties Truck & Equipment in Salinas, as well as Valley Fab and TM Fabrication, for all of their great work and help. Ray also wanted to thank his drivers – John Padilla and Ramiro Garcia – for their hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, at 74 years old, John was recently diagnosed with cancer and has not been doing well. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. But most of all, Ray wanted to give special recognition to his dad and dedicate this article in his memory. Ray Sr. taught his son how to truck, drink and gamble – all the things Lil. Ray loves to do the most. He misses his dad.
Ray is content with the current size of Lil. Rays Transport because he feels like he still has control and things are manageable. If he has to grow, he will, but in today’s business climate, he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon. But, whether this “high roller” of trucking grows or not, Ray’s ongoing success is still a pretty sure bet – as long as he doesn’t crap out!