One thing is for sure, up until about the late 1980’s, there sure were a lot more cabovers on the road. The majority of the trucks my dad owned and drove were cabovers, as well. Of course, a lot of the reasons for driving a cabover in those days were due to the length laws in various states, which created a need for short wheel-based tractors. As a kid, I remember waking up in truck stops to the sweet smell of the white Cummins engine smoke hazing across the parking lot like a slow rolling fog – and, of course, rows and rows of cabovers from one corner of the lot to the next. It was never very hard for me to find the few very nice and pressed-out cabovers among the bunch, so naturally I still have a soft spot for “dog houses” and hoop steps!
There may not be as many cabovers running the highways anymore, but there has always been one up in the Northwest that has always impressed the heck out of me – and I’ve never seen it roached! The cabover I am talking about is the sweet dark blue Freightliner, owned by Keith Nelson of Longview, Washington, seen on these pages here. Thanks to its clean and mean looks, this “kool kabover” has handed me countless cases of freeway whiplash over the years.
Keith Nelson’s trucking career started in 1979 out in Sacramento, California. Back then, Keith drove an International stakeside bobtail truck for a locally-based company called Master Halco, delivering all sorts of fencing materials around the area. That was until one of Master Halco’s other drivers quit and left a 120” long 1979 International 4070 cabover single screw, equipped with a JIS Lock “jeep dolly” third axle, parked out behind Halco’s warehouse. Master Halco leased all of their equipment through the Ryder Leasing Company, and this cabover was one of them. Well, Keith couldn’t just leave that cabover sitting there. After all, it had a 350 Cummins and a 9-speed, which was a huge step up from Keith’s local bobtail ride. Keith managed to sweet-talk his boss, and the following week he found himself “big strappin” in that cool white International COE!
In March of 1983, Keith received the “Ryder Driver of the Month” award, where he was recognized for having driven more than 200,000 miles without an accident or traffic ticket. He had also never missed a day of work in two years (other than his vacation and normal holidays) and was commended for keeping his truck spotless. In addition to all that, Ryder went on to say that Keith was very safety-minded, and that they hoped their other drivers would follow his example. Since then, Keith has logged a lot more miles, but his attention to detail, work ethic, and the love he had for trucks and trucking back then has never changed. Keith was totally content to call Master Halco (and Sacramento) his home for several years, right up through most of the 1980’s, but unbeknownst to him, things were about to change – for the better.
Every year around the holidays, Keith and his wife JoAnn (of almost 30 years now) would travel up to Longview, Washington to visit with relatives and enjoy the scenery of the Northwest. JoAnn loved it so much, that while visiting in 1988, she set Keith up with a driving job interview with a Longview-based trucking company called Orange Trucking. Next thing Keith knew, he was sitting in Don Orange’s office getting hired! Though this company’s name was Orange Trucking, their trucks were, for the most part, all dark blue, but they did have orange stripes. Needless to say, Keith and JoAnn went home and Keith gave his notice to Master Halco. By February of 1989, he found himself in a gas pot Ryder rental moving truck, loaded up with all of their belongings, making the move to Longview. He couldn’t help but to think that this Ryder moving truck was a far cry from his beloved International 4070 Ryder lease truck but, like I said, this was a move for the better.
Once they got settled in Washington, Keith and his family were introduced to a whole new life, which included a new town, a lot more rain, and a great new trucking job with Don Orange. Keith drove all sorts of configurations for Don, including Freightliner “twin steer” front axle truck and trailer setups (two front steering axles on the tractor hooked to 4-axle pull trailers). Most of Don’s trucks were capable of hauling more than 105,000 pounds, which always kept them pretty busy. Keith liked his new trucking home, and even found himself dispatching for Don for a couple of years until 1996, when Don let Keith know that he was planning on selling the company.
As Don Orange was preparing to sell his company, Keith was given two options: he could stay on with the new owner as an employee, or pick out a truck from Orange’s fleet and get his own authority. Although all of this came on pretty sudden, and it seemed a little scary, Keith and JoAnn decided to take the plunge and go for it! And there was only one truck in the fleet that Keith had his eyes on – it was the rig they called “the recruiter truck” because it was set up nice. It was a 1985 Freightliner FLA9644T cabover with 220 inches of wheelbase on airliner suspension and, of course, dual pipes. Don and Keith agreed on the deal and Keith rolled out of the lot in his new ride, pulling his new (old) set of orange “A-Train” 40’ and 24’ flatbeds.
Since that day in 1996 when Keith acquired this cool cabover, both he and his beautiful blue Freightshaker have seen and underwent a lot of changes. Of course, one of the first changes Keith made to this truck was painting the orange stripes on the cab charcoal grey. In 2000, he had a brand new set of “B-Train” 33’ and 28’ flatbeds built to match the tractor. These “B-Train” trailers are built with a 5th wheel attached at the back of the lead trailer, allowing for better stability over the dolly and pull trailer setup of regular “A-Train” configurations. Keith’s truck rolls down the road with a 425 air-to-air Cat and a 9-speed, day in and day out, hauling mostly around Washington, Oregon, Montana and into Canada, year-round without a glitch. Presently, Keith and his cabover are leased on at Bert Matter Incorporated, where he hauls various building materials.
Keith will admit that over the years he’s had a few bouts of long hood fever, but he has fought them off – and we here at 10-4 are sure glad that he has. For all the years of Keith’s determination and hard work, we get to drool and appreciate his awesome recruiter ride still today – some 15 years later! Keith has always been the first to say that behind every choice he has ever made, he has always had the ultimate support on his home front through his wife JoAnn and their Daughter Amanda. Today, his home front is even larger, with two grandsons, Shane and Keith, who sometimes come outside to help their grandpa wash his truck (that is, until they get bored and run off to do other things). Our thanks again go out to Keith and his family for not only keeping this Show-On-The-Road “kool kabover” for all of these years, but for keeping it worthy of being featured!