Living in paradise isn’t easy. Well, maybe it is, but somebody’s gotta do it. The Gomes family has been lovin’ life and hangin’ loose in Hawaii, (Maui, to be exact) for generations, but when they go to work, they take it seriously. Hauling heavy equipment and dirt all over the island with a fleet of matching Kenworths, the Gomes’ clan is one of only a handful of trucking outfits on Maui. But, if you ask around, everyone will tell you that they have the best lookin’ trucks on the island – especially their slick fleet of matching Kenworth W900s, like #41 seen here and on our cover and centerfold this month.
Terrence John (TJ) Gomes (68) was born on the island of Maui, as was his parents. He met his wife Sandi in high school and the two were married in 1963. When TJ first started working, he drove a dump truck. A few years later, he got a good job at the Port of Kahului, working for a shipping company called Young Brothers, Limited. TJ worked in the “Outgoing Shipping” office for many years. In 1975, TJ decided to buy a truck – a 1969 White dump truck he picked up for $7,500 – and then started hauling dirt and manure in the afternoons and evenings after his morning shift ended at Young Brothers. Back then, if he hustled, he could haul eight to ten loads a day – and at $25 a load (which included both the product and the transportation), TJ was able to bank quite a few bucks on the side.
After working long enough to save up for another truck, he reinvested his profits back into the company and bought a second White dump truck not long after buying the first. He continued to do this, working night and day and adding trucks whenever he could, until he was finally able to quit his job at Young Brothers and go trucking full-time in 1984. Throughout the 80s, business was booming and Maui was on the grow, so there was plenty of work for TJ and his trucks. From 1984 to 1989, TJ built his fleet up to 20 trucks (mostly dump trucks, water trucks and other construction-related vehicles). When a recession hit in the early 1990s, TJ backed his fleet down to 12 trucks, but when business picked back up, he quickly built his fleet back up, as well.
In 1990, TJ branched out and started doing some heavy haul work, moving mostly construction and farming equipment. Also in 1990, he ordered his first brand new truck – a Kenworth W900. With exception to a few of the early dump trucks and a few water trucks here and there, every one of TJ’s trucks have all been Kenworths, and all of them have had the same paint scheme as the one you see here on these pages – which is a slightly modified Peterbilt paint scheme from way back when.
Since ordering that first new Kenworth in 1990, TJ has bought nothing but KWs ever since, and always from the same salesman, a guy named Jeff Jorgensen. Jeff used to work at the Kenworth dealership in Las Vegas, but now he works at NorCal Kenworth in Gilroy, CA. It costs about $6,000 to ship a truck to Maui from the mainland, but when you live in paradise, you gotta do what you gotta do. Today, TJ’s fleet consists of 28 trucks which include tandem-axle dump trucks, transfers, tractors that pull end dumps, the heavy haul units and water trucks. They also have a variety of trailers, including end dumps and lowboys, with their largest trailer being a 130-ton DGN Trail King.
Today, TJ and Sandi have four grown kids including Tami (48), Jenee (44), Keoni (37) and Alex (36). All of the kids are involved in the company, which is called T.J. Gomes Trucking Co. Inc., based out of the city of Wailuku. TJ is semi-retired now, but he still comes into the office almost every day to tinker around the yard and help out wherever needed. Tami, who is married to Dane, has two sons, Dane Jr. (27) and Shane (24). Tami does all of the payroll, as well as the scheduling and dispatching for the dirt trucks. She also handles many of the phone calls throughout the day. Jenee, who is married to Joe, also has two sons, Joey (7) and Jacob (4). Jenee does all of the billing and paperwork and also helps Tami with the dirt trucks (she is also on the phone all day). Keoni, who is married to Tina, has a daughter named Aeva (2). Keoni is very involved in the construction and paving side of the business (they rent out specialized paving and construction equipment they own to other local contractors). Alex, who is married to Carie, has a son named Joshua (13) and a daughter named Shylee (6). Alex takes care of the heavy haul side of the company and spends most of his days scheduling loads, dispatching trucks, helping the drivers chain down their freight, and driving the escort vehicle (his pickup).
Truck #41, the rig featured on our cover and centerfold this month (and on these pages here), is a 2002 Kenworth (of course) W900B with a 600 Cat, an 18-speed transmission with a 2-speed auxiliary and 4:88 rears (it was built for heavy hauling). The double-framed truck also features a 232-inch wheelbase, 52,000 pound rear-ends, a 20,000-pound front axle and a 25,000-pound pusher axle. When hooked to their heavy duty 2008 Trail King trailer, this combination can haul up to 260,000 pounds. In addition to the signature paint job, which is charcoal grey, silver and red (all metallic colors), this truck also has a larger square bumper, chrome dash embellishments, a couple Pro-Tech tool boxes, 6-inch stacks and a few extra chrome pieces and lights here and there.
When TJ or Alex order their trucks, they pretty much just get everything they want right then and there because there really isn’t any place on the island to buy chrome (there was one place, but they recently went out of business). Today, the T.J. Gomes Trucking fleet only has six W900s left – they started ordering T800s a few years back and now that is all they are getting. All of the drivers are responsible for taking care of their own trucks, and most do a good job. Counting all of the drivers, mechanics, welders and office staff (mostly family), the company has about 40 full-time employees.
A few months after taking the pictures on Maui, we had the pleasure of spending a few days with Alex and his wife Carie, as well as their two kids, Joshua and Shylee, at the truck show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Almost every year, Alex and some of the drivers go to Las Vegas for a nice “working vacation” when the annual truck show is being held there. This year, Alex brought with him four drivers including Mike Petersen (the lucky driver of truck #41), Steven Sealey, Daryl Kawaiaea and his wife Amber, and Kelly Yoshida (this group was a blast to hang out with in the evenings after the show). While there, Alex told us about how they had been to our booth at the show several times over the years to pick up free copies of the magazine and buy posters and t-shirts. He told us that never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that one day his truck (and company) would be featured on the cover of this magazine that he has admired for so many years.
Spending time with Alex in Las Vegas, we got to know him (and his family) pretty well. Growing up around trucks, Alex loved going to the shop and pretending to drive and talk on the CB radio. At a young age, he started washing trucks, painting parts (and often his hair), and hanging out with the drivers and mechanics. He always knew that he would be a truck driver. Around eighth grade or so, he started driving trucks around in the yard, and then shortly after that, his dad began letting him (and his brother Keoni) drive the trucks around some of the job sites (usually plantations). In the summer, when school was out, Alex would go out with his brother-in-law Dane, who did heavy haul, and help him chain down the loads. He learned a lot from Dane. At 21, Alex got his license and went to work behind the wheel. Today, he spends most of his time in the office or in his pickup truck. Alex met his wife Carie in high school, and has been with her ever since (they finally got married in 2003). A large tattoo of a $100 bill with the words, “In God We Trust – The Rest Pay Cash” goes all the way across Alex’s entire back (he has several tattoos, but we liked this one the best).
TJ has no plans to fully retire anytime soon. When he’s not hanging out at the yard causing trouble, he likes to go golfing. Having almost the entire family involved in the company has created some pretty strong bonds. Working together, as a family, can sometimes be difficult, but most of the time it is really rewarding. Now, as many of the grandchildren are getting older, the next generation is poised to join the family business (Alex says that his son Joshua really loves trucks and already knows how to operate most of the trailers). TJ is a pretty quiet guy – Alex did most of the talking when we were together. When asked about it, TJ said, “A smart man doesn’t talk too much.” Well, he must be pretty smart!
While driving around the island with Alex and his driver Mike, we couldn’t help but notice how everybody knows everybody – and they all flash each other the “hang loose” sign when they pass on the road. Both TJ and Alex agreed that they don’t like to leave the island (except to go to Las Vegas) – it is just too crazy and crowded everywhere else. Besides, if you lived on Maui, why would you ever want to leave? Our advice: keep “hangin’ loose” in Hawaii and forget about the rest of the world. Living (and trucking) in paradise may not always be easy, but even on the worst day, it is still pretty great.