Ken Drake was not born into an affluent family where opportunities to succeed merrily came along as birth rights. He had to succeed on his own. And although he might not be exactly where he thinks he can be, at least he is on the right road and has seen enough success to be able to own and operate the cool, flashy rig on our cover and centerfold (and on these pages) this month. And, after rolling it over less than a year ago, it is amazing that this thing ever even got back on the road – never mind on our cover! But thanks to the hard work and creativity of Jeff Botelho and his crew at Botelho Custom Trucks, the truck was reborn better than ever.
Born in Santa Rosa, California in 1978, Ken Drake (now 33 years old) grew up in a trucking family – well, sort of – it was actually more of a sand & gravel/ready-mix family, but there was always plenty of trucks and heavy equipment around to pass Ken the trucking bug. When Ken was two years old, his father (Greg) and grandfather (also Ken) moved north to Fortuna, CA to start and establish a ready-mix business there called Drake Sand & Gravel. Ken’s Grandpa had been in the ready-mix industry for most of his life, but he wasn’t really ever a truck driver. After about a year, the business was doing well enough for Ken and his mother to relocate to Fortuna with the rest of the family.
Drake Sand & Gravel became the largest ready-mix concrete producing operation in the area, complete with batch plants, mixer trucks, screening plants and everything else needed to produce and deliver ready-mix concrete. The company stayed in business for roughly 30 years, until Ken’s grandfather recently retired. Now, all grandpa does is work on his 1932 coupe and take it drag racing! But this is where Ken got his start in trucking. When he was a kid, he loved to go out with his dad in the mixer trucks, and when he got older, he did just about anything and everything, including driving (ready-mix trucks and dump trucks), operating loaders, scrapers and other heavy equipment, and whatever else needed to be done around the yard.
When Ken was twelve, his parents got a divorce. After that, he lived with just his mom and two siblings (a brother and a sister) in Fortuna. Not long after that, Ken’s mom, through an illness and then a freak accident, lost her sight in both eyes. From there, it was hard for her to raise the kids and properly take care of them, and Ken ended up being unsupervised for much of the time – that is not good for a teenage boy, who found himself spending a lot of time out on the streets and getting into fights on a regular basis. After earning his General Educational Development (GED) degree in lieu of a regular high school diploma, he tried to get a trucking job but had no luck. Although he had a lot of experience driving trucks and equipment in the yard, it was not enough for him to get a “real” driving job so he decided to head south to Santa Rosa, CA and start attending college.
While in Santa Rosa, studying for a degree in Business, he found himself in an underground scene, a sub-culture that involved skateboarding, music and artistic graffiti, which was expressive, not malicious. Back then, he ran around with a tagging crew that called themselves the New Age Bomb Squad in the northern Bay area. They weren’t a gang and they didn’t commit crimes (other than painting on things they shouldn’t have been painting on), but they sprayed a lot of graffiti-style murals and painted on a lot of walls. But, after struggling to pay his bills (Santa Rosa is an expensive place to live) and then a break-up with a girlfriend, he left Santa Rosa and went back to Fortuna. Once he left that environment, cars and girls overtook his interests in skateboarding and tagging, and that was that. Back in Fortuna, he continued to attend college, and eventually earned his Associate’s Degree in Business.
After moving back to Fortuna, Ken took a job at the local gym, working the front desk and doing some personal training. While down south, he had started working out to fill his time and got addicted to bodybuilding. While working at the gym, he met a blonde-haired girl named Rebecca. After dating for a few years, they got married in 2005. That same year, he got his CDL and started trucking, pulling a tanker, hauling loads of milk from local dairies over to Redding for a company called TJS Leasing & Holdings. After about a year or two of doing that, and then figuring out how much the company was making versus how much he was making, he decided to buy his own truck (a 2003 Pete 379) and start his own company called Nor-Cal Transport.
At first, Ken went to work for a broker and ran all sorts of freight around the 11 western states. After two years of that, wanting to be more local and home with his beautiful wife, he signed on with Denbeste and began pulling one of their 40’ end dumps, running loads of “dirty dirt” (contaminated soil) from Eureka, CA to a disposal site in Livermore, CA. Business was good, so he started adding more trucks to his operation, including a 1991 Peterbilt with a 36” bunk, a 1997 Peterbilt with a 48” flat top, and then a 1999 Freightliner FLD112 (a friend had decided to quit trucking and offered Ken a deal that he just couldn’t resist). Throughout this time, Ken was still driving that first truck, which had an Ultra Cab and a large stand-up sleeper.
Over the years, Ken did quite a lot of work on that 2003 Peterbilt. Painted burnt orange with a black roof and fenders, he air-bagged the front end, added a big bumper and all of the other goodies (a new grille, visor, 8” stacks, etc.), shaved the roof lights, lowered the rear-end and, eventually, swapped out the stand-up sleeper for a 36” flat top (he also replaced the Ultra Cab roof cap with a standard roof cap). Now, with the shorter sleeper, the truck’s 265” wheelbase did not look so bad. To accommodate the lowered rear-end, he built a special raised-up fifth wheel so he could still back up under any type of trailer. The truck was looking great.
Two years ago, as the dirt job came to an end, Ken bought his first trailer – a 1991 Comet 42’ flatbed – and started a new gig, hauling lumber and palletized soil. He parked his other trucks (which were all paid for) and got busy, quickly replacing that Comet trailer with a newer 1997 Utility 45’ spread-axle flatbed.
Near the end of November 2010, Ken went out on a run to deliver a load of lumber in Chico, CA and then headed north to Christmas Valley, OR to pickup a load of big blocks of hay that were coming back to the Fortuna area – it sounded like a perfect run. Ken’s dad went along with him to help out, and after delivering that load of lumber and then heading north, they found themselves in a major snowstorm. After struggling through the night, they got to Christmas Valley in the morning and loaded the hay in below-freezing weather and then began to head back. Crossing over to Medford, the weather finally started to improve. When they got on Highway 199 and began heading south, it seemed like it would be smooth-sailing into California. It had been a long trip, and Ken just wanted to be home.
A couple miles from the California border, Ken heard (and felt) something pop in his front end and the next thing he knew, the truck was on its side and sliding (he later found out that the truck’s center pin, which locates the axle to the leaf spring, had completely sheared off). After sliding over 1,000 feet and taking out three telephone poles, two trees and a few fences, the truck came to a halt. After breaking the driver’s side window to crawl out of the wreckage, Ken and his dad realized neither of them had one scratch on them – but what a mess!
The truck was lying on the passenger side and the trailer, still hooked to the truck, was completely upside-down, and hay was scattered everywhere. Ken isn’t sure how that center pin sheared off, but thinks maybe the intense cold weather had something to do with it. Either way, the cop at the scene still wrote Ken a ticket, saying that it was a “wear item” and that he should have replaced it. The very next day, Ken called Jeff Botelho of Botelho Custom Trucks in Los Banos, CA and told him what happened. Two days later, the wrecked truck was sitting in Jeff’s yard, where it would spend the next six months getting put back together and customized by Jeff and his shop worker John Chamorro.
Giving Jeff a lot of freedom, Ken told him basically what he wanted and then let him go to work, only “bothering” him when absolutely necessary. He liked Jeff’s style and trusted that he would do a great job. After taking the truck apart to determine if the frame rails were bent (they were not), the project began. The only real salvageable pieces on the truck were the frame rails and the cab (which was pretty banged up and in need of some major repairs) – everything else had to be replaced. Ken was on a budget, so Jeff did a lot of extra things at no charge to make the truck look like he thought it should. The entire build took six months. The truck made its debut at the truck show in Las Vegas in June of 2011 where it tied for 1st place in its class, thanks in part to David Leon and Rocky Machado, who spent the last few weeks before the show helping Jeff and John put everything back together.
The 2003 Pete, painted a special green color formulated by Jeff, got a new hood, Jones Performance “American Classic” front fenders, a 20” bumper from Aranda Truck Accessories (ATA), as well as cab and sleeper extensions and a visor designed by Jeff and built by ATA, 8” Lincoln Chrome exhaust, SAI forged aluminum wheels, seven bullet lights and smooth stainless covers from ATA for the factory boxes. The truck also got a new 36” sleeper, new fuel tanks (with the filler necks relocated to the ends of the tanks to accommodate the sleeper extensions), shaved door handles, stainless full fenders with a custom front mounting plate and rear tail piece (light bar) hand-made entirely out of raw steel by John. It was also John’s idea to mount bullet-style taillights from a 1959 Cadillac on the rear light bar. Instead of a regular air-line box, John fabricated a custom steel air-line “manifold” and mounted it to the stainless deck plate (which covers the frame that is painted Black with Blue Ice Pearl). Jeff wanted to specially thank Bob & Eric at Bob’s Auto Paint & Equipment in Merced, CA for mixing all of his custom paint colors.
Under the new hood, the old turned-up Cat C-15 still ran like a champ so they left it alone, but they did paint the engine and transmission the Black with Blue Ice Pearl color to match the frame. They also added chrome valve covers and chrome air intake piping to spruce up the engine compartment a bit. Inside the cab, after Jeff installed the door poppers, he made smooth metal door panels and then painted them green to match. He also installed a green floor, painted the entire dash and steering column green, and then painted the dash insert panels the Black with Blue Ice Pearl color. The truck has a good sound system, but nothing too wild. Jeff’s brother Jim at 100 Proof Ink finished the job by creating and applying the vinyl door logos for the truck. As usual, Jeff wanted to thank his wife Rosie, his mother Alvina, and his sister Dianna for all of their patience and support while he was working on this build. He also wanted to thank Ken for the opportunity to build him such a cool truck.
Since getting the truck back, Ken has been working it hard, usually pulling his 2007 Reinke curtain van loaded with lumber. On the really ugly days, he plans to leave the green Pete at home and drive his 1991 Peterbilt. Ken wanted to thank Jeff and his crew for all of their hard work and time spent on his truck, as well as his wife Rebecca, his mom Eileen and stepfather Harley (they have always been great cheerleaders), and his dad Greg. Hey, even self-made men need a little encouragement and support sometimes!
Ken still loves bodybuilding, but six months ago he tore one of his bicep muscles, so he hasn’t really been able to workout lately. He is looking forward to getting back into the gym very soon, before all that hard-earned muscle starts to turn into fat. Although he and Rebecca do not have any kids yet, they do plan on having them at some point in the future. Right now, Rebecca has several jobs including a real estate agent, running the entire business end of the trucking company, and managing a fine dining restaurant in Fortuna. Needless to say, she has a lot on her plate right now, so having kids will have to wait. When Ken isn’t working, he likes to play around with his 1970 Camaro drag car and some other muscle cars he owns, get tattoos (he has a lot of them), and occasionally (not often enough) ride his 1974 Shovelhead Harley-Davidson.
Ken has always wanted a “hot rod” truck, worthy of being in a magazine, so being on the cover of 10-4 Magazine is a dream come true for him. Although Ken has seen some success, he feels that he can do a lot more. Wanting to go back to school to earn his Bachelor’s degree, Ken would like to figure out a way to succeed even more within the trucking industry without having to drive every day. And, given his good work ethic and creativity, we are sure that he will find a way to accomplish that goal. But whether Ken Drake succeeds or dies trying, it will be on his own terms, because when you are self-made, you – and only you – determine your destiny.