Bullhaulers are a different breed of trucker. Aside from the normal rigors of driving a big truck, hauling livestock requires special considerations in regards to both federal regulations and the care of the animals. Ernie Bates, a tried and true bullhauler from Burlington, Colorado, is as true a driver as you’ll ever meet on the road – and a different breed, for sure. And when he slips behind the wheel of his “hot rod” narrow-nose Peterbilt – also a very rare breed – look out!
Ernie began driving part-time back in 1957 and then went full-time in 1967. Moving out to Burlington to manage Link Truck Lines in Genoa, Colorado, Frank T. Link taught Ernie to drive heavy trucks. In the beginning years, Ernie drove a K8 International gas-job, a 1953 Kenworth, and a 1953 GMC bubblenose, among other things. Eventually, Ernie bought his first truck, a 1966 Peterbilt cabover with a 335 Cummins. Since those first years, Ernie has primarily hauled cattle except for a 10-year period when he and his wife Carol drove over-the-road, pulling a step-deck, hauling all sorts of oversize and military loads (Ernie taught Carol how to drive big trucks). Over the course of their driving careers, both Ernie and Carol Bates have each earned million-mile safety awards.
Many bullhaulers are known for having big rides, and Ernie Bates is no different. The truck seen here, though not his primary work truck (he runs a 2006 Peterbilt), still does get out and haul cattle every now and again. The truck was originally rebuilt in 1993 by another Burlington resident, Ron Rudzek, a man with a reputation for rebuilding old rigs, and in the case of Ernie’s truck, putting big power under the hood (Ron also bought Ernie’s original ’66 Peterbilt and rebuilt it, too). Since its reincarnation, the truck has always had a lot of grunt under the hood. Originally re-powered with a 650 hp, twin-turbo, 19-liter Cummins, Ernie’s truck now has an E-model Cat (the KTTA 650 drank way too much fuel for practical use) under the hood, which was extended four inches and still has little room to spare. Behind the big power are some even bigger gears – a 10×4 double-overdrive with 3.55 rears and 24.5 low-pro tires. But there’s far more to Ernie’s classic bullhauling truck than just what is under the hood.
Ernie’s truck is a 1970 Peterbilt narrow-nose that has tasteful amounts of chrome throughout, including the six-inch turnout straight pipes, a 20-inch boxed-end bumper, 15-inch stainless Vortox air-cleaners, and a stainless-steel flush-mount deck plate. The truck also features fiberglass drop-front fenders, fiberglass “double-hump” rear fenders, fold-away sleeper fairings, and a custom stainless rear bumper featuring over 30 lights. But this truck is not about being flashy – it is much more subtle.
One subtle (but important) feature of the truck is its frame. Sitting on a 265-inch wheelbase, former owner Ron Rudzek rebuilt the truck on two fresh frame rails, drilling every hole himself, then mounting all of the components cleanly, which gives the rig a spotless, factory look underneath without any plugged holes or stray wires. The 73-inch sleeper is also another subtle but custom feature of the truck, which was built with traditional square-corner double doors near the back. The seventy plus lights covering the truck accent the subtle (and original) maroon and red paint scheme with gold striping, which was later repainted by the guys at Diversified Body & Paint in Denver, CO. With five bullet clearance lights, dual polished air horns, and a narrow bowtie visor, this truck is classy and clean, but not too flashy.
The Peterbilt’s interior features red leather air-ride seats as well as red velour headliner and door panels. Outfitted with the later Peterbilt “Corvette-style” dash, the wood grain dash panels feature a bevy of jeweled switches and stainless gauges. The truck also has polished shift-towers with old-school glitter knobs, painted to match, as well as red velour throughout the inside of the sleeper. Sitting in the cab of this truck, you definitely feel like you just stepped back in time.
Although he loves to roll down the road in a big ride with big power, that isn’t what Ernie is all about. A cow hauler must understand plenty, not only about his truck, but about his load, as well. Strict federal regulations prevent livestock from being on a truck for more than 36 hours, meaning that most any load has to move quickly. But, aside from stringent time concerns, there are also concerns about weather – especially heat. Sometimes, moving the truck is dictated by the well-being of the load. Often contradictory and competing rules and regulations force those transporting livestock to make tough choices.
The size of the livestock will also affect how “packed” the animals can be inside the trailer, which can alter Ernie’s stability in the corners. Going through the turns, Ernie has to let his animals know what’s coming, but he also needs to keep his speed up to stay on schedule. Occasionally, Ernie will get a good load of hogs that will just simply lie down and sleep during transport.
During those rare moments when Ernie can get away from hauling cattle, he and Carol enjoy taking their Honda trike out for a ride. Carol and Ernie have raised three children – a daughter and two sons. Though his daughter, Jennifer, is not involved in trucking, his sons, Mike and Jack, are both involved in trucking. Ernie taught both of them how to drive, and got them started working for him. Today, both of Ernie’s sons are out driving for themselves and Jennifer is independently successful, as well.
We greatly enjoyed spending time with Ernie – he had some unbelievable stories about hauling cattle. Taking his truck to the Denver Stockyards, it was amazing to hear about the drivers he ran with back when the Stockyards were still operating. From the failure of the first drop-frame cattle pots, to flying across the desert, Ernie’s stories are remarkable. With beautiful weather (record-setting heat), we couldn’t have asked for better conditions that day at the old Stockyards. With Ernie’s heavy season coming up, we wish him the best out on the roads hauling the cows, pigs, and sheep around the Rockies and out to the West Coast.
Hauling cattle and hogs is more than driving – it’s a mindset. You have to be tough, able to withstand long hours (not to mention the smell), while all the while looking after live cargo that has its own needs to stay healthy. Ernie is one of these drivers, and though he may have cut his miles back in recent years, you’d still be hard-pressed to keep pace with him out there on the open road! He’s as true a driver as you could meet on the road, but don’t expect to see much more than the back of his rig if he’s got a load of cattle on. Those cows aren’t going to get themselves to market!!