It’s one thing to have a really cool work truck – but two? Mike Gonzales Jr. (35) of Susanville, CA recently built an amazing cabover just to drive in the winter. The rest of the year, Mike drives an equally-impressive conventional Peterbilt painted in the same color scheme. But being an “old school” trucker like his father, Mike has a soft spot for cabovers, so he doesn’t mind taking it out when the weather is bad. In fact, he says the cabover drives better and is easier to run in the snow. His dad, Mike Gonzales Sr. (57), won’t drive anything but cabovers – he has never driven a truck with a hood and says he never will! Mike Jr. isn’t that hard-headed (he likes his conventional, too) but he really loves these old truck and trailer cabovers and was glad we chose to feature this one instead of the conventional, even though they are both worthy.
Mike Gonzales Sr. started trucking in 1978 when the paper mill he worked at in Antioch, CA went on strike. After six long months, he needed to find some work. A friend in Brentwood, CA gave Mike the opportunity to go trucking, and he took it. He borrowed some money from an uncle and bought a 1970 International cabover with a screaming 318 Detroit and started pulling double flatbed loads of lumber between the Bay area and Los Angeles. He paid that first truck (which he still has today) off in just a year, and the rest is history. Almost 35 years later, Mike Sr. is still driving a cabover, still pulling double flatbeds, and still, sometimes, hauling lumber. Today, his company, Gonzales Trucking, has five trucks and nine leased-on owner operators, and primarily hauls recycled products and building materials.
Growing up around trucks in Brentwood, CA (the one near Stockton, not Beverly Hills), it was no surprise when Mike Jr. started driving. After graduating from high school in 1995, Mike bought his first truck – a 1989 Freightliner COE that he always kept shiny and clean. Signing on at his dad’s company, Mike ran all over California and Nevada, pulling double flatbed loads back to the Bay area. In 2000, Mike and his wife Rebekah moved to Susanville, CA and bought a small, local recycling center. Mike continued to drive for his dad’s company during the week and then went home on the weekends, while Rebekah ran the recycling center. Shortly after moving, Mike purchased a second truck – a Freightliner conventional – and put a driver in his first truck, and then both of them continued to haul for Mike’s dad’s company (Gonzales Trucking).
Around 2003, Mike started hauling a few seasonal loads of hay here and there for a friend in Susanville, and after a few years, it became a full-time gig. A couple years later, Mike was introduced to bullhauling by Abbie Batteate of Batteate Livestock Transportation in Livermore, CA. Today, most of Mike’s loads are either hay or cattle, but he also helps his dad when needed, too. And when Mike Jr. finds himself overbooked with loads, his dad will help him, too. Mike’s company, Gonzales Hay & Cattle, currently has two other trucks with drivers in them, plus his conventional and the cabover seen here. He also has one of the last 1987 Peterbilt 359s, which were numbered – his is #150 of 359 (he’s not sure what he wants to do with this one yet).
In 2008, Mike bought his long-hood Pete 379. The 2007 truck was already a year old, and it was a single axle with a 300-inch wheelbase. Mike shortened the truck to 218 inches and installed a 36-inch flattop sleeper. Powered by an ISX Cummins engine hooked to a 13-speed, Mike outfitted the truck with new pipes, extra lights (including 11 bullet cab lights) and light bars, deck plating, a painted drop visor and billet grille. He then had the truck painted white with green fenders and roof caps. Hooked to either a matching set of custom hay doubles built by Precision Trailer in Stockton, CA or double cattle pots, depending on the season, Mike runs this truck most of the time – it is his daily driver – but that does not mean that it isn’t really nice. In fact, this truck was good enough to win Best of Show at the truck show in Galt, CA back in 2010.
Wanting a cabover truck and trailer to drive during the winter months, Mike found and bought an old Diamond Hay truck near the end of 2008 and ran it as-is for the entire winter. After that, in 2009, he decided to tear it all down and rebuild it – with the end result being what you see on these pages here and the cover/centerfold this month. The red and white truck was in pretty rough shape when Mike got it, so there was a lot of work to do, most of which was done by Steve at Precision Trailer in Stockton, CA and Bill Rocha of Rocha Truck & Auto Painting in Oakdale, CA. In addition to rebuilding the truck, the guys at Precision Trailer also tore down an old 1974 Utility trailer and completely rebuilt it for Mike to pull behind his refurbished truck.
The 1995 Peterbilt 362, which has a newer Cat C-12 engine with 450 hp (which gets good fuel mileage), a 13-speed transmission and a 24-inch bunk, was also equipped with a new quick-change hay bed. By removing just six bolts and disconnecting one electrical plug, the hay bed can be easily removed and replaced with a short cattle box. When necessary, Mike can switch out the bed, hook-up to his short cattle trailer, and then go cow-trucking!
When rebuilding the truck, Mike did not want to do anything too extravagant, so he kept most of it pretty stock. He did, however, install an 18-inch Valley Chrome bumper, a custom painted drop visor, 6-inch Dynaflex exhaust with custom elbows, and Hogebuilt quarter fenders. Mike also had all of the horns and cab lights – nine of them – replaced with new ones (five of the cab lights have regular amber lenses while the other four have clear lenses). He also had the tanks painted, stainless tool boxes mounted, and plenty of Maxxima LED lights installed, including a bunch of tiny 3-diode clearance/marker lights running down the sides of the hay bed and trailer. All of the accessories were purchased from Bob at Cherokee Truck Parts in Stockton, CA. The green and white paint was sprayed by Bill Rocha, while Bob Gomez at Sidelines in Stockton, CA did all of the hand-painted pinstripes and door logos.
Because the interior of this truck has still not been done, Mike has not worked the cabover very much. In fact, he has probably only hauled 20 loads on it since finishing it over a year ago. But, soon after our photo shoot, Mike was already planning to take it to Fine Line Auto Interiors in Manteca, CA to finally get it done. And, once the interior is complete and it is comfortable to drive, Mike will start using the rig more often during the year and all through the winter months.
The final touch in getting a rig ready for one of our photo shoots (or a truck show) is to have everything washed and polished. Six years ago, Mike met a polisher named Tony Jimenez at a truck stop, and ever since then, Tony has been Mike’s exclusive polisher. Mike is not only impressed by the quality of Tony’s work, but also how long the shine lasts (all summer, even after one or two washes a week). Now, Tony and his crew go out to Susanville every year and spend an entire week polishing out Mike’s trucks.
For ten years, Tony has operated a mobile polishing service and built a solid reputation for doing great work. A few months ago, Tony finally “took the plunge” and opened up a shop in Fresno, CA called Tony’s Metal Art Custom Polishing & Supplies (www.tonymetalart.com), where he not only offers full custom polishing and detailing services, but he also sells his own line of polishes and cleaners. Tony, with help from his shop manager Ernie Jauregui, not only got Mike’s ride ready for the photo shoot, but the both of them even came along and wiped it down every time Mike moved it. If you want your rig to shine, we recommend calling Tony at (559) 473-7814 and setting up an appointment – we don’t think you will regret it. And be sure to check out the videos on his website – this guy polishes all of the heavy-hitters’ trucks in Central California.
Although Mike loves trucks and trucking, he wonders where this industry is really headed. Because of that uncertainty, he does not have any plans to grow his business. Also, he and his wife, who have been married for 14 years, recently had their first child – a son named Caleb, who is now two years old. Mike was unsure about having kids at all, but once he held his son for the first time, it all made sense – Mike loves being a dad! In fact, he’s ready to have another. He and Rebekah are also very involved in the youth ministry at their church. Mike feels that it is very important to teach these impressionable kids to have a good work ethic, because many young people today are not being taught how to be self-sufficient. Before having Caleb, Mike and his wife did a lot of 4-wheeling and snowboarding, but now that they have a child, that stuff doesn’t seem to be so important anymore. Now, when Mike is not working, he is pretty happy to just spend time at home with his family.
We would like to thank Mike Gonzales Jr. and Tony’s Metal Art for getting the truck looking picture-perfect (literally), and also our friend Mike Maggini of Riverdale, CA for sending his squeeze up to Tony’s shop in Fresno to deck Mike’s trailer on the morning of the shoot. We had a great time playing around at some old barns in the Fresno foothills and were happy to see only one rattlesnake (and it was thankfully already dead). Mike’s hay-hustling cabover may just be a “winter truck” to him, but to us, and probably many of you, it is one awesome ride, worthy of being used every day. One thing is for sure, if it were up to Mike’s hard-headed “old school” dad, the cabover would not only be his first choice – it would be his only choice!