It’s no surprise that Randy Stroup named his company First Class Services – Randy is a “first class” guy, and service has always been the cornerstone of his trucking business. He doesn’t cut corners or do things halfway, and he doesn’t take anything for granted – with Randy, it’s all or nothing! And as he grooms his son Tanner (18) to be the fourth generation in their family to drive trucks, and eventually run the company, the two of them recently built an amazing truck to get him started. Named “First Gear” by Tanner himself, the rig is currently on a cross-country truck show tour, but as soon as the season ends, Tanner plans to jump in it and go trucking locally so he can start learning the ropes and earning some respect from his fellow drivers.
Based in Lewisport, Kentucky, First Class Services, Inc. is a specialized trucking company that focuses on liquid, dry bulk, and hazmat transportation. With locations in Lewisport and Owensboro, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana, Randy’s company, which currently has over one hundred power units and 230 liquid and dry bulk trailers, services a 1,000-mile radius from their corporate headquarters in Lewisport. And these are not just plain old fleet trucks – Randy’s rigs are all top-notch rides, painted up in mocha and burgundy, and dressed to impress.
Randy Stroup (49) grew up in a trucking family – his grandfather drove dump trucks and hauled coal in Tennessee way back in the day, and his father, Lloyd, was involved in trucking and construction. When his dad found out he had diabetes, he was forced to stop driving, but he stayed in the construction industry. Randy was born in 1962 in Taylor, Alabama. In 1968, Randy and his family, following a construction job, moved to western Kentucky, where he still lives today. Randy’s uncle (his mother’s brother) is a popular trucker named Ray Graves. Randy’s father taught Ray how to drive, and then Ray went on to form a successful trucking company. Back in those days, Ray had a fleet of “hot rod” cabovers that pulled reefers, and Randy loved to go out trucking with his older brother Cliff, who drove one of them for Ray (sadly, Cliff would later die in a truck wreck in 1982). Ray went on to form Farmers Oil, a company that still exists today (Ray’s son Larry took over the business when Ray retired). Randy has an older brother named Roger who owns his own trucking company, too.
When Randy turned 16 he bought his first truck – a GMC Astro cabover – and began pulling a coal bucket. One day, while still driving that old GMC, Randy had the good fortune of meeting a sharp guy named David Hodgeman at a truck stop in Florida. At the time, David was driving a green 359 Peterbilt with a big Double Eagle sleeper and pulling a step-deck. Hauling jet engines for International Transport, David told Randy that he was going to start his own company hauling jet engines, and to call him when he got some experience under his belt. David went on to form Southern Pride, based out of San Diego, California, which turned out to be a very successful outfit. From there on out, Randy’s mission in life was to get a long-hood truck and go to work at Southern Pride.
In 1980, Randy bought a Peterbilt cabover and leased-on with Keystone out of Oklahoma City pulling reefers. Then, in 1984, he ordered a new Peterbilt 359 glider kit. Putting the truck together by himself in his backyard, Randy has always been good at turning a wrench. Painted burgundy in color and cool enough to make it into Overdrive’s calendar in 1985, Randy called the rig “Goin’ For The Gusto” for obvious reasons. Now that he had his big ride, it was time to put up or shut up, so off to Southern Pride he went. At that time, David had a few company trucks, but Randy was his very first leased-on owner operator (in its heyday, Southern Pride grew to over 100 trucks in their fleet).
In 1988, Randy decided that it was time to get a new truck and ordered a brand new Pete 379 with a 63-inch flattop sleeper, a set of 6+4 factory sticks, and a 325-inch wheelbase (at the time, it was the longest tractor with a 5th wheel Peterbilt had ever built). Along with his wife at the time and their two dogs, running hard for Southern Pride, they put 238,000 miles on that truck the first year they had it. Randy learned a lot about customer service and gained valuable experience from David Hodgeman while hauling those commercial jet engines from San Diego to Miami. In fact, to this day, Randy considers himself to be a “graduate” of Southern Pride!
Looking to start a family, and not wanting to raise his kids out west, Randy left Southern Pride in 1989, moved back to Kentucky, and formed First Class Services with his brother Willie. “We transferred David Hodgeman’s principles of customer service to the tank industry,” said Randy, commenting about his new venture. He went on to say, “When I was driving, the pressure on me was more physical. As an owner, I am more involved with the decision making process.” In the beginning, the entire company was just Randy and Willie and their two trucks, but it quickly grew. In 2005, Randy bought out his brother, making him the sole owner, president and CEO of First Class Services, Inc.
Over the years, Randy and his team have built many sharp trucks, but the one that really put them on the map was their Big Rig Build-Off winner in 2008. With an exciting mix of Copper, Burnt Orange and Candy Red paint, this 1986 Peterbilt 359 was (and still is) truly spectacular. Featuring a tricked-out Cat 3406 under the hood, twin sticks inside, a 305-inch wheelbase and pleated body panels on the back of the 63-inch flattop sleeper, this cool rig is one of the finest show trucks ever built. After that, the First Class Services team helped Randy’s cousin, Jeremy Graves of Farmers Oil, build “Mama Cried” and “Bucket List” – a couple of their show-quality working trucks. They also did a full frame-up restoration on a flawless Peterbilt 359 called “Born to Lead” for Uncle Ray (Ray Graves).
With Tanner getting close to being able to drive, Randy wanted to build him a really special truck. In 2009, he bought a 2005 Peterbilt 379 with a 63-inch flattop and 400,000 miles on the odometer, but waited until November of 2011 to finally get the project started. From the very beginning, Tanner was involved in all of the decision-making for this truck, and throughout the build, he was there every step of the way. One day, while driving with his dad, Tanner came up with the name “First Gear” for the truck, to symbolize the fact that he is just getting started. Randy loved the name and it stuck. Today, after a complete rebuild, “First Gear” is one of the finest trucks in the country – and it already has a ton of “Best of Show” trophies to prove it!
Tearing it down to the bare frame rails, nothing went untouched on this truck (or its matching trailer) during the five-month rebuild. Tanner wanted to build a truck that was a little “old school” but a little “new school” too. And, since he was going to drive it on a regular basis at some point, it had to be functional. Tanner wanted to have a longer wheelbase, but Randy thought that 270 inches was long enough for his first truck. Paying special attention to every detail, Tanner came up with the idea of indenting “body lines” all over the truck and trailer. Jeff Battler and his crew at 12 Ga. Customs pressed in all of these lines, which can be found on the cab and sleeper drop panels, on the deck plate, on the front of the step boxes, along the sides of the trailer, on the shock box cover, on the rear bumper, and various other locations.
Once the truck was tore apart, they pulled out the “dirty” Acert motor and dropped in a rebuilt (and painted to match) Cat 6NZ with 550 hp and hooked it to an 18-speed transmission. They built a custom radiator and brackets, added some “twisted” rods from Outlaw Customs, and painted pictures of gears on the fan blades. Wanting a smooth look under the hood and front fenders, the guys hand-sanded the rough fiberglass until it was perfectly smooth and then painted everything white. This one detail alone took over 40 hours of work to complete! An aluminum firewall cover was fabricated by 12 Ga. and installed to hide all of the plumbing and electrical under the hood. To accommodate this firewall cover, the overflow radiator had to be moved, so they made a custom replacement out of 3-inch diameter polished steel tubing, capped the ends, and mounted it on top of the radiator. The final details under the hood included various polished and painted pieces, polished stainless steel intake tubes, and more pictures of gears painted on the tops of the valve covers.
Not long after the project began, it was decided that 4 State Trucks would be in charge of the interior. The cab and sleeper were sent to Joplin, MO on a flatbed, and then Lil’ Joe and his crew went to work. After insulating everything with HushMat, they converted the stock 379 dash to a retro-style 359 dash and then installed custom Isspro gauges that glow orange, along with special gear-shaped bezels made by 12 Ga. “Shag” created a custom fiberglass overhead console to hold eight extra gauges above, and made sure it was baby-butt smooth. The sound system features an Eclipse AVN6620 head unit with six – yes six – JL Audio 10-inch sub woofers, powered by three JL 600 amps, running to an arsenal of various speakers, all in custom-built enclosures. David, 4 State’s fabrication shop foreman, cut some aluminum gears of various sizes, built smooth door panels, and then mounted them on top of each other for a cool 3-D logo look (he also did this on the painted floor around the custom-made shifter). After “Biskit” squirted paint all over everything, they threw in some retro-style hot rod door handles, added a little more chrome, loaded it up with neons, and then sent it back to Kentucky.
Once the cab and sleeper got back to Kentucky, it was time to put it all together and paint everything. Randy sent the rig’s oval-hole Peterbilt aluminum wheels to a company called RealChrome and had them all chrome plated. Thanks to Lee Ouellette for making sure that every wheel came out perfect! Cool Components fenders were installed, then airbrush specialist Steve Ray of Air Brush Inc. sprayed identical “gear murals” on the back side of each rear fender. 12 Ga. fabricated the cab and sleeper drop panels, the shock box, the step boxes with custom billet step plates, custom laser-cut grille and breather screens with gear-shaped holes, two “I-beam” light bars, the visor (which is polished on the front and painted on the back), and more. All of the Candy Red, Burnt Orange, and Pearl White paint (supplied by PPG) was sprayed in-house, except for the airbrush work. The truck was then fitted with Goodyear tires, custom-engraved lug nuts from JR at Lifetime Nut Covers, and 8-inch Dynaflex stacks. And, if all that wasn’t enough, the “First Gear” logo was painted or engraved on everything, including the ends of the axles and the “twisted” and chromed track rods on the rear suspension.
Not to be outdone by the tractor, a 2012 Etnyre 7,200-gallon liquid tanker was customized to match the truck perfectly. The aluminum ends were pulled off of this stainless steel trailer and then the graphics and lights were added. All of the enclosures, bumpers and light bars were custom-made. The spill dam on top of the trailer was boxed in, as well as the landing gear, and both LED and neon lights were added underneath. The cap on the rear outlet was chrome-plated, and a special gear-shaped valve handle was made and then installed on the rear of the tank. Of course, the trailer also has the chrome-plated wheels, the Cool Components fenders with the “gear” murals on the back, and a custom First Class Services cutout emblem mounted on the rear light bar.
In addition to all of the people already mentioned, special thanks go out to Jerry Daughtry at Motorcoach FX for his help with the neon lighting; Kenny Doonan at Doonan Truck & Equipment in Wichita, KS; James Raben of Raben Tire Company; Bryan Martin at 4 State Trucks; Jennifer Wirth at PPG Commercial Coatings; Tom Gipe at Gipe Auto Color (Randy’s local PPG dealer which provided most of the painting supplies); and Steve Sulikowski of Goodyear Tires. Randy wanted to thank his entire crew for all of their hard work on this project, and Brad “Nut-Nut” Aldridge and Chris Horn (The Road Team) for taking the truck to all of the shows across the country and spending days upon days getting it ready every time (we had a great time with these two guys out at Wheel Jam in South Dakota).
Keeping the company “all in the family” as much as possible, Randy’s daughter Cessilee (22) is set to graduate from Western Kentucky University (WKU) with a double major in Business and Accounting in May of 2013. Always great at crunching numbers, Cessilee will surely end up being the CFO of First Class Services in the not-so-distant future. Just starting his senior year in high school, Tanner plans to attend a diesel school in Nashville after graduation, and then move on to WKU to learn more about computers and technology, and how they relate to trucks and trucking. Tanner is not a “numbers” guy, but he works hard and he loves trucking. Growing up in this business, his future, when he earns it, will probably put him in the position of Operations Manager at First Class Services. Like his dad, Tanner is more of a hands-on kind of guy who would rather be out in the shop turning a wrench instead of sitting in an office talking on the phone. Divorced since 2008, Randy enjoys spending time with his kids and his girlfriend, Stephanie, as often as possible.
Hiring only the best of the best drivers, usually with ten or more years of safe driving experience and hazmat endorsements, First Class Services strives to achieve 20% growth per year – and this year, it looks like they might even hit 25% (last year they saw a 22% increase). Randy and his team love to build trucks, and they are very good at it, so we expect to see many more stellar rides coming out of Kentucky. And when guys like Randy and Tanner Stroup put their minds (and backs) into a project, you know it will be first class all the way!
Tanner can’t wait to get out on the open road, but first he will have to cut his teeth running local for a few years until he turns 21. But after that, look out – because if this truck is what “First Gear” looks like, we can only imagine what all of the other “gears” will look like!