Finding parts for older trucks is getting harder every day, so when Jerry Salinas of Santa Clarita, California set out to rebuild his classic needle-nose Peterbilt, he ended up making most of the parts himself – so much so, that we joked about how his truck is more of a “Jerrybilt” than a Peterbilt! Looking to keep busy in his retirement from the heavy duty brake business, Jerry rebuilt this neat old Peterbilt from the ground up – and he did just about everything himself.
Born in Artesia, CA in 1944, Jerry Salinas (68) grew up on a hog farm with seven brothers and sisters. Back in those days, the areas around Los Angeles were filled with dairy farms and ranches, but as the people moved in and urban sprawl took over, most of the dairy farms moved to Chino and most of the hog farms moved to the Saugus/Newhall area (now Santa Clarita) north of Los Angeles. Many of the hog farmers moved to the Bouquet Canyon area, including Jerry’s family. After about a decade, feed became scarce, and most of the hog ranchers moved away or closed their farms. Jerry’s dad, named Plutarch (a name from the Bible), but known as “Tato” to most of his family and friends, quit being a rancher and became a truck driver for about ten years. After that, he took a job at the Eternal Valley Cemetery in Newhall, where he worked for almost 25 years before retiring. Jerry’s mom, Elsie, passed away at an early age from heart problems and his dad died in 2003 at the age of 77.
The reason that the hog feed became scarce is an interesting story in itself. Prior to the 1960s, most of the people in Los Angeles were required to separate their food waste from their regular garbage. The food scraps were then put into special buckets, provided by the city, and individuals and businesses would put those buckets out on the curb to be picked up. After collecting this waste – up to 100 tons a day – the city would then sell it to the local farmers to feed their livestock. At first, it was just raw waste, but as the fear of disease was realized, the city began “cooking” the scraps before selling them to the farmers. But, once the garbage disposal was invented and fully-utilized in most homes and businesses, these scraps quickly disappeared, so the city stopped collecting the waste.
After graduating from high school in 1962, Jerry went to work at West End Auto Wrecking in Newhall. When growing up, Jerry helped his dad fix and rebuild their cars, so wrenching on things was in his blood. At that first job, his main duty was to cut-up cars and tear wrecks apart for parts and scrap. He did that for about six months, and then went to work for Dave Dutro at his local transmission repair shop. Working there for five years, Jerry got to do all sorts of engine and transmission work. One day Jerry asked for a pay raise, but Dave denied him, so he quit and left in 1967. After that, Jerry got a great job at Commercial Brake Service in Sun Valley, CA.
At that time, Commercial Brake Service was a nationally-known heavy duty brake shop that was well-respected in the trucking community. Ken Allen was the shop foreman that hired Jerry to make deliveries and chase down parts. After one day of training, Jerry was unleashed out into the big city of Los Angeles. Not knowing the streets at all, he found himself pretty lost – he did not like it. So, when one of the guys in the shop got hurt, Jerry took advantage of the new opening and started working in the shop, relining and cleaning old brake shoes. He did that for about a year and then moved into the service bay, where he worked on truck brakes.
At some point, Ken left Commercial Brake Service and opened his own shop, Ken’s Brake Service, just down the street in Pacoima, CA. When Ken left Commercial Brake Service, Jerry took over as the shop foreman. For years, Ken stayed in contact with Jerry, and always tried to convince him to quit and come work with him. After working at Commercial Brake Service for about six years, Jerry finally took Ken up on the offer in 1974. Jerry really enjoyed working with Ken, and the two of them were a great team for 17 years. When Ken decided to retire in 1991, Jerry bought a bunch of his equipment, tools and inventory, and then opened his own small shop, Jerry’s Brake Service, also in Pacoima, CA.
Although Jerry’s shop was small and, for the most part, he was a one-man show, he was known for his quality work and he had a great reputation in the industry. Jerry wasn’t cheap, but he always did the job right, so his business flourished. During this time, he bought several rental properties around his area, and, thinking ahead, the 1963 Peterbilt 281 seen here. Jerry always wanted a truck, so when he found this little gem he bought it, figuring that it would be a great project to keep him busy after he retired.
After 16 years, Jerry decided to close his shop and retire in 2007. Having constructed a modest workshop behind one of his rentals in Sylmar, Jerry moved his smaller machines and his Peterbilt to this shop – which would eventually become his home away from home. It took him about a year to completely close his operation and move everything out, but once he did, he went to work on the truck, which took over two years to rebuild and restore.
When Jerry bought the old needle-nose in 2000, it had been sitting for six months, but the rig’s 335 Cummins engine fired right up and he was able to drive it home. Painted light gray with a black stripe, this truck pulled a set of pneumatic trailers, hauling bulk cement for Tobi Transport, for most of its life. Besides cleaning it all up, Jerry did not have to do anything to the truck’s drivetrain, which includes the original two-stick transmission with a 4-speed main and 4-speed auxiliary setup. When Jerry started stripping the truck down, he found about fifteen coats of paint on it, but once it was all torn apart and stripped to the bare metal, the rebuild could begin.
To update the truck’s single exhaust with a set of dual five-inch pipes, Jerry had to install an air cleaner on the driver’s side. To accommodate the new intake, Jerry had to modify the truck’s butterfly hood, and then he hand-built his own intake tubes. He also moved the truck’s single fuel tank (on the passenger side) back behind the cab and then installed a battery box under the passenger door. Jerry then mounted a second 50-gallon fuel tank on the driver’s side to make both sides the same. To smooth out the bumps, Jerry added an air-ride system to the suspension. Rewiring everything, Jerry moved the batteries to the passenger-side box so they would be closer to the starter. The original steel fenders were pretty banged-up, so Jerry replaced them with a better set that he found on another 1963 Pete. Once all of the “dirty work” was finally done, Jerry shifted his focus to the paint and chrome.
With all of the chassis work now complete, Jerry brought in his friend Cesar, who had never painted a truck before, to spray the Garnet Red paint right there in his shop. Once the truck was painted, Jerry installed all of the accessories and lights. Finding it difficult to find all of the parts he wanted, he ended up making a bunch of stuff on his own, including the exhaust brackets, the rear light bar and mud-flap brackets, covers for his leaf-springs and hanger brackets, the deck plate, the visor for the rear window, the air-line connection box and more. Using chrome-plated aluminum for almost everything, Jerry also made custom tank covers, complete with billet-style fuel filler caps built right into the covers!
Wanting to install a lot of lights, Jerry made his own light bars/brackets for the air cleaners, mirrors, battery boxes, stacks, deck plate, frame, tank covers, front bumper, rear light bar, bottom of grill, under the cab, and probably a few other places we missed. The truck has over 200 small, old-style incandescent marker lights (no LEDs), but they have been mounted so nicely and evenly, you can hardly tell – except at night, of course!
Moving to the cab’s interior, after gutting it all out, Jerry installed a better dash from another 1963 Peterbilt, cleaned up all of the old gauges, replaced the driver’s seat (the passenger seat is still the original), and had the door panels and headliner reupholstered with new black leather. Jerry then added a new steering wheel, covered the steering column with chrome tubing, and made custom chrome kick panels for under the dash. The interior is nothing too fancy, but it looks great and is very functional.
The truck made its debut at the Truckin’ For Kids Show in Irwindale, CA in October of 2010. At that show, our mutual friend and past cover trucker (April 1999) Ken Weiland, brought Jerry’s truck to our attention, and we ended up honoring it with our “Sponsor’s Choice” award. Since then, the truck has been to several local shows and parades, and earned many trophies. Jerry wanted to thank Cesar for the great paint work, and we would like to thank Ken for making sure that Jerry’s little 281 did not go un-noticed. Since he built the truck for fun and to keep him busy in retirement, he is thinking about installing a hitch receiver to the back so he can hook a travel trailer up behind it and use it for vacations and to attend truck shows further from home.
Married for just three years when he was young, Jerry has twin boys, Larry and Gary (48), and another son, Tony (42) from a relationship after he was divorced. One of his boys works for the CHP as an inspector at the Castaic scales, one is an electrician, and the other is a masonry worker and mechanic. Jerry loves the freedom of being single, but admits that he was “married” to his work for most of his life. Jerry was never afraid to work hard, and the fruits of his labor are now being realized. A little advice Jerry wanted to pass on: if you have a dream, don’t put it off or wait until “later” to do it. By the time “later” comes around, you may be too old (or dead) to do that thing you put off your whole life. In short, he said, “Don’t live with regrets.”
Keeping busy with his truck and side-jobs here and there, Jerry is enjoying his retirement from the truck brake business – but here is an ironic fact – his Peterbilt has no front brakes! Back in the old days, they were not required, so a lot of companies just removed them. Jerry plans to add front brakes to his truck, but for now, his “Jerrybilt” original has none. To that, we say, “Come on Jerry, give it a brake!”