It takes a special kind of person to be a good truck driver – someone who is tough and tenacious, but also patient and respectful – like a lion. In the jungle, the lions rule, and out on the highway, it is much the same. Those who were taught properly survive and thrive, while those who were not, just drive and drive, never really getting anywhere. Leon Murillo is a lion, and not just because his name translates into “lion” in Spanish, but because he has that tough, tenacious, respectful spirit in his heart.
Leon Murillo Jr. (23) of Porterville, California always knew he wanted to be a truck driver, just like his father, Leon Murillo Sr. Losing his mother at an early age, Leon was raised by his father in the seat of a truck, learning to drive at just nine or ten years old. Leon can remember sitting in his dad’s lap, steering the truck, and whenever he began to drift out of the lane he was in, his dad would flick one of his ears, right or left, depending on which way he wanted him to move back toward the center of the lane. By the time he was eleven, much to the surprise of the other drivers around, young Leon was already backing his dad’s truck into the docks at his deliveries. After graduating from high school, he immediately took his driving test, earned his CDL, and then hit the road. At only 23 years of age, Leon already has about 600,000 miles under his belt, and counting.
Leon’s dad bought the 1999 short hood Peterbilt 379 you see here in 2004, when Leon Jr. was still a sophomore in high school. At that time, Leon’s dad was driving a 1996 Freightliner FLD, so he hired a driver and put him in the Freightliner, and then Leon Sr. began driving the Peterbilt. Once Leon Jr. graduated from high school and got his license, he bought the Peterbilt from his dad, became an owner operator, and then started hauling for his dad’s company, Leon Murillo Trucking (Leon Sr. went back to driving his FLD). At one point, Leon Sr. was running six trucks, but that did not last long – all of the headaches and hassles wore him out pretty fast. Because of that, Leon Jr. says he is happy with having just one truck and one driver (himself) – he has no interest in growing any larger than that.
When Leon Sr. bought the Peterbilt it was outfitted with an aerodynamic package, with all sorts of fairings and covers, and the dual exhaust was located behind the 70-inch Ultra sleeper. Today, all of that stuff has been removed, and now the seven-inch Dynaflex exhaust is located on the sides, like it should be. Powered by a turned-up 3406-E Cat (from 475 to 550) hooked to a Super-10 transmission, this black beauty also has a painted drop visor, a custom-built and painted rear light bar, polished aluminum half-fenders, and HID (high-intensity discharge) headlights.
The truck originally had five old-school glass clearance lights, but one day the center light burned out. Leon liked the way it looked, so he just removed the center light from the center cluster, which left four, evenly-spaced cab lights, which he painted black. He also added four glass lights in front of the breathers on each side to match the four cab lights up on the roof. The final touch was removing the stock Peterbilt emblem on the front of the truck and replacing it with a small, black, metal Transformer’s “Autobots” emblem (Leon is one of the good guys – no “Decepticon” here).
Dragging behind Leon’s truck is a 2003 Great Dane 48-foot reefer trailer. Originally equipped with sliding tandem axles, Leon later bought a fixed 10-foot spread-axle setup and swapped it out. He then moved the fuel tank to the back, mounting it between the spread, like the old-timers used to do. The trailer features quilted stainless rear doors, LED lights and two sets of polished quarter fenders. Leon would like to have the trailer’s rails and rear-door hardware painted black to match the truck, but for now, it still looks pretty damn good.
Hauling all sorts of refrigerated produce, like oranges, carrots, apples, pears, lettuce and celery, Leon ran all over California, which nearly drove him nuts (he couldn’t wait to run out of state). Once he turned 21, he started running I-5, between California and Washington, exclusively. Occasionally he ventures out to Texas for a change of scenery, but for the most part, he stays on I-5 out west. That is where he met our writer and photographer, Bryan Welsh. The two passed each other often on I-5 and eventually became friends. Today, they talk often and meet for breakfast when they can. Bryan took these pictures one day out in a field near the Kenworth dealer in Coburg, Oregon, just north of Eugene (thanks Bryan – great job).
Running hard keeps Leon pretty busy, but even when he’s not getting paid to drive, he still likes to jump into his pickup and take road trips. He recently got engaged to his fiancé, Ginger, who is currently attending Fresno State University. Studying to be an interior designer, the two decided to wait until she is finished with school (in 2015) to get married. Still living in Porterville, Leon likes living in the country and has no interest in leaving – plus, all of his loads are always nearby! Leon Sr. still trucks, too, and recently bought a 2008 Freightliner Cascadia. He also still has his old FLD, and currently has a driver in it (Leon Sr. really likes his Freightliners, whereas Leon Jr. is a Peterbilt man).
With almost 1.6 million miles on the odometer, Leon’s Peterbilt is still going strong. He wanted to thank A&L Chrome Shop in Tulare, CA for taking such good care of him and his truck, and Bryan Welsh for not only noticing his sweet ride from across the interstate, but for taking the pictures and passing them on to us at the magazine. Leon is very excited to be in 10-4, as he has been picking up and reading the magazine for as long as he can remember.
We at 10-4 would like to thank Leon Murillo, both of them, father and son, for being the kind of people that keep this industry going. And at only 23 years old, young Leon has plenty of time to grow and influence the even younger drivers around him, to help keep those old traditions alive and well. Without old-school truckers like you, with the heart of a lion beating deep in your chest, the steering wheel holders would take over and all would be lost – and we just can’t let that happen!