Chad Blackwell has been relocating cattle all his life – it is all he’s ever done. When he trucks, he trucks hard, and he takes his downtime just as seriously. Chad (known by most as Cow Dog) comes from a long line of cattle haulers and livestock dealers going back four generations. Like his recently-rebuilt Legacy Edition Peterbilt, painted cream, teal and peach, Chad is colorful and unique. Running his outfit, Blackwell Cattle Service of Greenville, Virginia, from the seat of his truck, Chad is a simple person who works just like everybody else. Underneath it all, he is still a truck driver – just an employee of Blackwell Cattle Service who dispatches, brokers loads, and runs the business, while still running 140,000+ miles a year. And, somehow, he still finds time to keep his truck clean and go to truck shows!
Born and raised in Virginia, Chad (34) lives in Greenville, which is just a stone’s throw away from Staunton, where his family has lived for decades. Chad’s great grandfather D.F. Cash became a livestock dealer in 1935 when a market opened in Staunton. His son, Chad’s grandfather, John C. Cash (who usually went by his middle name, Curtis), started trucking in the 1950s, hauling livestock, of course. Raised on a cow-calf operation, Chad never had “regular” toys – his “toys” were grandpa’s trucks, which were mostly cabovers of various makes including Ford, Mack, White, and International. Chad loved going out with his grandfather, who taught him everything he knows about trucking.
Chad’s parents divorced when he was 17. After graduating from high school in 1997, Chad tried farming, but that only lasted about a year. Once he realized that farming would not give him the lifestyle he was looking for, he decided to go trucking. At the time, he only had $500 to his name, so he started looking for someone to help him (cosign on a loan). After his grandfather and father turned him down, he asked his step-dad, who agreed to help. After a friend of the family vouched for Chad down at the bank, they gave him a loan. Starting out with a new Ford F350 dually and a 26-foot livestock trailer, Chad formed Blackwell Cattle Service and began hauling show cattle. Six months later, he bought a second unit, and things just grew from there.
Realizing early-on that leased operators worked harder and were more dedicated than company drivers (they had truck payments to make, too), Chad began to build his business using owner operators. Today, Chad’s company has twelve leased operators, including him, and then another 100 trucks he can broker loads to. All of his owner operators dress properly, have nice equipment, and work hard (Chad sets a good example). But above all else, Chad likes to be in the driver’s seat more than anywhere else.
Chad’s first big combo was a single-axle Freightliner FLD120 and a 42-foot “ground load” cattle trailer. After that, he added a Kenworth W900, and continued to pull the ground loader. His next truck was a used 1994 Peterbilt with a flattop sleeper, which he hooked to his first 51-foot “cattle pot” semi-trailer. Later, he sold the flattop truck so he could buy a standup. In 2004, he bought his first brand new truck – a 2004 Peterbilt 379 painted light metallic green with dark green fenders. This “Cattle Lac” truck put Chad on the map when it earned a spot in the 2005 Shell SuperRigs calendar.
When the Legacy Edition Peterbilt was announced (the last 1,000 379s built) in 2007, Chad was given the opportunity to buy one from his local dealer. Knowing that this limited-edition numbered truck would be valuable, he jumped at the chance. When his truck finally arrived in January 2008, Chad was shocked to see that it was #2 of 1,000! Ordered teal with a matching frame, the truck had a 63-inch flattop sleeper, a 565 Cummins, an 18-speed transmission, and a 292-inch wheelbase. Over the next 45 days, Chad transformed that simple truck into a unique, award-winning, hot-rod-style rig.
Back in 2008, it still wasn’t very popular to paint your chrome, but Chad did it anyway – in fact, he painted just about everything teal! He painted the visor and body drop panels, the mirrors and brackets, the headlights, the air cleaners, the grill surround, the fuel tanks, the rear fenders and the battery/step boxes. About the only things he didn’t paint was the front bumper, the pipes and the wheels. Chad also had a local fabrication shop build him a custom deck plate, which was also painted teal, of course. Continuing the color-theme inside the cab, Chad dyed all of the hard plastic interior pieces teal, and then 4 State Trucks added a painted floor. 4 State also chopped the breathers and installed a bumper flip kit. When the truck was finished, Chad hit the ground running. Using it every day, he put almost 700,000 miles on it in just over four years. The truck, which he called
“Fully Loaded” for obvious reasons, was featured in many magazines, and also ended up in the 2011 Shell SuperRigs calendar.
Over the years, Chad has become very close to Bryan Martin of 4 State Trucks and his family (in addition to staying at their house often, he has also spent some holidays with them, too). When Shell announced that the 2012 SuperRigs show was going to be held in Joplin, MO, Bryan wanted to bring something special to the show to represent their shop, so he tried to convince Chad to re-do his truck. At first Chad was reluctant, because it was still in pretty good shape, but in March of 2012, he pulled the all-teal truck into the 4 State shop to get a complete makeover.
To get the job started, the truck was first completely torn apart. Chad had been thinking about doing a peach paint job for some time, so he decided to go for it. Wanting to make a bold statement and really stand out from the crowd, they chose a Jim Higgins design they saw on the Internet, but modified it. Everything was done in either peach, teal or cream. Once the entire chassis was repainted teal, the 63-inch bunk was swapped out with a 48-incher that was completely re-skinned with no vents or a back window. The doors were also re-skinned, and old-style door handles were installed. The 565 Cummins engine was “tweaked” by PDI (it now has about 750 hp), the sleeper’s air-ride system on the back of the bunk was hidden, and the front end was lowered. And we are just getting started!
Some of the other exterior modifications include painted tanks (brand new tanks with flush airplane-style billet filler caps), a custom “I” panel mounted between the fuel tanks, and aluminum half-fenders, which were cut down, painted peach, rolled forward, and mounted on hidden brackets. 4 State also made custom cab and sleeper drop panels, a visor, and a rear light bar. Fiberglass fenders from WTI were mounted, as well as a billet grille, and a set of one-off 8-inch stacks made by Dynaflex. These pipes not only include peach powder-coated inserts at the tips, but Chad’s “Bar 77” logo (in homage to his grandfather) is laser-cut into the stacks. 4 State also chopped the breather screens, painted the factory mirror brackets and single square headlight buckets, installed five new cab lights, and added custom billet step plates on the battery/tool boxes.
Moving inside the truck, the interior was done completely in button-tuck, using teal and white leather, by Travis Baxley. “Oz” made custom Bostrom seats for the truck, and Jeremy Wade at Creative Car Audio threw in a wicked sound system. Using marine-grade equipment because it is white, Jeremy installed (2) amps, (6) small speakers, and (2) 12-inch subs. 4 State installed one of their 359 dash conversion kits, and then designed and built the entire lower dash out of aluminum, painted to match, of course. They also made and installed the painted floor and the overhead cabinets in the sleeper. Wanting to be able to tilt his steering wheel lower than normal, Bryan found Chad a 1994 steering column and put it in the truck. Chad loves it! A leather-wrapped billet steering wheel, painted foot pedals, a glitter shift knob and a custom dash plaque, finish off this phenomenal interior.
After some final touches were added by the folks at Thunder Grafix to the truck and Chad’s 2009 Merritt cattle trailer, off it went to the SuperRigs show in Joplin. Within 30 minutes of pulling into the lot, Chad was already pulling out of it, on his way to a photo shoot, after earning a spot in 2013 calendar. Just days prior to the show, the truck was still in a 1,000 pieces – it is amazing that it made it to the show at all. Chad wanted to send special thanks to Joe Overfelt and everyone else at the 4 State shop for getting the truck done in time for the show, and for making it so awesome. He also wanted to thank Bryan Martin and his entire family, Robert Lucas of Blue Ridge Peterbilt, and all of his customers and drivers (you know who you are). After putting the truck back on the road, Chad quickly logged another 100,000 miles on the odometer, pushing the total to over 810,000 now.
Putting excessive miles on the Peterbilt might come to a halt, now, as Chad has just finished another “project” – a 1984 Kenworth K100 cabover with a 110-inch double bunk cab, which he rebuilt and restored, but you can’t tell by looking at it. Keeping the original and faded maroon paint, complete with murals on the sides, Chad went through the motor, transmission and rear-ends, and then installed a new sound system in it, put on new wheels and tires, and replaced the pipes. Mechanically, this truck is sound, even though it looks like a beat-up old truck. Chad started driving the cabover a few months ago and is having a blast – so much so, he might just park the Peterbilt and drive the KW for a while.
Hauling all sorts of livestock throughout the Midwest and beyond while dispatching his ten other trucks, talking to customers, and setting up loads, Chad does not have a lot of time left to do much else. Thankfully, as he put it, his job is his hobby and his hobby is his job, so that works out pretty well. Chad has never been married and he doesn’t have any kids. He once dated a woman for eight years, but trucking eventually killed that relationship. When he does get home, he loves to just hang out on the back porch with friends and grill steaks, listen to some country music, and enjoy a few cold ones. Although he is currently still living in Greenville, Virginia, he is looking to buy some property and move to Oklahoma, where his heart is, as soon as possible.
We wanted to thank Chad for his patience with us – this was the first time in almost 20 years that we were forced to do a photo shoot in the freezing-cold rain, but we think it all turned out pretty good. In fact, the inclement weather made for some unique-looking pictures of Chad’s rig, unlike any others we have seen out there! We’d also like to thank Bryan Martin for not only helping us set up this shoot, but for hanging out and waiting for us to finish before heading home from Louisville in a snowstorm.
Starting out with nothing, Chad was able to build a successful business that has brought him the lifestyle he desired. But it’s not about money or stuff – it’s about liking what you do and who you are. Chad honestly loves to drive, and does not want to do anything else. And he may have followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, but he made his own way – and now he has a legendary “Legacy” to leave behind for future generations that might want to follow in his footsteps!