Trucking icons are a rare find these days. Being one of a fading breed, Harm Speerstra could certainly be considered an icon in the world of trucks and trucking. So, what would be the chances that this rare quality of trucker would find an equally rare truck – pretty good, if you love trucks as much as Harm. After over 40 years of trucking, Harm is retired now and enjoys spending time with his wife Thelma and his collection of old trucks – including the perfect, all-original Peterbilt 352-H cabover seen here.
Born and raised in Holland, Harm always loved all types of transportation – planes, ships, trucks, he loved them all. Wanting to see the world, after high school, he joined the Dutch Air Force Service and ended up on an air base where Americans had Thunderbolts stationed. For two years, Harm spent almost every day with these Americans as they guarded the planes together and talked about all of the different states they were from. Harm really enjoyed his time with these men, who all told him that he had to go stateside – and he agreed. After getting out of the Air Force, Harm contacted a cousin who was living in Southern California and asked if he would sponsor him to come to the United States. Harm landed in Los Angeles, CA on a Friday in 1962, and on Monday, he was putting hay bales on a conveyor belt at Roy Visbeek’s dairy in Artesia, CA. Lots of hay trucks came through there, and Harm really liked them. He got to know everyone, and they all wanted the “wooden-shoe wetback” to help them unload because he saved them the $8.00 for a boom.
After a few months, Gerrit Fikse put Harm in an older GMC powered by a four-banger Jimmy, rated at 150 horses, and coupled to a 5-speed and electric two-speed. Harm had never driven a truck before, but Gerrit said, “Just follow that driver” – and he did, all the way to El Centro, CA. The driver helped Harm load twice and then he was on his own. After six months, Harm jumped in a big binder (International) 220 with a 10-speed ranger. Later, he went to work for Orangethorpe Hay and got a new binder 250 with a 4×4 that even had a sleeper (something he had never had before). The Jimmy and the 220 both came with a board that you laid over the seats to create a bed for the night. Back in the day, truckers were never spoiled with luxuries.
Hauling hay was good in the summer, when there was a lot of work, but there was no work in the winter. One night, in one of the brake check areas on the Grapevine just outside of Southern California, a car-hauler parked next to Harm. The two got to talking and this car-hauler, named Dean Callen, told Harm that he was an old hay hauler who had started hauling cars in the winter. Little did these two know that they would go on to be lifelong friends with each other, and Harm would also become good friends with Dean’s brother Dale and his son Phil.
Embracing this new idea, Harm took his hay truck to Hadley Transport where he got a job hauling cars. Now, he had year-round work, hauling hay in the summertime and cars in the winter. Harm even found a paper company called Noland Paper that needed some paper hauled at night, so he added that to his list of employers. In the meantime, as an added bonus, Hadley leased Harm out to Carrol Shelby, and he got to run their car-carrier when needed.
Hadley had been good to Harm, but at the end of the 1960s, his truckin’ friend Dale Callen left Hadley for Port Terminal Transport in Long Beach. After a few months, Dale convinced Harm to go there, too – and it was the best thing he ever did. For almost 40 years, Harm hauled cars off the docks as a Teamster, and because of that, he has a wonderful pension today. After a few years of driving a company truck, Harm was allowed to buy his own, and since he already had bought some tractors to run mail and other freight on the side, he transformed a 1972 two-axle into a car carrier. Everything was possible in those days. Over the next few years, Harm built his fleet up to four trucks, hauling cars during the day and mail and other freight at night. If Harm wasn’t trucking, dispatching or driving the car carrier, he was changing oil or working on the trucks. Life was good – but very busy.
Then, one day in 1978, the owner of Port Terminal Transport called Harm and told him that he had received a call from Harrah’s Casino in Reno, Nevada. Apparently, they had lost their Ferrari account, and had an almost-new 1978 Peterbilt cabover car-hauler for sale with only 12,000 miles on her. Harm flew to Reno and got the truck, which became a legend in Southern California, and beyond. Painted Dutch blue with white, black, blue and gold stripes, “Betsy” was powered by a 3406 Cat that was covered with chrome and had a custom laser-engraved front bumper, along with hundreds of lights.
In the meantime, between all the trucking and dispatching, Harm and about a dozen of his trucking friends decided to put on a truck show for charity and “Truckers for Charity” was born. This group of truckers, led by Harm, produced their first show in 1981 in Pomona, CA at the Fairgrounds. Calling it “The World’s Greatest Working Truck Show,” this event was a huge success, which raised a lot of money for the Crippled Children’s Society. The following year, they held another show at the raceway in Irvine, CA and included drag racing. This show, which was another big success, benefited the Ronald McDonald House. Over the years, the show has changed names and locations, and a few different people have taken the lead, but today it is known as the Truckin’ for Kids Show & Drags, which is still held every year. Race Director since 1991, Frank Pangburn and his volunteer staff are very appreciative of Harm’s efforts to get this show started, which is still raising money for kids in need after all these years.
At one of the truck shows, Harm was approached by a man named Steve Krieger who invited him to visit his office in San Bernardino, CA where he produced a cool magazine called American Trucker. Harm and Steve got along great, and Harm ended up doing some work for the magazine. After a few years, Harm bought a 50% stake in the magazine from then co-owner Bud Veldkamp, making him a proud co-owner of one of the greatest trucking magazines of its time. Being very busy at the magazine and still driving the car carrier, Harm decided to sell most of his trucks and trailers, besides Betsy, to make life a little easier. He also started doing drag races at truck shows all over the country, and then organized a few “Windmill Tours” for truckers to see the world. These three-week tours, which went to Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Holland, were coordinated and led by Harm and were very successful (and fun).
After about seven years of co-owning the magazine, they had an offer from an Alabama publishing company to buy them out and they took it. After that, the publishing company continued using the name, but they changed the format to a “used trucks for sale” type of magazine, which is still around today.
When SUVs became popular, Harm had to get rid of his beloved cabover and replace it with a Peterbilt 378 conventional (the cabover was just too tall to put an SUV on top of). Harm kept on trucking with this car-carrier until he retired in 2003. After that, he and his wife Thelma started motor-homing all across the USA and Canada, visiting as many truck shows as possible.
Every year, Harm and Thelma would go back to Los Angeles for the Holidays to see their kids, and every year Harm would go up to the horse-racing track in Los Alamitos, CA to see if Bob Gordon’s old hay truck was still sitting there. After a few years, Harm was finally able to buy the truck, which he took to his friends Dale and Phil Callen in San Marcos, CA to be restored. Later, Harm found and bought a few more trucks (a 1965 and a 1977 Peterbilt) in Washington, near where he and Thelma had moved to, and put them in the barn.
A few years ago, while spending time with Dale and Phil at their shop, Phil told Harm about an old Peterbilt cabover that was supposedly sitting somewhere in National City (near San Diego). So, Harm went looking for it, and sure enough, he found her. After asking if he could look at it, Robert Mijers and his son Danny came out to show him the amazing tractor. Painted in the colors of Pan American Van Lines (white with blue and gold stripes), Harm could not believe his eyes – everything was like brand new, and the odometer only had 56,683 miles showing (it now has about 59,000 miles on it). The plastic was still over the mattress, and the gentleman’s clothes were still hanging in the closet! Robert told Harm that his dad had trucked it for a while, but then parked her inside the storage facility, where it had sat for the last 30 years.
Equipped with a 3408 Cat which was not running, Harm made the man a deal and then hauled the truck to Phil’s shop. It took a lot of friends to get her to Callen Truck Restoration, but once she was there, they brought in a mechanic that got the injector pump cleaned up, and then she fired right up! Phil spent a year cleaning up and customizing the truck (just a little) so Harm could drive it to shows. Mechanically, the truck was sound – all Phil did was replace some hoses, the filters, the wheel seals and the brakes.
The 1979 Peterbilt 352-H with a 110-inch cab features a 10-speed overdrive transmission, 3.50 rear gears, and a 175-inch wheelbase. Phil built a custom twin air intake system for the truck, a rear light bar, custom mud-flap brackets for the front wheels with integrated lights, added a deck plate and new quarter fenders, and polished the visor. The original paint was polished, new Firestone 24.5 tall rubber was mounted, and the wheels (along with everything else shiny) were polished to their original luster. The truck even had a factory-installed, key-operated alarm that still worked. Everything was in such great shape that the truck passed its DOT inspection with flying colors. Harm gives all of the credit to Phil Callen, and deeply and respectfully thanks him for all the wonderful work he did on the truck.
Living on a friend’s dairy in Grandview, Washington, Harm works part-time at a scale on the premises, and enjoys relaxing with his wife Thelma (of over 20 years) the rest of the time. Unfortunately, Harm has not been able to take the 352-H to very many truck shows due to health problems. After being diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer, Harm had six chemo treatments, which put the cancer in remission, but now, thanks to the cancer and chemo, he is having problems with his kidneys. His doctors are working hard to correct the problem, and we pray that he has a speedy (and full) recovery.
Throughout the decades, Harm has done it all – he trucked for 40 years, organized truck shows and travel tours, published a trucking magazine, and now he is becoming an avid truck collector. But, through all that, he never forgot who he was or where he came from. At his core, Harm Speerstra is a pure truck fanatic, an outspoken advocate for the trucking industry, and a true gentleman – all of which makes him an authentic trucking icon, and a rare find, just like his amazing Peterbilt 352-H cabover.