It is estimated that 300,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. alone, and 40,000 women will die from the disease. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. These statistics are staggering, but until you can put a face to them, they might not mean much to you. Such is the case for Michael Dusi of Paso Robles, CA. Until his beloved Aunt Kathy died from breast cancer, he never gave it much thought, but since her passing, it has become a very human disease to him. As a personal tribute, he built the truck you see here in her memory. But there is a lot more to Michael Dusi than just this truck – he has a whole fleet of cool rides – we just wanted to highlight this one, this month, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October).
Michael Dusi Trucking is an outfit located on California’s beautiful Central Coast specializing in hauling everything for the wine industry. From the grapes to the juice, the barrels to the bottles, the labels and corks, bulk wine by the tanker-load, and cases of wine by the pallet, they do it all. Their slogan “From Vine to Wine” really is true. They also haul equipment for the farming side of the wine industry, like tractors and harvesters. To do all of this work, Michael (40) has a large fleet of nice company-owned trucks, operating out of four yards, and almost 100 employees.
Most of the Dusi trucks are customized long-hood Peterbilts. Michael has a certain style, so every new truck that comes in goes straight to John’s Truck Repair in Cotati, CA where brothers Jeff and Jason Davidson do what needs to be done before that truck will ever see a load. All of Michael’s trucks have some custom paint, extra lights, and plenty of chrome, but nothing too over-the-top. After all, they are real working trucks – not show trucks – well, except for this pink and white one, seen here.
After Michael’s Aunt Kathy died in 2005, he wanted to do something special – he just didn’t know what to do. After figuring it all out, he ordered a special truck and then had it delivered to John’s Truck Repair in November of 2012. While there, it underwent a three-month transformation. Ordered white with official Susan G. Komen® pink fenders, frame and roof cap, the truck was pretty plain and simple when it came in. Powered by a 455 hp PACCAR MX engine hooked to a 13-speed transmission, the lightweight truck sits on a modest 240-inch wheelbase.
Once the truck got to John’s Truck Repair, Jeff and Jason went to work. Much of the work involved powder-coating and painting many of the parts. The guys use the powder-coating as a color-matched primer, and then they sand it down a bit and paint over it. This not only gives the paint a suppler look, but it makes it a lot more durable, too. Plus, if a chip does occur, it isn’t very noticeable because the powder-coating underneath is basically the same color. For this job, the headlight buckets, battery box ends, urea tank ends, front fender brackets, fuel tank straps and bracket covers, and deck plates were coated and painted in pink, while the mirror brackets, air cleaner straps and lids, wiper arms and blades, and a custom shock cover behind the sleeper, were all coated and then painted white.
After much of the basic painting was done, a custom steel tail plate was added to the back and custom fender brackets were fabricated, then stainless steel full fenders were installed. They also added some extra cab lights with clear lenses, seven-inch Dynaflex exhaust, and skirts with small LEDs along the bottom of the cab. To accommodate the various trailers Michael pulls, two sets of air and electrical connections were installed – one is recessed into the deck plate and the other is recessed into the tail plate on the back of the truck. Also, to clean up the look, the air tank was hidden underneath the cab. While all of this was going on, Michael had West-Mark build a matching 6,500-gallon wine tanker. Painted with pink accents to match the tractor, the trailer also got extra lights and chrome, like all 40 of the West-Mark wine tankers in the Dusi fleet.
Wanting more than just a pink and white truck, Michael had Jason design a simulated “flame scheme” using the pink breast cancer awareness ribbons. After many designs were drawn, Michael finally picked the one they went with. Jason painted all of the basic ribbons, and then Eric Sedletzky added the drop shadows and details. Eric also paints the matching door logos on all of the Dusi trucks, using whatever colors are on the truck (they are all different), and this one was no exception – he used a few shades of pink and magenta. As a final touch, on all of the Peterbilt logos, even the ones inside, the red areas were painted pink. The boys delivered the truck to Michael in January of 2013. Proud of what they built and what it represents, Jeff said, “We want to thank Michael for allowing us to be a part of this special and personal project.”
After the truck was delivered to the Dusi yard, head mechanic Brian Coffey went to work on the interior. Carl at Rockwood Products was a big help, providing many custom pieces and ideas, including a Rosewood floor, steering wheel and shifter knob, as well as custom door panels, dash panels and ceiling panels, all painted white with a new “marbled” effect. Brian also added billet door sill plates, custom seat bases, a chrome shifter cover, aluminum foot pedals, and a custom billet center gauge cluster panel with pink accent grooves. This truck is definitely show-ready, the only problem is, Michael does not have the time or the desire to go to truck shows. So, much like his feelings and emotions toward his Aunt Kathy, Michael typically just keeps this truck locked up and hidden inside one of his warehouses.
Doing a lot of work in California around Paso Robles and Napa, as well as Grandview, Washington (just south of Yakima), the truck has made a few runs here and there, but, for the most part, it has not been used. Michael has so much going on, it is hard for him to focus on anything besides work. In addition to the trucking company, Michael also owns and operates a warehousing business, a brokerage company, a large-scale grape crushing operation, a fuel delivery outfit with seven trucks, and a property management company. He also helps his family with their 400-acre farming business, as well as his sister Janell with her winery and tasting room. And, to add to all that confusion, Michael has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), is a tad OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and a perfectionist. Needless to say, it is very easy for Michael to get caught up and/or distracted and lose his focus from time-to-time.
But, sometimes, these disorders can be a positive thing – if harnessed correctly. Being very particular and thorough about things can be an asset when trying to run six or seven different companies at once. The problem is Michael does not know how to turn it off. He has worked hard his entire life – nothing was given to him, even though everyone thinks so. Work is all Michael knows, and he has trouble slowing down to enjoy the fruits of his labor. That is where his longtime girlfriend Jill comes in – her mission in life is to help Michael enjoy his! Together for nine years, since Michael’s first marriage ended, the two have decided just to be best friends – no marriage required. We saw Michael’s OCD in full-swing during the photo shoot, as we had to tell him, repeatedly, to stop wiping the truck so we could take our pictures. A few times, he even made sure to wipe down the tires on the side of the truck that we weren’t even shooting!
Michael is the fourth generation in his family to live in the Paso Robles area, and his son, Dante, is the fifth. After immigrating to America in 1914 from Italy, Michael’s great grandparents, Sylvester and Caterina, settled in Paso Robles. Planting one of the first vineyards there, the couple introduced some of the first Zinfandels to California’s Central Coast. Being highly enterprising and working with their three sons, Guido, Dante and Benito, they not only farmed grapes, but they also owned several restaurants and bars. Admittedly, Michael says, they made a lot of money selling wine and alcohol during the period of Prohibition. Over time, Dante (Michael’s grandfather) and Benito took over their parents farming operation, while Guido took over the bars and restaurants. Guido died about ten years ago, but Michael still loves to hang out with his Aunt Ernie, Guido’s widow, who is now in her 80s.
As the torch was passed to the next generation, Michael’s dad, Don Dusi, who goes by his middle name, Mike, and his mom, Joni, got heavy into the farming side of things. When Michael was a kid, his parents leased and farmed on 9,000 acres and grew wheat, grain, peppers, safflower, sugar beets and more. Michael can remember faking being sick so he could stay home and ride with his dad on the tractor. By the time he was seven years old he was driving the tractor and working out in the fields. Trucks and farming go hand-in-hand, and Michael always loved the trucks. He remembers vividly the day his dad brought home his first truck – a rusty old 1971 Kenworth with a Cummins BC-III – which today, Michael owns and uses as a yard goat.
After high school, Michael studied Crop Science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but not wanting to be a farmer, he became a firefighter and a trucker instead. Working four days on and then four days off as a firefighter, Michael would go trucking on his days off, running their commodities down to Los Angeles almost every night in that old Kenworth. In 1996, Michael and his dad bought their first new truck together – a pretty fancy 1996 Peterbilt 379 short hood – but that partnership did not last very long. Wanting to truck full-time, Michael bought out his dad and formed his company, Michael Dusi Trucking, in September of 1996, with just that one truck. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Today, with a fleet of 75 trucks and over 150 trailers, Michael is very grateful for all of the amazing people he has working with him. Many of his employees have been around since almost the beginning, including Transportation Manager Steve Earl, who has been with the company since 1997, Operations Manager Bryce Hansen, who has been around since 1998, and Head Mechanic Brian Coffey, who has been there since 2006. There are also hosts of others in the office and warehouse, and, of course, a great bunch of veteran drivers. The latest addition to the company is Michael’s younger brother Matt (38), who left the banking industry to become Michael Dusi Trucking’s CFO and COO. Michael teases his “banker boy” brother a lot, but he is really doing a fantastic job of perfecting their operations and getting the company lean, mean and efficient, which has allowed Michael to get out and drive more often. Going out three or four times a week, Michael’s preferred truck of choice is #12 – a 2001 white and purple Peterbilt 379 with a 600-hp Cat C-16 under the hood.
The purpose of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into the cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. The purpose of this truck Michael built is to honor the memory of his favorite aunt in his own personal way. Once it starts getting used regularly, Michael wants to start donating a portion of the revenue generated by this truck to local breast cancer charities. But, for now, he just likes to sit and look at it, and remember all the things he loved about Aunt Kathy and all of the fun things they did together. Aunt Kathy loved to travel and she always lived life to the fullest – and to Michael, she was like a rock star! For more information about breast cancer or to find out how you can help, visit www.komen.org today. And remember, early detection and treatment is key to beating this killer disease, so get checked regularly.
Michael will eventually pass the torch to the next generation like all of his ancestors before him, but if his ten-year-old son Dante has any say in it, it will be sooner than later. This kid can already backup as good as or better than some of Michael’s veteran drivers, has a knack for loading equipment on trailers, and loves to tell the drivers exactly where (and how) to park at the end of each day. Dante sounds a lot like his father when he was ten years old!
In time, as Michael Dusi deals with his own emotions and memories of his beloved Aunt Kathy, this truck, which is presently just his personal and private tribute to her, will hopefully be removed from the confines of the warehouse where it can be inspirational and motivational for others out there who are fighting this disease or have lost loved ones to it. If “awareness” is the key, then this truck needs to be out on the highway, because it will definitely turn some heads – and maybe some hearts – and it just might even save a few lives. As “banker boy” might say – Michael, it’s time to go public!