It’s not often you hear that a company is celebrating 75 years in business – especially a trucking outfit. But, that’s exactly what Gwillim Trucking in Carlinville, IL is doing this month! Today, the company is run by Mickey Gwillim (49), grandson of Nelson Gwillim, who started the business in 1939. Under Mickey’s direction, the company has grown, but he does not want to be thought of as the guy at Gwillim Trucking – he just wants to be known as his son Tyler’s dad.
Being a dad is more important to Mickey than anything, and the bond he has with his son is amazing. At almost 16 years old, Tyler is already ate up with trucks, which makes perfect sense, because Mickey has not only surrounded his son with trucks his entire life, but most of them have been cool classics, as Mickey is known to be an old Peterbilt fanatic – especially 359s, like the one on our cover and featured here this month.
When Mickey’s grandpa Nelson formed the company in 1939, they were issued a short, three-digit carrier number, which they still have today. Back then, the company specialized in hauling rock and shelling corn. Grandpa’s first trucks were gasoline-powered International dump trucks, but he was known to buy just about anything. Over the years, in addition to the Internationals, he had all sorts of trucks including Freightliners, GMCs and Kenworths, but one thing was consistent – they were all Detroit-powered with straight pipes. To this day, Mickey loves the sound of a screaming Detroit!
In 1942, grandpa began hauling canned milk for a local dairy named Prairie Farms, which had just opened their doors in 1938. Today, Prairie Farms is a huge corporation, operating in 19 states, and they are still Gwillim Trucking’s main customer. When Prairie Farms first opened, Grandpa Nelson even spread the gravel in their first parking lot by hand (back then he did not have a dump bed so the gravel had to be scooped out of the truck with a shovel).
In 1945, Gwillim Trucking began running milk routes for Prairie Farms around Illinois. A few years later, the original owner of Prairie Farms, Fletcher Gourley, sat down with Grandpa Nelson and offered to make him their exclusive carrier in and out of all their facilities, but at 12 or 13 trucks, Nelson was happy with the size of his operation and politely turned him down. Grandpa Nelson passed away in 1994, and then Mickey’s grandma, Elizabeth, took over the company.
Mickey’s dad and uncle always had trucks leased to the company and helped out some, but when grandma got up to 16 trucks, she brought her grandson Mickey in to run things. At the time, Mickey had just gone through a divorce and ended up with full custody of his then seven-year-old son Tyler, so he needed to stop driving and get off the road. Mickey ran the company for a few years, and then he and his brother Scott bought their grandma out in 2007. Just a few months ago, Mickey bought his brother out and became the sole owner of Gwillim Trucking.
Now, living in the house his grandparents used to live in on the outskirts of town, Mickey loves being there because he has so many great memories. Growing up, after his parents divorced, he spent a lot of time at his grandparent’s house, which also used to be the office and truck yard. Mickey loved to sit in the trucks out in the yard, and eventually got brave enough to start one. Not long after that, he was moving them around the yard, dreaming of the open road. All he ever wanted to do was drive a truck, so after he graduated from high school, he went directly into the Navy to study diesel mechanics. Stationed on a battleship in California, Mickey got to see much of the world while in the Navy, but when he got home four years later, he jumped in a truck and started driving for his grandpa.
Always a hard worker, Mickey was known as “Mr. Clean” by most of the other drivers at the company because he was always dusting off his truck. Grandpa, seeing this dedication, bought him a special company truck to drive – a cool A-model Kenworth. Wanting to purchase a truck of his own, Mickey offered to buy the KW from his grandpa, but he refused to sell it, so Mickey went out and bought his own truck – a GMC General. After about two months, Mickey said “no thank you” to that mess of a truck and bought his first real truck – a 1981 Peterbilt 359. Mickey can remember his grandpa saying, “You’ll go broke if you buy a Peterbilt,” but he didn’t listen. That first 359 started a love-affair for Mickey with old Peterbilts that would never stop growing.
Over the years, Mickey has had all sorts of older trucks, including long- and short-hood 359s with various bunks, a 1968 needle-nose, a flattop 379, and his most-famous truck – a lime green 1986 Peterbilt 359 which he completely re-did, along with a matching reefer trailer, that was featured in many magazines and calendars. It was while driving this truck, back and forth to Texas for his grandma, when Mickey went through the divorce and had to get off the road, so he sold the trailer and parked the truck. Later, he sold the rig to a guy in Missouri, who still has it.
Gwillim Trucking’s current fleet consists of 28 trucks, including Freightliners, Internationals, Kenworths and Peterbilts, which includes five 359s he recently added to the fleet from his “hobby” collection. None of these 359s were built specifically to work, but most of Mickey’s trucks have always been reconditioned back to stock more than customized, so they were all capable of running every day. So, one day, he just decided it was time to add them to the fleet and start using them – including the awesome 359 on our cover this month and on these pages.
“Gold Digger” is a 1987 Peterbilt 359 with a 63-inch flattop, a 425 Cat 3406B, a 15-speed and 3:70 rears. Riding on Air-Leaf suspension, the truck, which has a 265-inch wheelbase, only had 570,000 original miles on it when Mickey bought it in 2009. After bringing it home, he tore it apart and went through everything. The drivetrain and original configuration stayed the same, but Mickey went through it all and replaced every bushing, mount, hose, fitting, seal and valve, and then rebuilt the entire suspension system, brakes and drivelines. The engine did not need a full rebuild, but he did freshen it up and replace all of the accessories under the hood before painting it.
Wanting the truck to look “proper” for its era, Mickey did not do anything extra to “Gold Digger” – he just refurbished everything and gave it fresh paint, in its original color. The air cleaners, headlights and a host of other items on the truck are still original – even the buckskin interior, upholstery and carpet were perfect. After cleaning everything up and replacing the seats, he added orange and brown old-school pin-striping throughout the interior and exterior, giving it that unmistakably-classic look. Except for the paint, which was done by Rick Conner at Rush Truck Center in Springfield, IL (he does all of Mickey’s paint), Mickey did all of the work himself. This truck is a perfect example of the best rig you could buy from the factory in 1987 – it is super stock, with just a few embellishments. Now in the fleet working every day with driver Brandon Wise at the wheel, this square rig is getting 6 mpg!
Some of the other Peterbilts Mickey owns that have not been put to work in the fleet or are still waiting to be rebuilt include a 1948, a 1949 bubble-nose, (2) 1962s, (3) 359s, and (2) 352 cabovers. Mickey is still searching for a factory Peterbilt 359 long-hood equipped with a Detroit 8V-92 and a set of sticks – a rare configuration he has had trouble finding out there.
The turquoise and charcoal gray 1978 Peterbilt 352 cabover featured in a few of the pictures in this article was recently refurbished by Mickey. The truck, equipped with a 400 Cat and a 15-speed, only had 376,000 original miles on it when Mickey bought it from its longtime owner, Dale Rhodes, who had it since 1984. After Mickey bought the truck, Dale got sick with cancer, so he never came to see it. But, strangely enough, while we were shooting pictures of it just down the street from Mickey’s house at an abandoned drive-in movie theater, Dale came by with his wife to look at what Mickey had done. Mr. Rhodes passed away about a month later, but we got a picture of him, with Mickey, in front of his old cabover. It was a pretty touching moment, and Mickey made sure to print and frame the picture so it could be displayed at Dale’s funeral.
As Tyler approaches the age of 18, it has always been Mickey’s dream for the two of them to run around Illinois together, in matching 359s, for an entire year. With that plan in mind, Mickey just bought Tyler a 1984 long-hood 359. The two of them are now going to give the truck new rails, a Low-Air suspension, and a 36-inch Double Eagle sleeper. Once the truck has been refurbished and Tyler decides on a color, the truck will be painted. Then, Mickey will build a matching 359 (except with a larger Double Eagle sleeper) and the two will be ready to go!
Being a Peterbilt fanatic, Mickey has more Peterbilt memorabilia than Peterbilt themselves! The living room in his house was called the “truck room” up until last month when he moved it all into the offices at the company headquarters. Now, he has a “normal” living room, but when we were there it was filled from the floor to the ceiling with truck pictures, toys, die cast trucks, collectibles, brochures, souvenirs, posters, old magazines, calendars, rare emblems, signs, and even a trucking-themed pinball machine! Mickey says his house feels a whole lot bigger now since moving out all of that clutter.
Back in 2008, Mickey decided to host a non-judged, non-political, just-for-fun truck show called “The World of Largecars” in his hometown of Carlinville. The first couple years he rented the local fairgrounds for the event, but that got expensive, so for the past three years he has had the show in his own back yard. And with seven beautifully-groomed, grass-covered acres, the location is perfect! This show has rapidly become known as the Peterbilt 359 show, due to the large amount of old Peterbilts that come every year. Last year, the two-day event had 60 trucks, and half of them were cool old Peterbilts, including 19 amazing 359s. The show is usually held in the middle of July, but stay tuned to 10-4 Magazine for dates and details as the event gets closer.
For some of you who have known Mickey for a long time but not seen him for a while, you might be surprised – there is a lot less of him to see now! In September of 2012, Mickey woke up one day feeling terrible, as usual, and decided it was time to make a change. After years of eating the wrong things at the wrong time, he consulted a fitness trainer friend, Karen, who put him on a lean protein and low carbohydrate diet, and then helped him to start working out. Since then, Mickey has become a lean, mean, healthy machine, and shrunk himself down from 350 pounds and a 50-inch waist to just 220 pounds and a 34-inch waist. For years, doctors had been prescribing Mickey with a multitude of meds to deal with his weight-related problems, but now he is off of them all and looks and feels great. Mickey’s story is very inspiring, and he loves to share fitness tips with anyone who asks.
Another big change Mickey recently made was getting engaged to the longtime love of his life, Carrie. The two had a brief but fantastic relationship during Mickey’s senior year in high school, but when he left for the Navy, they both went their separate ways. Reunited just a few years ago, Mickey proposed exactly 30 years to the date from that last night they spent together before he shipped out for the Navy. The two of them have chosen a date – November 13 – in honor of his grandparent’s (on his mother’s side) wedding anniversary, but they have not decided on a year, yet. These grandparents were a big influence on Mickey when he was growing up, and this grandpa was the one that introduced Mickey to “The Man in the Glass” poem (see photo), which became his motto in life.
Running all over the Midwest, Mickey’s trucks keep very busy, but whenever Prairie Farms asks him to step up and do a little more, he does, because he wants to continue growing with them! Mickey wanted to thank his grandparents on both sides for helping him to become a good man and father, his fiancée Carrie and son Tyler for their unending support and encouragement, and all of his great drivers, because without them, there is no Gwillim Trucking.
Looking ahead at marrying Carrie, going trucking with Tyler, and continuing to live a healthy lifestyle, the future looks bright and exciting for Mickey. And this year, as his company celebrates a major milestone, Mickey is looking to keep his priorities straight and everything in perspective. Life is not about big business or cool trucks, it’s about friends and family, and for Mickey Gwillim, nothing brings him greater pride or satisfaction than being Tyler Gwillim’s dad – a humble but noble purpose, for a humble and noble man!