Some trucks are so cool you snap your head to look at them as they pass – then, there are the ones that are so amazing you actually do a double-take! Austin Ashley of Ashley Transport in Raleigh, Mississippi had just that in mind when he built his “Double Take” – an awesome head-turning rig. And with its bright colors and shining stainless, not to mention all the chicken lights at night, this truck from down south gets its share of attention – and then some.
Born and raised in the family business, which included farming and trucking, Austin’s story begins before he was even born. Mike Ashley, Austin’s dad, grew up on the family farm in Raleigh. Growing row crops like soy beans and corn, they also grew those famous Smith County Watermelons. In 1978, wanting to start hauling their own crops to the markets, Mike bought his first truck – a 1972 R-Model Mack. Later that same year, he bought his next one – a 1976 Freightliner cabover. In 1979 he purchased his first new truck – a Chevy C70 gas burner.
Mike went to the bank to get a loan for his new Chevy C70 but since he was young (and poor) the banker charged him an enormous interest rate on the loan. Vowing to prove this banker wrong, Mike worked his butt off in that Chevy and paid it off in three short months! When he went into the bank to pay off the loan, he said, “I’ll never do business with you again” – and he didn’t. Over the years, his business has grown tremendously and he has bought and sold many trucks, but Mike kept his word and never went back to that bank again. There is a lesson to be learned there: never underestimate someone or take advantage of them when they are down.
Around 1980, Mike started hauling “short wood” and logs. He did this for five years and then, in 1985, he and his cousin Terry Ashley went into business together and formed Ashley Farms. Growing watermelons and hauling grain and feed ingredients in hopper trailers, Ashley Farms grew from just two trucks to twelve in a few short years, running all over the southern states and Texas. In 1987 they bought their first Peterbilt – in fact, they bought two brand new 379s. Then, in 1989, they bought a local wood chip hauler’s business, and with it came 20 trucks and trailers – this was also the year that Ashley Transport was established. In 1992 they stopped hauling the feed and sold all of their hopper trailers, and in 2000 they quit growing the row crops altogether. Since then, they have focused solely on the wood chips, which is still their primary business.
Today, with about 30 trucks, the company not only hauls various wood chip products, but they also buy and sell them, too. In 2010 they purchased their first wood grinder, and now they have a few mobile wood grinding trailers. Equipped with 1,000-hp Cat engines, these huge grinders can pulverize a giant tree stump in a matter of seconds. Grinding storm debris and landfill waste, as well as doing mill clean-up work, this venture has created many new opportunities, including land clearing and ground preparation for various types of construction projects.
Growing up in the family business, Austin was always around the trucks. When he was little, his dad used to bring him home trinkets from the road (mostly key chains and such from the truck stops) until he got old enough to go out on the road with him. Austin also loved to drive their tractors out in the fields with his dad. When he got older, he started helping out in the shop with the trucks. After graduating from high school in 2004, he went to the local junior college to study business, and continued to work part-time in the shop. After a few years, he transferred to William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing Management in 2009.
Shortly before Austin finished his degree at the university, Terry Ashley decided to retire, so Mike bought his cousin out in 2008. At that point, Austin started spending even more time at the office, trying to help his dad, but he was also still going to school (that was a tough year for Austin). Since graduating in 2009, Austin (now 27) has taken his place at the company and now works there full-time. He and his dad run the whole show with only one secretary to help them – and that “show” includes not only the massive wood chip hauling operation and the growing wood grinding business, but they also manage a few road construction crews, two logging companies, and a cattle farm.
Running their trucks primarily around the state of Mississippi, their current fleet consists of about 25 Peterbilts (379s and 389s) and five Kenworths. In addition to the many wood chip trailers, they also have several other types of trailers, which allow them to haul just about anything at any time. Austin likes the company to be diverse, and it is yet another way to keep their customers satisfied, no matter what their needs. Mike and Austin consider all of their drivers to be part of the family and work hard to keep them happy. And although they expect a lot out of their drivers, they also treat them very well, too.
Since most of their trucks run local, most of them are daycabs. Austin’s first truck was a used 2007 Peterbilt 379 daycab with a Cummins engine and a 13-speed. Painted orange with a black roof and black fenders, Austin added some extra lights, a visor, and a nice set of stacks. It was the first “nice” truck in the fleet, and it really turned heads. With that in mind, Austin began offering incentives to the drivers – the better they performed, the more “goodies” they got for their trucks. The plan worked great – the drivers were happy because they got to drive cooler-looking rigs, and the company image improved because the fleet, as a whole, got a lot nicer.
Austin, who hopes to one day take the reins, has always had a slightly different vision for the company’s future than his dad. Mike is old school – he has always believed that since a truck covered in chrome earns the same as a plain one, there is no need to spend all that extra time and money on it. Austin, on the other hand, sees the value of spending that extra time and money on a truck if it improves the company’s image and gets it noticed more, which, hopefully, equates to more work. Wanting to utilize that business marketing degree he earned in college, Austin wants their company to not only be well-known, but to have a spotless reputation, as well. To accomplish these goals, their trucks need to look nice and their drivers need to always be professional.
Wanting to get the ball rolling with a really nice truck in the fleet, Austin decided to build a show-quality rig to help get their outfit noticed. Mike was skeptical at first, but as the project progressed, he slowly came around. Deciding to build a sleeper truck, Austin bought a 2007 Peterbilt 379 from a local trucker. At the time of purchase, the rig was three years old with only 150,000 miles on it. And with a factory 285-inch wheelbase, a 63-inch flattop sleeper, a 475 Cat and a 10-speed transmission (the big one), it was everything Austin had ever wanted. Painted cream with solid purple fenders and a purple frame, the truck looked good from a distance, but up close it was rough, so Austin went to work.
To get the build started off right, the truck got a fresh paint job featuring a highly-metallic Pavo Purple and Blizzard Pearl White. Done by Austin’s friend Chris Slade, they painted it right there in the shop. Once the “Double Take” name and theme was determined, everything that could be “doubled” was, including the straps, stripes and lights. Stainless cab and sleeper extensions were added with two rows of Trux LEDs, a new grille and extra grille bars (painted purple) were installed, as was a drop visor and 8-inch pipes from Dynaflex. Eleven clear-lens LED lights were installed on the roof, the air cleaner screens were chopped, fiberglass WTI fenders were added, and a custom bumper was mounted. The truck was covered with LED lights, engraved billet emblems and step plates, and then a custom rear light bar, built by Austin in their shop, was attached.
While getting the truck ready to make its debut at the truck show in Dallas in 2012, Austin received his pre-registration form and noticed the engine category. He had not even considered doing anything to the engine, but knowing that they would be looking at it now, he decided to pull the motor and paint it white with purple accents to match the rest of the truck. Wanting a little more power under the hood, he turned-up his 475 Cat to about 700 horsepower. He also did a little work to the stock interior, but nothing major – he painted the dash panels purple and installed laminated flooring. Austin was truly blown-away when his Peterbilt was awarded Best of Show in the Working Bobtail class in Dallas.
After his big win in Texas, it was decided that Austin’s next show would be the one at the 75 Chrome Shop in Wildwood, Florida. To prepare for that show he repainted his fenders (again), installed a flip bumper kit from 12 Ga. Customs, and added an air-ride system to the front end, also from 12 Ga. Rewarded for his efforts, Austin and his truck got the Best of Show trophy again. By winning these awards, Austin’s truck was now qualified to compete for the national title in Dallas later that year, so he went all out – again!
Preparing for the 2013 Dallas show and the chance to be crowned national champion, in addition to making more embellishments to the exterior, Austin decided to completely re-do his interior, too. Going all-out, he built an aluminum floor and painted it to match the exterior, and then he smoothed-out his textured dash and painted it purple. All of the dash panels were painted white, and then the door panels, seats and headliner were reupholstered with white leather and purple ostrich skin. Everything inside the truck matches the paint scheme of the exterior exactly – even the door jambs were painted with the stripes.
Many new refinements were made to the exterior, as well. The truck got a new Dynaflex exhaust system, which is chrome from the turbo to the tips, the fenders were repainted with new stripes (again), and the 12 Ga. mirror brackets were painted purple. Chrome windshield trim was added, as well as custom-made and painted mud flaps with custom purple Peterbilt emblems. More detail was done under the hood, and the entire truck was sanded and clear-coated several times for a mirror-smooth finish. More LED lights were added, including purple lights underneath. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, Austin and his truck did not win the national title, but he did, however, win the coveted People’s Choice award, which in our opinion is even better.
Although he typically shows the truck as a bobtail, Austin also built an amazing chip trailer to pull behind it. Painted white with purple side braces and frame rails, the 45-foot ITI trailer also has a stainless front and back, 150 lights, over 1,800 chrome nut covers, and a custom back-lit (purple) light box with the Ashley Transport logo laser-cut on the front. At night, this combination lights-up like a Christmas tree on steroids!
Austin had a lot of help building this truck, and he wanted to thank a few people for their support. A big “thank you” goes out to Kevin Barrett and Aaron Lindsey from Southern States Utility in Jackson, MS – not only did they help Austin get many of the parts for his truck and trailer, but they also help him clean it and take it to the shows, too. Austin also wanted to thank his fiancée Megan, who has been alongside him during this entire process (they are getting married in October), as well as her parents, Alton and Laura Folkes, for all of their help. But, mostly, he wanted to thank his mom and dad, Tammy and Mike. Austin’s dad was skeptical at first, but now he loves the truck and has become one of Austin’s biggest truck show supporters.
At only 55 years old, Austin’s dad Mike is not planning to retire any time soon – in fact, he is still the first one at the office every morning and the last one to leave. Mike will work hard until the day he dies, and he is fine with that. Not just the son of the owner who has had everything handed to him on a silver platter, Austin is an integral part of the company. From running the office, to hauling loads, to fixing and rebuilding the trucks, his dad made sure that Austin was properly trained to do it all, because one day, he will probably run the entire operation himself.
Wanting to set Ashley Transport apart from the rest, Mike and Austin Ashley, together, have built a solid and diverse business that is poised to see continued success for years to come. And with a head-turning, award-winning truck like “Double Take” leading the charge, it will be hard to ignore this company as they drive their way to the top. So, if you find yourself driving through Mississippi and catch yourself doing a double-take at a shiny purple Peterbilt, give young Austin Ashley a nod and a thumbs-up to let him know that his flashy rig is doing exactly what it was created to do – be noticed!