I have a rule I go by when attending truck shows. Almost without fail, there is always a truck that stands out from the rest of the pack, and that’s typically the truck I’ll shoot for a feature. It is not always the one winning all of the trophies, but it is the one everyone is talking about and hanging around – it is something special.
Attending the PDI dyno competition and truck show late last year there were plenty of big rides, including some past feature trucks. But, the one that caught my eye was the one owned by Chris Jonsen of St. George, Utah. That truck is the 1972 Peterbilt 359A seen here.
Chris’ truck began its life hauling cheese for Great Lakes and then later ice cream for Blue Bunny. After that, it ran for several different operations hauling fruit, plastics and flowers. Eventually, the truck came to Chris in 2007 and it was in need of a rebuild. But, that rebuild began with a rocky start. Wanting the long and low look, Chris sent the truck out to have the aluminum frame rails extended three and a half feet. When the hack job was returned, the rails weren’t straight and one was a full inch longer than the other! After the frame fiasco was finally fixed, Chris went to work on the rest of the rig.
Having stripped the truck down to bare bones with help from his friend Brent Holmes of BT&T in St. George, Utah, Chris had Brian Van Houten paint the truck flat black with a gloss black frame and air cleaners, but something wasn’t right. Re-painting the fenders gloss black, the paint finally looked just right – and it is an impressive paint job. Flat black is extremely difficult to get to look “even” and it will show imperfections, but Brian Van Houten’s careful touch nailed the paint job. Featuring orange pinstriping and twin fireball logos on either side of the hood, the truck has a mean Von Dutch “junkyard special” feel to it (for those who don’t know, Von Dutch was a well-known pinstriper and cultural icon from the 1940s and 1950s).
Re-assembling the truck, Chris and Brent went to work replacing all of the rig’s incandescent bulbs with LEDs (just the bulbs – the lights still have the old look to them). After that, the exterior accessories were installed with mostly stock or understated components, like the factory visor. The “little window” 359s were great-looking trucks to begin with, having a “chopped” look after the taller cabs were introduced, so not much is needed to gets these trucks looking right.
Moving to the truck’s interior, Three 7’s in St. George handled the upholstery, Gibson’s Carpet in St. George donated and installed new carpeting, and Jones Paint and Glass cut all new windows for the truck. Much like the exterior, the interior still shows a lot of Peterbilt components, including the flat wood-grain dash and wood spoke steering wheel.
Finally, there is the engine – a Big Cam Cummins. But, it is no ordinary Big Cam. With a flowed pump and injectors, advanced timing and a number 5 button, this Big Cam is capable of turning 540 horses to the wheels, and that’s no small number to scoff at with the old mechanical engines. With a 15-speed overdrive transmission routed through 3.36 rear gears and ultra-low profile rubber (to complete that long and low look), the truck certainly still has the power and gearing to go to work – but it doesn’t.
Although Chris’ cool ride could work, it can breathe easy now, living the good life. Completely retired, the old 359 is now housed indoors as part of Art Goldstom’s private vehicle collection in Las Vegas, Nevada, coming out for special occasions only (like a truck show). After a long, hard working life, it’s time for this old truck to enjoy a warm retirement in Vegas. In fact, Chris’ truck now leads an easier life than he does!
Operating Far West Freighters based in St. George, Utah, with the help of his wife, Lori, daughter Stevie, niece Kylee, and family friend Hollie Greatwood, Chris works every day at his company. Primarily moving refrigerated freight for Great Lakes, Wells Dairy, Moroni Feed and Litehouse Salad Dressing, Far West Freighters is a reflection of Chris’ career. Born in 1952 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chris began driving in 1971. Much like his company, Chris has been involved in reefer freight for almost his entire career, with a little equipment hauling here and there, as well. They say you should do what you know, and Chris has taken that to heart.
Wanting to find the right location for the truck, Chris and I drove around St. George hunting for the perfect spot. Showing me the now-abandoned tunnel that was once the old road into St. George before the interstate was built, as well as a high desert plateau, we had our locations set. Shooting pictures all afternoon, the weather was perfect (as it often is in St. George) and the locations were spot-on for the rig. On the way back, I jumped in the bed of a pickup and got some cool rolling shots, too. The great thing about the old mechanical engines is that they will smoke when you stand on them, which makes for great action photographs!
Chris would like to thank Brent Holmes of BT&T for all of his help in building the truck. He would also like to thank Brian Van Houten for his flawless paint work, as well as Three 7’s and Gibson’s Carpet for their contributions to the rig’s interior. Special thanks also go out to Leon at VLV Truck Parts and Dan at Tuf Truck in St. George, as well – Chris is very thankful for the numerous parts they provided for the rebuild. Most of all, Chris would like to thank his wife Lori, as well as Stevie, Kylee and Hollie for all of their help and support running Far West Freighters. Last but not least, he wanted to thank all of his customers for their continued business.
Chris Jonsen’s “little window” Peterbilt 359 caught my eye – it was unique from front to back – and proved to be something special, even if it didn’t win a bunch of trophies (it got 3rd place in the Antique class). After a long working life, this 359A has earned a cushy retirement. Maybe, someday, Chris will get to enjoy the same sort of relaxed retirement that his truck now does. But, for now, there’s freight to haul, and, actually, that’s a pretty good thing.