There’s something special about a truck that was built by its owner. Shop-builds can be amazing, but it is a lot easier to pay someone for their skills and ideas than to do it all yourself. This month, our cover truck was conceived and built almost entirely by its owners – Kenneth (37) and Barb Fisher of Muscoda, Wisconsin – and it was all done on a budget (no deep pockets here). Ken and Barb are just your typical hard-working owner operators, leased to Mercer, but they drive an extraordinary rig. And for that, they have earned not only several awards and accolades, but also this cover feature!
Born and raised in Maryland, Kenneth’s parents divorced when he was very young. When he was around eight years old, he started going out on the road, when he could, with his sister’s dad, Anthony, who drove a truck. Anthony pulled dry vans and containers to Ohio, and Ken loved going out with him – this is where his love for trucks first began. On a trip without Ken aboard (thankfully), Anthony had a major heart attack and died suddenly at a truck stop – he was just 27 years old. About that same time, at the age of 16, Kenneth dropped out of high school and went to work with his real father, Elmer, who was the superintendent of a traveling carnival. Ken’s dad had done this for most of his life, so Ken figured he would just quit school and join him.
Working at the carnival, which traveled around Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, at 16 years old Ken became the ride foreman for the largest ride at the carnival – the Tilt-A-Whirl. It was his job to set-up the ride, tear it down and, sometimes, move it. This is when he started learning how to drive trucks. When he turned 21 he left the carnival, got his CDL and then went trucking – and he never looked back. His first trucking job had him driving a 1985 Freightliner, hauling containers out of the port in Maryland, and then he began hauling clothing for Saks Fifth Avenue. After that, he switched over to an outfit called L & W Transportation in 1999 and started hauling appliances to various stores and job sites. While at L & W, Ken met his future wife, Barb.
L & W Transportation began in Barb’s home state of Illinois. Her father, Walter Unzicker, started the company in 1966, and it eventually grew to 70 trucks. One of their big customers, General Electric, opened a facility in Maryland, and L & W got the opportunity to get a lot of that business, so Walter moved the operation to Maryland. Barb worked in the office, and once Ken started driving for the company and the two met, it wasn’t long until they were together – and about a year later, they got married.
At the end of 1999, Kenneth and Barb bought their first truck – a 1993 Freightliner FLD. Nine months later they bought a second one – a 1997 Freightliner Classic XL. Nine months after that, they purchased the truck you see on our cover and centerfold (and on these pages) this month – a 1997 Peterbilt 379. At that time, the truck was a bone-stock mocha pearl-colored Peterbilt with a 270-inch wheelbase, but it was loaded with all of the options you could get at the time. It had about 450,000 miles on it when they bought it. For a while, all three of their trucks were running for L & W, but eventually they sold off the two Freightliners to the guys who were driving them and just kept the Peterbilt. And, 13 years later, they are still running that Pete, which now has about 1.8 million miles on the odometer! But it ain’t no bone-stock truck anymore.
In 2007 Barb’s dad Walter died and L & W Transportation was closed. At that time, Ken and Barb started a new company with Barb’s brother, Tony, called A & K Transport. Originally hauling haz-mat loads in dump buckets, they eventually moved on to flatbed work, but after just about a year, Ken got tired of dealing with brokers and all the other headaches that came with owning their own company and decided to lease on with Mercer Transportation of Louisville, KY. Six years later they are still with Mercer – and they love it. Hauling flatbed freight all over the lower 48 states (except for California, now), they run when and where they want – Mercer does not force them to do anything. Looking to start fresh in every aspect of their lives, the couple also decided to leave Maryland and move to Wisconsin, where Barb’s mom Lanora now lived. Relocating to Wisconsin was a good move for the Fishers – they still live there today.
Over the years, Ken’s Peterbilt has went through several transformations. At some point the frame was stretched to 312-inches, deck plates were added, air-ride was installed to the front suspension, extra lights and light panels were added, and the stock headlights were switched out with single rounds on Double JJ brackets. The truck also got WTI fiberglass rear full fenders, big pipes and custom front fenders. Throughout its lifetime, various bumpers have graced the rig’s front end. Always one to love flames, the truck was covered with simple, dark green vinyl flames. Surprisingly, many of these accessories, some of which were added to the truck over a decade ago, are still on it today (like the rear fenders, the visor, and the headlights).
In 2011, while sitting at a truck stop in Fresno, California, a truck hit Ken and Barb’s Peterbilt and wrecked the hood. After limping it home and then settling the insurance claim, Ken and Barb took their truck to Fleet Paint & Body Repair in Onalaska, WI where it got a new Jones Performance hood. While there, since they were going to re-spray the paint anyway, they had the air horns removed from the roof, added Fibertech cab and sleeper extensions, and prepped the tanks for paint, too. Originally, it was just going to get new mocha pearl paint with dark green stripes, but the owner’s son, Bobby, wanted to add “real fire” flames to the truck. Ken and Barb weren’t sure if they would like it, but Bobby made them an offer they couldn’t refuse, so they let him add the lime green fire into the dark green stripes. Kenneth and Barb liked the flames so much, they have since added more of them to several other parts on the truck.
In addition to everything else that has been done to this truck over the years, it also has custom mirror brackets from the Victory Lane Chrome Shop in Westminster, MD; a custom shock box from Valley Chrome; window “chops” from RoadWorks; an oval-punched grille from Big Rig Chrome Shop in Oshkosh, WI; stainless steel step boxes from Elizabeth Truck Center in Elizabeth, NJ (they are almost ten years old); a polished aluminum 5th wheel and painted visor; nine bullet cab lights; and a flip-up bumper kit. Amazingly enough, this award-winning truck still sports its original factory aluminum wheels. All of these modifications have been done over the 13 years that Ken and Barb have owned this truck. Always a work-in-progress and always evolving, Ken and Barb don’t want people to get bored with their rig, so they try to change things as often as possible, when they can, to keep it fresh and new.
The trailer they pull is no slouch, either. The 2007 aluminum East flatbed has a polished frame that has been completely boxed in, (32) 4-inch round LEDs underneath, and polished boxes between the spread axles. Panels were made by G & J Customs to cover the suspension, and 24 penny-sized LEDs were mounted on each side. Everything under the deck is painted or polished, including the winches and landing gear. Together, this truck and trailer is an unbeatable combination. It’s a good thing that Ken doesn’t have any hobbies, because keeping their rig looking this good is a never-ending job!
Ken and Barb have participated in many truck shows over the years, but after their truck was rebuilt and repainted, they hit the circuit hard the following year, going to nine events across the country. Once they got into it, the couple realized that if they did not do something to their interior and engine they would never win a “Best of Show” award. With that in mind, they went to work on the interior, adding a painted-to-match aluminum floor and aluminum door panels, also painted to match the exterior. The interior also features a billet steering wheel, a chrome steering column, a chrome shifter and custom knob, tan leather seats, painted armrests and dash panels, and as many chrome gauges as they could fit.
The last few pieces of the puzzle were placed while recently preparing the truck for a Pride & Polish event in La Crosse, WI. That show was an official stop of the Pride & Polish National Championship Series and Ken and Barb really wanted to win “Best of Show” there and qualify to compete for the National title in Dallas a few months later. So, they tore the truck apart and cleaned and/or re-painted everything, including the engine and transmission, adding the real fire flames to a few places under the hood, as well. They also removed and rebuilt the entire 63-inch stand-up sleeper, replacing all the soft materials on the walls and ceiling with painted aluminum panels – they even had the lime green fire painted on the ceiling and then added an air-brushed Peterbilt logo on the back wall. Now, the sleeper looked just as good as the cab, and Ken was no longer embarrassed to open the hood.
With all of the pieces finally in place, they qualified to compete for the national title in Dallas, but, sadly, came up short against some tough competition. But, they have still accomplished a lot with their hard-working show truck, including a spot in the 2014 Shell SuperRigs calendar, a recent Best of Show in the Working Combo class at the Top Gun Largecar Shootout in Rantoul, IL, and a bevy of 1st, 2nd and 3rd place trophies, in various classes, at shows across the country (and, of course, a cover feature in 10-4, as well). Truck shows are a labor of love for the Fishers, and they do almost all of the prep work and cleaning themselves. Kenneth polishes all of his own wheels, and Barb is his grease monkey (she does all of the cleaning underneath). There are not many truck washes out there that Kenny trusts, so he usually does all of his own washing at home – and he is just fine with that.
Proud of their accomplishments, Kenneth and Barb can honestly say that their truck is home-grown. If they bought an accessory, they installed it. Whenever the truck has been in the shop getting worked on, Kenny is there every day helping out – he has been an integral part of everything done to the rig. And they don’t do things “fancy” – the truck was actually painted outside! Speaking about their rig, Kenneth said, “We did this on our own – it came out of our heads and our pockets.” And, on top of all that, this truck is not a part-time driver – Kenny and Barb are out there every day earning their living, like they have for the past 13 years, in this truck which can still stand tall with the best of them.
Kenneth and Barb wanted to thank all of the people who have helped them get to this point, as well as a few sponsors. Thanks go out to Tom & Bobby Debauche at Fleet Paint & Body Repair in Onalaska, WI for all their help, especially with the paint; Lincoln Chrome for providing the 8-inch pipes and chrome stainless steel bumper; G & J Customs in Gotham, WI for stretching the frame, air-bagging the front end, building several of the extra body panels and fabricating the deck plate; Lifetime Nut Covers for providing the chrome hubs, all the gauge and light bezels, and the nut covers (of course); PDI in St. George, UT for providing the ceramic-coated manifold and the Big Boss turbo (which has helped Ken and Barb to pump up their 3406E Cat to 750-800 hp); and all of their family and friends who have helped them out tremendously along the way.
We would like to thank Barb’s grandma for providing the location for our photo shoot. Spending the day on her quiet farm in Roanoke, IL was a real treat. At 91 years old, she still cuts her own grass and got everything ship-shape for us before we got there – she even baked us some fresh chocolate chip cookies to munch on while we worked. It is hard to believe, but Barb’s grandmother has only lived in two houses her entire life – the place we were at and the place right next door! Seen in the background of the centerfold picture is the “corn crib” on grandma’s farm. It hasn’t been used for decades, but it sure was a nice back-drop. Thanks, grandma.
Although Kenny has always done all the driving, Barb does everything else. Handling all of the paperwork, Barb sets up appointments, gets directions, calls customers, answers the phone, and does whatever is needed to get the job done while Ken focuses on one thing – driving the truck from “Point A” to “Point B” in the quickest and safest way possible. After all these years of sitting in the jump seat, Barb recently got her CDL, but she has not yet been cleared by Mercer to drive, so for now, she will just have to stay in the passenger seat. Ken and Barb would like to extend a very special “thank you” to everyone at Mercer Transportation – they really enjoy working with this company.
Happy to have just one truck, Ken and Barb have no plans to ever add another one or replace the one they have. The truck is pretty close to being “finished” (if there is such a thing), but there are a few more things that they would like to do to the trailer. But there is no rush. When building a home-grown workhorse like this, you do what you can, when you can – and since Kenneth and Barb Fisher are still young, they have plenty of time to perfect their wonderful example of a working show truck. There are a lot of trucks out there that work hard and a lot that win shows, but few can honestly do both.