Bob Harley is a proud workaholic. Born and bred to work hard at an early age, Bob has never wavered. Unfortunately, he believes that everyone else should be working as hard as he does, and when they don’t, well, let’s just say he’s been accused of having a bad attitude, which is where the name for his latest “fun” truck – the rare 1972 small window, needle-nose Peterbilt 358A with a tilt hood seen here – got its name. But, being a workaholic is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it brings you early success, like in Bob’s case, which has afforded him the opportunity to not only build this amazing rig, but also have some time to enjoy it.
Born in Lodi, Ohio, Bob Harley (50) grew up in a family that was heavily involved in the business of drilling wells – both oil and water. Bob’s grandfather, Ralph Harley, formed Harley Drilling in 1960, which would later be taken over by Bob’s father, Don, after Bob’s grandfather passed away. Today, the business, which is still in operation, is ran by Bob’s brothers, Steve and Tim Harley. At a very early age, Bob learned how to operate the drilling rig, and he would go out with his grandpa whenever he could. Bob has always loved to work, which often frustrated his parents, because he never wanted to stop – he would drive their tractor, plowing a field, all night if they let him. It was also pretty common for Bob to get up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and go plow a field before going to school – not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
Graduating from high school in 1982, Bob attended college for just one semester and then decided he didn’t like it and left. After that, he went to work full-time in the family business for a few years, drilling wells, and then, in 1986, decided that he wanted to do something on his own and bought a truck – a 1980 Ford vacuum tanker truck with a 300 Cummins – and began hauling water in and out of the oil fields under the name RDH Water Services. Over the next five years, he built his company up to 10 trucks, also adding some dozers, as well, and branching out into some oil field reclamation work (he would go in and clean up the drilling sites after the work there was completed). He also started moving drilling rigs and all of their support equipment from site to site on lowboys.
Being the workaholic Bob is, he rarely ever slept while building this business, and if he did, it was across the seats of his daycab truck on a carpet-covered board he made. Back then, he was happy if he got two hours of sleep, because he was always on-call, and he always wanted to be ready to go at a moment’s notice if a drilling site needed water. In those days, he thought it was fun to see how long he could work without sleep! To be even more productive (and more profitable), Bob designed and built a custom tanker trailer to pull behind his vacuum truck so that he could haul twice as much. Later, he got into hauling pipe, which was the beginning of his over-the-road trucking operation.
Tired of driving in the mud, Bob sold his water-hauling division in 1992 and began focusing on road trucking, operating under his new name, RDH, Inc. Over the next ten years or so, Bob built this new operation up to 35 long-hood Peterbilts which pulled vans, reefers, lowboys and flatbeds. Unfortunately, a divorce from his first wife forced Bob to sell off just about everything and start over – again. Keeping one daycab truck and one dozer, as well as a lowboy trailer to haul it on, Bob went back to doing oil field reclamation work in 2003, but on a much smaller scale, under another new name – RD Excavating & Trucking, Inc.
Not long after forming his new company, Bob started getting calls from his former lowboy customers, wanting him to do some hauling for them, so he started building his fleet back up out of necessity. He swore he would not go over five trucks this time, but today his outfit operates 17 trucks and 30 trailers. Running in all 48 states, but mostly in the east and Midwest, Bob now does a lot of work for the power companies, hauling their heavy and oversized equipment, especially after a disaster. Although Bob spends most of his time taking care of things in the office these days, he still tries to get out and do a local run whenever possible. And, when working at a major disaster site (like after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012), he may be gone for weeks at a time, supervising the operation.
Always a fan of needle-nose Peterbilts, Bob purchased the 1972 358A seen on our cover and centerfold this month (and these pages) about 20 years ago. The truck, which at the time was copper-colored with a 36-inch “coffin” sleeper, a Big Cam III Cummins, a 6+4 transmission setup, and a 260-inch wheelbase, was driveable, but it needed a lot of work. Bob drove the truck like that for about five years and then gave it a facelift, swapping the small sleeper with a 63-incher, as well as the old Cummins engine with a 3406-A Cat. Just to be different, he changed out the 6-speed transmission with a 13-speed, making it a 13+4 (still a true 2-stick setup). Cosmetically, they painted the truck purple, installed an 8-inch Dynaflex exhaust (one of the first eight-inch kits Dynaflex ever manufactured), and then added a 24-inch stainless steel bumper. Bob regularly drove the truck like this for years, until he finally retired it and parked it in a corner of his shop, where it sat for a few years and collected dust.
In the summer of 2012, one of Bob’s trucks was involved in a wreck, and the only unit with a wet kit that was available to rescue the 14-foot-wide load it was hauling was the old needle-nose. Bob sent a driver out in the truck and, while pulling the oversized load to its final destination, blew a steer tire on the driver’s side. Doing everything he could to save the truck, the driver kept it on the road and out of a ditch, but the fender and hood of the truck were ruined – it looked like a bomb went off under the hood! After sulking for a while, Bob tried to find a local place to get it fixed, but could not find anyone who had parts for this rare truck. After his friends, Bill and Holly Long, suggested that 4 State Trucks could handle the job, Bob decided to take it to their shop in Joplin, MO for a full rebuild.
Giving Bryan Martin and his crew at 4 State Trucks some general direction as to what he wanted, Bob also gave the “boyz” a little creative freedom, too. Tearing it down to the bare steel frame rails and then stretching it to 300-inches, the entire chassis was sand-blasted and then painted black. Once they got into the project, they found a lot of structural issues (cracks) in the cab and sleeper, which prompted a lot more metal work – especially since they were going to mate the sleeper to the cab and add air-ride (make it a Unibilt). Being Bob’s “baby” he spared no expense, telling them to “do what it takes” to make the truck right.
After a year and a half of work, the truck was completely rebuilt. While at 4 State Trucks, Lil’ Joe supervised the entire project, which included a lot of work by Johnny Long (painter), as well as Cody and the fabrication team, and a host of others. To transform the truck, the hood was rebuilt with new panels, the front fenders were replaced with Jones fiberglass fenders, WTI fiberglass single-hump fenders were added over the drives, and the sleeper was re-skinned. After installing a newer Pete Low Air-Leaf suspension, the needle-nose got all new wheels and tires, new 150-gallon painted fuel tanks with aircraft-style smooth filler necks, new painted battery boxes, eleven LED cab lights, and a bunch of custom filler panels, including an “I-panel” between the fuel tanks, cab and sleeper extensions, and a panel in front of the rear axles to hide the fender brackets. Now, it was time to add the bling.
Painting the entire truck Purple Effect and then adding a 4-inch-wide marbleized Charcoal stripe with a white outline really gave the rig a unique look. Not being a fan of purple, Lil’ Joe tried to discourage Bob from painting it that color, but once he saw the final product, he was a believer – he loved it! To finish off the truck’s exterior, they added Truck-Lite LED headlights on painted Double JJ brackets, a 24-inch Valley Chrome bumper, a painted visor, a louvered grill, new 8-inch Dynaflex pipes with Pickett elbows, and a smooth, flush-mounted, painted deck plate. The folks at Thunder Grafix in Joplin, MO did all of the lettering and some of the truck’s custom graphics (everything that wasn’t painted).
Moving inside the truck, the interior is as stunning (if not more so) than the exterior. Featuring a painted aluminum floor with custom airbrushed graphics, a painted dash with chrome gauges, new seats with Bob’s logo embroidered into them, as well as the back wall of the sleeper, a “retro” steering wheel, and custom door and headliner panels, this truck will earn a few “Best Interior” awards, for sure. All of the custom upholstery was done by Portage Trim in Ravenna, OH, and then shipped to 4 State to be installed. The marbleized Charcoal color was used inside, as well, showing up on the doors and dash panels. Black shag carpet on the floor in the sleeper provided the final “retro” touch.
Picking the truck up and taking it home in July of 2014, Bob kept it under wraps until the Joplin truck show at the end of September, where it made its official debut. Winning “Best Bobtail” at that event was an amazing feat – and it was not chosen by the folks at 4 State, it was entirely voted on by the people at the show – and there were some fantastic rigs there! After that, Bob took it to the annual invite-only event at the Peterbilt plant in Denton, TX where it was a crowd favorite. The following month, Bob took the needle-nose all the way out to California for the Peterbilt-only show held in Stockton, where it took 4th place. Again, there were hundreds of amazing old rigs in his class, so 4th place was an impressive accomplishment. On the way home from that show, Bob dropped the truck off at Dickerson Custom Trucks in Indiana for a few more “final” touches. Stay tuned.
Shortly after his divorce, Bob met Linda on a motorcycle poker run and, although he said that he would never get married again, he did – the two were married in 2002. Turns out, she grew up in the house right across the street from Bob’s grandparents, but he had never met her. Linda runs a storage facility that she took over after her dad died. The couple has no kids together, but each have two kids from their previous marriages. Bob’s daughter, Tiffany (26), is studying to be a teacher and works in the office three days a week, while his son, Reed (23), is now second in command at Bob’s company. Reed works mostly in the office, but he can do everything. Since Reed joined the company, Bob has been able to start taking some time off and slowing down a bit to enjoy life more. Linda has a 22-year-old son named Tyler, and a 20-year-old daughter named Kendall, who is attending Kent State University. Bob also has a granddaughter named Kinsley (4) who just loves hanging out with her paw-paw.
Although he is a still a workaholic (when asked about his hobbies, he said, “Work!”), Bob and Linda do have a condo on Fripp Island in South Carolina, and they try to get down there a few times a year to soak up the sun on the beach. Now that this truck is finished and his son Reed can cover for him at the office, Bob plans to take the needle-nose to several shows in 2015 and enjoy more time off. Bob watched his grandfather work himself to death – he never got to enjoy his life. Bob wants to have some fun before he gets too old and his health won’t allow it. Of course, he still wants to steadily grow his company, as long as he can continue to find good drivers.
Bob would like to thank Bryan Martin and his crew at 4 State Trucks for seeing his vision, and then making it happen. On the flip-side of that, Bryan Martin wanted to thank Bob for his character, patience, and the solid friendship that formed during the build – a friendship that has grown even deeper since completing the project. We at 10-4 Magazine would like to thank Bob and Linda for allowing us the time to do two photo shoots of their truck (one in Missouri and one in California) to get the shots we needed for this feature. We would also like to thank our friend Frank Strohmyer of Bedford, OH for prodding us along to get this one done!
Never given anything for free, Bob is proud of the fact that he has worked hard and earned everything he has. He has never been afraid to work, and he has no problem expecting everyone else to be just as committed – which is why he is sometimes accused of having a bad attitude. But, his amazing truck, which he calls “Bad Attitude” for that reason (and the fact that it has a “Bad Attitude” look about it), will be a reminder to Bob that hard work is good and it will get you far, but if you don’t stop to smell the roses (or go to a truck show) once in a while, what’s the point!