Cow haulers are often referred to as the “cowboys” of today. Some more than others. Phil Miller of Phil Miller Livestock in Amargosa Valley, Nevada, is not only a cow trucker and hay hauler, but he has also worked as a ranch hand, raised cattle and done rodeos. Phil is a modern-day cowboy, in every sense of the term. These days, his trusty steed is a customized Peterbilt and matching livestock trailer, which he runs hard every day.
Throughout his life, Phil (39) has always enjoyed the ranch life and the cowboy lifestyle. Born in Fresno, California and raised just north of there in Madera, Phil did not grow up on a ranch, but he was pretty involved with the FFA (Future Farmers of America) in school. Phil’s dad Dennis was a truck driver who drove for an outfit called Valley Grain Products, hauling corn and other commodities. Back then, the company had sweet red and white cabovers with long wheelbases, and Phil loved to go trucking with his dad (he even remembers sitting on his dad’s lap at an early age and steering the truck down Highway 99). Sometimes, the school bus would drop Phil off at the local country store where a lot of truckers would congregate, and he loved to hang out and listen to all of their stories.
While still in school, Phil started working part-time as a ranch hand and really enjoyed it. On the weekends, he would wash trucks and polish wheels for a little extra cash. Phil’s dad bought his first truck around that time and then leased on to Oldland Distributing in Central Point, Oregon. A few years later, during Phil’s senior year of high school, his parents got a divorce. Phil’s dad moved to Oregon and Phil went with him, spending his final year of high school in southern Oregon. The day after he graduated, Phil took a full-time job as a ranch hand at an operation in northern Nevada with about 7,000 head of cattle, and quickly learned that it is not a high-paying profession. In fact, he hardly made anything, but the rancher fed him and gave him a free place to live, so it was still a pretty good gig. But, money or not, Phil loved it!
For several years he bounced from ranch to ranch as needed until 1999, when he got a job working for an outfit that hauled ore out of the mines. At the time, Phil did not have his CDL, so the company let him use their truck to take the test. He drove for six months, during the winter, and then went back to ranching.
About a year later, in 2001, he decided that he wanted to go cow hauling. After driving for a few different companies, he bought his first truck in 2003 – a 1986 Freightliner Classic – but it was pretty weak. The following year, he traded that Freightliner for a livestock trailer and then bought a 1996 Peterbilt with more power. Now, he could run with the “big dogs” on the hills.
The Peterbilt, which had a 63-inch flattop sleeper, came with a 475-hp 3406E Cat, but Phil turned it up to 550 horses in a hurry. Originally painted maroon, Phil later painted it white with lime green scallops. Not exactly his “cup of tea” today, but at the time, it was a cool rig.
After a few years, Phil and his then-wife, Sandy, bought a small ranch in Lovelock, Nevada and leased a huge chunk of BLM land (196,000 acres) to run cows on year-round. Looking to focus on the ranch, Phil sold the Peterbilt. Their herd peaked at about 400 head of beef cows in 2008, and then the recession hit. As things got tight, Phil decided to buy a truck – a 1999 Peterbilt 379 – and started doing some part-time hauling to fill in the gaps.
Then, on June 9, 2010, tragedy struck when Phil’s five-year-old son Sean was killed in a ranch accident. Sad and devastated, Phil went trucking – mostly to keep his mind distracted. A year later, Phil and his wife divorced. After selling off their herd, Phil hit the road hauling cows and has not really slowed down ever since.
In February 2012, Phil bought his current truck, the one you see on these pages. At that time, the 2010 Peterbilt 389 was a clean used truck, painted cream and fudge brown, like it is now, with 194,000 miles on it. The truck had a 300-inch wheelbase, a drop visor, different stacks, and a stock 600-hp C-15 Cat, which was hooked to an 18-speed transmission and 3.25 rears. It was nice, but nothing too fancy.
Running hard for two years before doing anything to it (besides having the engine rebuilt at 450,000 miles by PDI), Phil finally decided to have some custom work done to the truck in the summer of 2014. And once he spent that first nickel, it has been downhill ever since.
Over the summer, Phil made several trips to Pickett Custom Trucks in Tolleson, Arizona (just outside of Phoenix), and got many things done. Because he still had to work the truck, everything was done when time and money permitted. On the first trip, Rod Pickett added a smooth deck plate with a built-in storage box, he took off the sliders and “fixed” the 5th wheel, he added a full air-ride system and a dump valve to the front axle, and he installed a new rear light bar.
On the following trips to Rod’s shop in Arizona, the truck got new, painted-to-match, rear half-fenders, a custom-built shock cover, a stainless “I-panel” with lights between the tanks, and the air line connections were moved to the back of the truck. Rod also drilled-out all of the holes in the truck’s wheels to a larger diameter. Around this time, Phil got a new 2015 Wilson livestock trailer with a Canadian spread, and then he had Rod drill-out all of those wheels, too.
Phil also did some of his own work to the truck. Looking to freshen things up, he wrapped the air cleaners with stainless and then installed chopped screens. Inside the cab, Phil attempted to paint the dash panels but he didn’t like the way they turned out so he bought cream-colored vinyl from Thunder Grafix in Joplin, Missouri, and then applied it himself. He also installed a Teak wood floor from Rockwood, as well as door sill plates, chrome switches and gauge covers, and a painted-to-match Victor steering wheel.
Toward the end of that summer (2014), just before the Truckin’ For Kids (TFK) charity show and drags, Phil took the truck to PDI in St. George, Utah for a few last-minute details. While there, Jed Howard added new painted cab and sleeper drop panels from 12 Ga. Customs, smooth stainless step boxes (also from 12 Ga.), and a new 8-inch exhaust from Lincoln Chrome. Jed also added 24 evenly-spaced small LED lights along the underside-edge of the extension panels on each side of the truck for a dramatic lighting effect that is virtually invisible in the day.
With everything “dialed in” and ready to go, Phil headed to California for the TFK show in October. While there, his uniquely-colored and slammed rig, hooked to the brand new trailer, caught our eye – so much so, we at 10-4 gave it our “Sponsor’s Choice” award! But Phil was not done yet. Now that he had the truck show bug, he wanted to do even more to the truck.
Taking it back to PDI at the beginning of 2015, the rig spent a month there getting more work done – mostly under the hood. When PDI originally rebuilt Phil’s motor, they kept the turbos stock but added a PDI manifold and gave it a PDI tune, which turned the stock 600-hp Cat up to about 700 hp. The engine was still running great, thanks to Sean Barney and Kelly Evans at PDI, but Phil wanted it to look better, so he had Jed and the guys at PDI pull the motor and transmission and paint everything fudge brown to match.
After the painting was finished, they added a custom PDI twin-turbo setup, and then PDI’s in-house fabricator Tyler Murry hand-fabricated and welded all of the chromed-aluminum tubing. While they were there, they cleaned, chromed, polished, painted or replaced just about every part under the hood – even the hood springs were chromed. They also removed all of the insulation from the underside of the hood, repainted it cream, and then brought in a local pin-striper named Jeff Dastrup who painted a cow skull under the hood using pin-stripes (he also painted Phil’s company logos on the truck).
While back at PDI, the truck (and trailer) got a few other enhancements, as well. The visor was repainted, cream on the front and brown on the back, and then a tribute message to Phil’s son who passed away was added on the back. The truck also got new custom seats with Phil’s logo embroidered on the headrests, a chrome shifter and knob, and a 12 Ga. bumper lift kit. Phil also had Jed do some painting on the trailer and add more lights, which made the combo complete.
For the last couple of years, Phil has been doing some hauling for a large dairy in Amargosa Valley, Nevada (near Death Valley National Park). This dairy, which milks over 9,000 cows twice a day, is managed by a woman named Amanda. Phil got to know her and eventually the two began dating. In June of 2013, the two were married and Phil moved to Amargosa Valley, where the couple resides today. Phil has shared custody of his son Tyler (8) with his ex-wife, and he enjoys spending as much time as possible with him.
Phil’s current operation includes not only the truck and trailer you see here, but also a second truck (a 2002 Pete 379) with a full-time driver, four trailers, and one leased-on owner operator with his own rig. In addition to running his company and driving every day, Phil also helps the dairy by keeping their five trucks loaded and moving. Currently running about 3,000 miles a week, Phil primarily hauls cows between Nevada, Arizona and California. Happy with the size of his business, Phil never wants to get so big that he can’t drive anymore, because he truly loves it.
Having leaned on his faith after his son’s death, Phil has learned to appreciate the people around him – like his wife, Amanda, and his son, Tyler. In memory of Phil’s other son, his ex-wife puts on a rodeo the first weekend in June every year in Lovelock, Nevada, in honor of Sean.
Phil wanted to thank everyone at PDI, including everyone that was already mentioned and those that were not, as well as Lance Brown, who is the service manager and Phil’s “go to” guy at PDI. He also wanted to thank Rod Pickett for getting the truck’s stance just right, and Henry Duarte at Little Sister’s Truck Wash in Barstow, California, for making it shine. We at 10-4 would like to thank Robert Van Otten at PDI for being our St. George tour guide – after we arrived in Utah for the photo shoot, he was nice enough to take us everywhere and show us everything.
Phil has always been one to “push the envelope” – with ranching, trucking, and life, in general. But that is what keeps things exciting. And, after years of picking up 10-4 Magazine at places like Danny’s Big Rig Resort in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Zip Travel Center just west in Salome, this modern-day cowboy is excited to see his trusty steed on the cover. To borrow a little cowboy wisdom, “If it don’t seem like it’s worth the effort, it probably ain’t” – but Phil Miller’s steel horse was definitely worth the effort!