Sometimes you just gotta seize the opportunities that present themselves to you without hesitation, and nobody knows that more than “Dirty Jersey” native Chris Kikelhan. As the owner of Sundance Transport, Chris (38) is far from your average crowd-follower.
Growing up in Jersey, Chris’s dad Fred was an OTR driver, which is what sparked Chris’ interest in trucks. In high school, Chris loved customizing cars, and he even lowered his own pickup. After graduation, Chris intended to open up his own detail shop. But, his dad talked him out of it, so he did the next best thing – he started trucking.
In 2001, Chris bought his own truck – a new 2001 Cat-powered white Kenworth T600, and Sundance Transport was born. After trying out the typical reefer and dry van runs, one night, while walking out of a concert, Chris decided that he’d like to try hauling concert equipment for a change of pace. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Today, Sundance is based in Quakertown, PA and has grown to 24 trucks, specializing in hauling entertainment equipment and supplies for all types of tours, festivals, concerts and shows. They’ve toured with acts such as Dolly Parton, Elton John and, for the past 15 years, every summer with the Van’s Warped Tour.
Delivering to locations such as the White House, big venues in Vegas, and places like Madison Square Garden and Times Square, there is never a dull moment. “I like this work because people actually treat you like a human being. It’s not like other sides of trucking where you’re treated like crap – people respect you,” says Chris.
But, it’s not all peaches and cream. Their work requires them to get trucks into spaces that are unbelievably tight, all while working around insane amounts of crowds and traffic. It also requires them to be on the road and away from family for large amounts of time, missing most major holidays. But, one thing you can guarantee about Chris and his team at Sundance, is that they will do everything in their power to get the goods delivered, so the show can always go on.
Always looking for that next cool ride, Chris loves to find vehicles that set him apart from the rest. One of his more recent finds was a 1980 long hood A-model Kenworth. Powered by a V8 Cat and featuring a 280-inch wheelbase, this near-perfect rig also has a 74-inch Double Eagle sleeper. Once a daycab, the truck passed through many different owners before coming to rest in the hands of Raul Acosta. Raul dismantled the truck and had it painted jet black by Car Craft in Staten Island, NY. After being stored in a garage for about five years, Chris bought it. And, to complete a little dream of his, Chris bought a 2005 Great Dane trailer and had it wrapped in the same mural as was on Snowman’s trailer in the “Smokey and the Bandit” movie. He even had a set of HOBBS flaps made! But, that isn’t Chris’ only special find. Here’s the story of his latest rare acquisition, as told by Chris himself.
“Roll back to a time when I was about eight years old and a turning point in my life at our local dragstrip swap meet. My father, being an over-the-road truck driver, didn’t really have the time to help build me a go cart, so he decided to try and find me an already-built go cart at the swap meet. After walking down half a dozen isles, we had found our prize. Everything checked out – it was a good-running go cart. I couldn’t wait to take it home. My dad said, “Let’s go down one more isle and then we will come back and get it – no one is going to buy it.” Yea, right, dad!”
“After going down that last isle, we headed back to get that go cart. I could barely contain my excitement, until I saw another kid riding that go kart away with his dad as we approached that booth. We searched the rest of the day and there was only that one cart there. There was one shot at it, and we hesitated, and it was gone. You know, throughout my whole childhood, I never got a go cart. It was in my grasp, and then it was gone. I think of this lesson every day – in business and in life. When the deal feels right, I don’t hesitate, I jump at it. When the job seems too big, I just grab it and figure out how to do it later.”
“Fast forward to November 2014. I loaded in Vegas and had lunch with my friend Robert and we talked trucks, as usual. He told me he has a picture of a 359 Pete with like 600 miles on it, and I think I spit out my cheeseburger. He shows me a bad phone picture that looked like it was taken with a flip-phone. The truck looked horrible in the photo, which left a lot of people skeptical. We parted ways and he said he would try to get the number of the owner. So, off I went, eastbound, headed to Nashville.”
“As I stepped into Oklahoma, my buddy texted me the number of the owner. I called the dude and left a message, and a few hours later he called me back and lets me know where the truck is and to just let him know when I’m in the area. I said, “How ‘bout tonight? It’s gonna be late, but I’ll be there.” He said, “No problem,” so I dropped my trailer at the J in Choctaw, OK and headed 45 minutes south towards McAlester. After we met up, we made our way down to the garage and I was lucky my friend Jack was with me to pinch me because there it sat – a 1984 extended hood Peterbilt 359 with 608 original miles on it!”
“There was no denying it – it was the real deal. It looked like it had just left the dealership… temporary tag still in the window, sales receipt on the seat, original tag on it, parts book, plastic on the bunk floor, and an interior that could never be reproduced. Every knob and interior piece was in immaculate shape. The motor was still sporting the original fuel and oil filters. Nothing was touched. I was in awe. How could this be in this shape? How could no one really know about it? How did it get here? Well, here’s the deal about this rig.”
“The truck was purchased by a man in Oklahoma for his son, Butch, to drive in the family business when he came of age and finished school. The truck was bought in 1984 and was towed into the dealership where it had a few add-ons done and was ready to be picked up by the owner, Melvin Reynolds. The truck was then put up in the garage until it was time for the rancher’s son to take the wheel. Unfortunately, Melvin’s son Butch, was found hung by his calfers rope in a building in town, an apparent suicide. The truck was put away, and only to be taken care of by the father.”
“I had never seen a car or truck so well-taken care of in all my life. You can put a truck away for 30 years and come back to it and it’ll be a total mess. The climate and the dedication to a man’s son are what kept this truck in the condition it’s in today. It was run a couple times a month and up the street every once in a while to keep everything oiled and sealed up. It was only run at night, so the sun was never beating on it. It was hardly ever washed, so it never had water laying on it to rust any components.”
“You see, the father spent the rest of his life preserving that truck and lived through his son’s memory. Butch’s room was even left untouched, as it was the day he died, as were his belongings. Melvin thought that his son was either murdered or it was an accidental death that was covered up, and spent the rest of his life trying to get the word “suicide” taken off his boy’s death certificate.”
“As time went on, the father knew his time was short, so he offered to sell the truck to the man I bought it from, Bryan Powers, on one condition – that the truck would never be worked or driven on a regular basis. Bryan agreed and the truck was bought and taken to Bryan’s garage by Buddy Hall.”
“When Melvin passed away some time later, there was really no one with a physical attachment to it anymore, and that’s where I came in… at midnight, in Bryan’s garage (which was more like a job interview). I thought of that go cart story again, shook the man’s hand, and was the owner of that perfect 359. I knew what I had there, and I know there aren’t too many left in existence anymore.”
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it as of now, but I am blessed with the opportunity to own it, and really enjoyed the ride getting it home and then cleaning it up. Then, we got to truck it to Louisville, KY for MATS to let other people see it. I left the truck the way it was and presented it exactly as it looked in 1984. Just as you would have seen it at the dealership when it came in from the factory. People said “thank you” for bringing it there and for leaving it in its pure state. People say, “I would run that truck down the road if I owned it,” but truth is, anyone that says that would sit behind the wheel for a few minutes and then turn the key to the off position.”
“The truck has an aura around it. Melvin spent his life preserving that truck, and in just a few minutes sitting behind the wheel of it, you get a feeling in your stomach. I don’t care how big and bad a trucker you are! When I look at it and everything else I have, I only have my dad to thank, for not buying that cart at first glance that day at the swap meet. Now, I never look back on something I want when it’s in front of me. I take a chance and get it done, no matter what it takes – in life and in business.”
Wow, what a story! When Chris isn’t running his operation or out finding kick-butt rides, he’s spending time with his family and riding his motorcycle. His father Fred drives a Kenworth T660 for Sundance, and Chris really enjoys when he gets to do runs with his dad from time-to-time. Then, you might find him chilling in Florida with his high school sweetheart wife, Donna, a teacher, and their son Lucas, who is three years old.
But, as if life wasn’t busy enough, Chris also landed spots on three episodes of this past season of the A&E show Shipping Wars, making his life, once again, anything but average. Chris is a great guy, a hard worker, and the master of seizing opportunities. We can’t wait to see what he finds next!