Sometimes something new comes along and completely changes the game. In the world of “cool” trucks, Peterbilts and Kenworths, along with older Freightliners, typically rank high, while Volvos and Internationals usually land near the bottom of the list. Well, Mr. Zebie Daniel III of Houston, Texas, begs to differ. He truly believes that the International 9300 Eagle is the most under-appreciated and underestimated truck out there today. And, seeing how cool his turned out, we might have to agree.
Born and raised in the Houston area, where he still lives today, Zebie (39) grew up in a family that did a lot of different things – including trucking. Raised by his grandparents, there was a true sense of entrepreneurship in their family. In addition to trucking, his grandfather, Zebie Daniel Sr., was also a banker, a club owner and a grocery store owner, among other things. Back then, it was normal for people to do various jobs – not just one thing their whole life. Zebie spent a lot of time with his grandfather – in fact, he followed him around like a puppy-dog.
A few of Zebie’s uncles were long-haul truck drivers, and he spent a lot of time with them out on the road. School was always pretty boring for Zebie, so he took his GED test and graduated early. Originally, he wanted to go to school to become an underwater welder, but that was not meant to be. He tried to get financial aid to attend a technical college to learn this trade, but it was too expensive and he was denied. So, Zebie said, “Send me to truck driving school,” which they did. He already knew how to be a trucker, he just needed the technical skills of driving a truck, because he hadn’t done that.
In 1998, after graduating from truck driving school at the age of 21, Zebie got a job driving for Custom Concrete in Houston, hauling powdered cement into their plant. He also hauled “fly ash” (the leftover coal ash from power plants), which is added to concrete as a filler and stabilizer. He did this for one year and then went to Baker Hughes, one of the world’s largest oilfield services companies, and began hauling barite (which is basically just a certain type of powdered rock). This was a great learning experience for Zebie – he learned how to drive off-road, how to deal with mud, how to pull a flatbed, how to maneuver in tight spots and how to drive a heavy-duty industrial forklift.
Zebie stayed at Baker Hughes for about four years, but it was always his dream to haul chemicals in a tanker, so he went to Cryogenic Transportation (CTI), and began hauling various industrial liquids and gases, like nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen. Based in Baytown, Texas, Zebie was still just a company driver at CTI, but he really wanted to own his own truck. So, in 2004, when he got the opportunity to move over to GenOx Transportation in La Porte, Texas, and buy his own truck, he took it.
Buying the 1998 International 9300 Eagle on our cover and centerfold this month (and on these pages here) from another owner operator at GenOx (Robert Shinn), Zebie had it made! When he first got the truck, which was bright red and had a big Cat 3406E engine, a 10-speed transmission, a 72-inch stand-up Pro Sleeper, polished wheels, a loud stereo, and a wood-grain steering wheel, Zebie felt like a super-trucker. Over the next twelve months, Zebie worked hard and paid off the truck in full. During this time, he also learned the hard lessons of being an owner operator. He made some good decisions, he made some bad decisions, he struggled with breakdowns and other issues, but he learned. It took Zebie a few years to figure everything out and calm down, but he eventually did.
Throughout this period of good growth in Zebie’s life, there was also loss. In 2005, his uncle, Zebie Daniel Jr., died after having a massive heart attack while behind the wheel of his truck. Thankfully, he went off into the trees and did not hit or hurt anyone else – he was only 43 years old. During this time, he also got married, had three kids, and then got divorced. In 2008, he lost his grandmother to cancer, and then one month later, his grandfather passed away, as well. These were the grandparents that raised him, so it was like losing his parents (Zebie never knew his father and his mother was not a big part of his life). In 2009, wanting to pull what was left of his family together and not be a deadbeat dad, Zebie petitioned the court to get full custody of his children – and he got them. That same year, he also met the love of his life, Irene, better known as “Sweet Pea” by most everyone.
Unfortunately, in 2012, Zebie’s ex-wife decided that she wanted the kids back, and she fought hard to get them. In the end, Zebie lost the kids, and they went back to a less-than-ideal situation, which tore Zebie apart. Dark days ensued, and if it were not for Sweet Pea and his work, Zebie would have fallen apart. He spent a lot of lonely nights in that truck, but, in a strange way, it kept Zebie company and helped him get through these bad times.
After almost a decade of faithful service, the truck was looking rough. Zebie decided that it was time to freshen-up his dedicated friend, and made plans to get the truck repainted and change a few details. But, as these types of projects usually go, what started out as a new paint job and new fenders, somehow turned into a complete customization project. After about a year of doing a little here and a little there, Zebie took the International to Big Truck Paint & Body in North Houston, Texas, and left it there for almost a year. During this time, he rented a truck, so he could keep working.
Known as “Cadillac Man” for most of his life (every car he has ever owned – except for the very first one – has been a Cadillac), Zebie decided to go with a Cadillac-theme for the truck. Naming the truck “98 Caddy” and then running with the theme, Zebie had a custom billet steering wheel, a custom shifter, and several custom emblems made by Mike at True Customs in Carriere, Mississippi. These were some of the first pieces purchased for the truck, and Zebie just loved how they turned out.
While in the shop, after stripping the truck down to bare metal, the guys at Big Truck Paint & Body (Eloy Garcia and David Jimenez) moved the A/C cooling fan off the back of the sleeper and mounted it to the frame. Then, they added a big back window to the sleeper, flipped the doors to make them suicide doors, and swapped out the stock mirror brackets with Peterbilt brackets, and mounted them to the cab (instead of on the door). Next, they added Talladega fiberglass fenders on custom brackets, made a custom stainless deck plate and visor, as well as a storage box that looks like a fuel tank, custom monogrammed window chops were fabricated, and then everything was prepped for paint.
At first, it was just going to be the orange color (Daytona Sunset Orange) with a black frame, but, in the end, they not only added a secondary color to break things up (Metallic Charcoal Grey), but they also painted the entire exterior, interior, the frame, and the engine. After the painting was complete, custom 7-inch Dynaflex tips were added, as well as new front and rear bumpers from Valley Chrome, a louvered grille and lots of LED lights (all with clear lenses). Many of these accessories were purchased from our friends at Wilkins Oklahoma Truck Supply in Tonkawa, Oklahoma. As a nice final touch to the exterior, Zebie had plainANsimple by Design out of Deer Park, Texas, build him custom high-intensity headlights with circular oracles. These headlights are totally custom – and totally cool!
Moving inside, once it was all painted, the entire interior was covered with Dynamat to help insulate the truck and keep things quiet. After that, the walls and ceiling of the sleeper, as well as the door panels, were all reupholstered in a button-tuck-style (black with orange buttons) by Arturo in the shop. Once the billet steering wheel and custom shifter were installed, the seats were rebuilt and recovered, in black and orange, and “Cadillac Man” and “Sweet Pea” were embroidered into the seat backs. Currently, there is a hole in the dash, just waiting for Zebie to buy a new stereo to fill it.
Getting the truck out of the shop in May of this year, Zebie put it to work. Presently, with about 1.2 million miles on it, the truck pulls a volumetric cryogenic liquid tanker, hauling mostly liquid oxygen, these days, in and around the Texas and Louisiana area. Contacting 10-4 Magazine through email, Zebie sent us some pictures of his ride, and we were pretty impressed (we don’t see many customized International 9300 Eagles). After going back and forth a few times, we finally scheduled a photo shoot with Zebie in Dallas after the truck show there.
Having never been to a show ever, Zebie was a little tentative about entering the contest, but the guys at Big Truck Paint & Body assured him that they could get it looking top-notch for both the show and the shoot. And, in the end, Zebie had a great time, and his “98 Caddy” earned a solid 2nd place trophy in its class. We also had a great shoot the next day. Thanks to Jake and all of our other friends at Lindamood Demolition in Irving, Texas, for once again letting us take pictures on their property.
Zebie wanted to thank everyone who helped him complete this project, including Eloy and David at Big Truck Paint & Body, Mike at True Customs, and Robert Shinn, for selling him the truck in the first place. Zebie also wanted to thank Kevin and Lisa Mathews at GenOx for their help and support – both mentally and financially. Last, but certainly not least, he wanted to thank “Sweet Pea” (Irene) for all of her patience and support. Zebie plans to marry her soon, but no date has been set – yet.
When not trucking or working on the truck, Zebie likes to cook. Since he was a kid, you could always find him in the kitchen. So much so, his nickname was “Big Z RD” – which is a modified version of the famous “Chef Boyardee” – which he has tattooed in large letters down his left forearm. When asked what his favorite thing was to make, he answered, “Anything I’ve never made before!” He also likes to play around with high-end electronics and remix music.
Zebie calls his truck “The Game Changer” because it redefines what can be considered cool. With clean lines and a classic shape – and those signature double-stacked headlights – these International Eagles really do have some great potential. Zebie loves to drive it, but says it’s like riding a Harley chopper – loud and rough! In addition to being a game changer, this truck was also a life-saver for Zebie, getting him through some tough times. And whether he “changes the game” out there or not, it doesn’t really matter. When he had no one else, he still had his truck, and for that, Zebie Daniel is forever grateful.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As we were going to press with this story, Zebie called to fill us in on the future of his truck. It seems that he was bitten by the truck show bug in Dallas, and now wants to buy a new truck to drive and park his “98 Caddy” so he can build her into a full-fledged show truck. We wish him all the luck!