Some people are just born to do what they do – whether it be a doctor, a photographer, a lawyer, or even a truck driver. There’s always that someone that, at a very young age, you can almost predict their future of what lies ahead for them. And as much as you try to change their path or divert it, they will always find their way back to it. Well, that’s the story of this month’s cover feature – he was born to truck.
Right out of the gate, Chris Kikelhan’s mom Shirley knew something was up when he tried to make his first appearance into the world via an elevator in New Jersey instead of the delivery room. This boy was on the move and no one was stopping him. For his 3rd grade “how to” school project, Chris had his father Freddy bring his tractor to school and Chris gave his fellow classmates a lesson on how to drive a truck. His mom thought, “I hope this is just one of those childhood phases.” But it wasn’t.
At age 13, Shirley watched as her young and enthusiastic boy started bringing the truck up the street so his dad didn’t have to walk down for it, and then, a few years later, he took a canary yellow flat glass W900 to his senior prom. But, she knew it was over when she read the quote he put in his yearbook: “The only things in life that count are fast trucks, fast women and fast food!” Houston, we have a problem.
Most kids looked forward to their summer breaks to hang out or go to summer camp, but Chris couldn’t wait to go out with his dad to ride shotgun in the truck for the summer (or on any holiday or day off, for that matter). After high school, he made a deal with his parents to attend community college and get a degree in business and marketing. It’s not that he didn’t like school, he just didn’t want to waste four years or any of his parent’s money doing it. So, for the next two years, he went to classes and worked at night, running a dump truck or moving heavy equipment, in New Jersey. At the time, Chris was probably one of the youngest to get his CDL in the state, as New Jersey had just lowered their age requirement to 18 for a CDL to run locally.
Once he turned 21, his love affair with trucking got even worse when Chris started running over-the-road, pulling a reefer for a friend. Not long after that, he got the chance to go out on tour for a few months with an Irish tap dancing group, hauling lights and sound equipment, and quickly realized that this was a lot better than hauling Cheerios. So, in 2001, he “rolled the dice” and decided to take a chance and buy his own truck – which proved to be no easy task. At the time, trucking was going through a rough spot – fuel was up and guys were losing their trucks – and here was this kid just trying to get his foot in the door.
Looking to help Chris get going, his parents took out a $30,000 loan on their house (no pressure) for his down-payment, but dealership after dealership still turned him away, not wanting to finance a first-time buyer who was only 22 years old. That changed when he walked into Coopersburg Kenworth and met a young and aggressive salesman by the name of Sean Angelini who got Chris financed by a company that no one had ever hear of. At the time, he was pretty sure that “you no pay you no walk anymore” were the terms of the deal. So, he threw the dice and ordered a brand new 2001 Kenworth T600, which he still owns today. But that was just the beginning of his problems.
Once he got the truck, he wanted to get his own authority, but because he didn’t have two years of over-the-road experience, he couldn’t get his own insurance, which was a requirement. Begrudgingly, he went looking to find a place to work his truck until he could get enough time under his belt to get his own authority, and found himself running expedited freight for FedEx Custom Critical.
Thinking back, Chris remembered his very first run – he left his parent’s house with $1,300 dollars in his account (which was all that he had left after selling his pickup truck to pay for his registration and other expenses). He stayed at FedEx for two years, just long enough to be able to get his own authority, and then started hauling stages for his friend Kenny out in San Diego, California – a guy he still hauls for today. When the opportunity came up to possibly haul some cars, he rolled the dice on a five-car enclosed hauler before he even had the job. One month later, when the opportunity became a bona fide offer, since he already had the right trailer for the job and was ready to go, he landed the gig!
After three hard years in the entertainment industry, hauling equipment for acts like Billy Joel, Elton John, Dolly Parton and Green Day, Chris rolled the dice again and bought a second truck and put a driver in it, hoping to grab some extra income and help with his growing business. After being gone about 330 days a year, you begin to realize that things are changing at home – your parents look different, your dog is showing a little age, and your girlfriend’s foot is tapping a little louder. So, Chris and his then girlfriend Donna (now wife) started looking for a house out in Pennsylvania, about an hour from their home in New Jersey. There were two stipulations – it had to have a pool and it had to have enough property for a garage and truck parking. A few months later, they closed on their new home in Quakertown, PA where they still live today.
Things were going great for Chris, as he had created quite a successful local business, moving one-off shows in and out of New York City (a place most people are not willing to run with a truck). His business philosophy was to never turn anything down, no matter what, when or where it was. This business outlook has caused him to work on Christmas, New Year’s Eve, the 4th of July, and any other holiday you can name. He has also missed funerals, births, kids’ pizza parties and more to achieve his goals, and has laid it all on the line to bring his little one-truck company to a level that even he could have never imagined possible.
As things got busier, Chris’ father would work his regular job during the day and run for his son at night and on weekends, sometimes finishing at three in the morning and then sleeping in his pickup before work, where he’d wrench on trucks all day. This sacrifice he has made is something Chris could never repay him for. He has taught Chris everything he knows, including (and most importantly), how to drive. These days, his dad is retired from his previous job, but now works full-time for his son, which helps take the strain off Chris, who runs 18 to 20 tractor-trailers and four straight trucks.
Running all across the country, delivering show equipment for some of the biggest events, Sundance Transport hauls everything from the lights you see at the Latin Grammys, to the scenery on television shows, to the sound you hear at a concert or the video you see at a Vegas extravaganza. These are the types of things Chris and his company deliver day in and day out – in rain, sleet or snow, and in sickness or in health, the show must go on, and this stuff can’t be late – period. End of story. No excuses! It is a high-pressure business, for sure, but the pay rate makes it worth it.
Over the years, his love for trucks has remained, and Chris has bought a few cool old trucks that he truly enjoys driving. He has had a 1953 Kenworth for about ten years now, and always wanted to fix it up and then run it in his daily operation but, like everything else, life happened. But, this is just one of many cool old rigs Chris owns, including a 1984 Peterbilt 359 with only 600 original miles on it (we featured this amazing brown machine in our September 2015 edition) and two long hood A-models with V8 Cat power, just to name a few. When he recently got the opportunity to buy a decent old 1956 Kenworth 925 to run in the fleet, he took it (this is the cover feature truck you see here). It was owned by the same gentleman for 18 years named Frank Reynhout and, well, let’s just say, it wasn’t easy for him to let it go.
The classic Kenworth has a fresh 444 high-flow Cummins under its butterfly hood that is backed by a 13-speed transmission and 3:90 rears. The truck was completely rebuilt by the previous owner on the chassis of a 1979 A-model, and it features a 275-inch wheelbase and an immaculate 60-inch Double Eagle sleeper. The setup is not ideal for what Chris does, but it still gets the job done, and that’s what he wanted – a classy old truck that could still run with the new trucks, today. Frank was a very meticulous kind of guy, and Chris knew from the first time he saw the Kenworth that it was put together well.
Once Chris got the truck, he started doing little things to it between trips. This was not a rig he wanted to take apart and redo – he wanted to use it. After removing a headache rack and generator that he just didn’t like, he mounted new tires on chrome steel wheels, cut new bus glass (with chrome trim) for the windshields, and added dummy spotlights on each side of the cab. Next, he repainted the chassis and then installed vintage “Sargent Stripe” west coast mirrors that he found online. An early 50s Caddy emblem was modified to take the place of the swan that Frank had on the hood for 18 years.
Continuing to make improvements on the old Kenworth, Chris added 6-inch flattop pipes to replace the short turnouts it had so the sides of his wagon wouldn’t get soot marks (she will throw some smoke thanks to a little bit of injector and pump work done by Pittsburgh Power). Next, he installed 36-inch Hogebuilt quarter fenders but he drilled and tapped the pipe in order to lose the clamps for a nice, clean look. He also added a set of chrome dual 4-inch round tanker light boxes on the back for taillights, Perlux fog lights up front on a polished aluminum bumper, complete with a stainless swing plate bearing the “Flying W” of the late great Waylon Jennings, and old-school white flaps all the way around, to complete that look he was after.
Moving inside the truck, Chris laid down brown shag carpeting from Home Depot and a lower base was installed to get the seat closer to the floor. Then, a few casted “Krooked K” emblems were modified to use as the clutch and brake pedals, and a “Mr. Gasket” barefoot gas pedal was installed. Tunes are carried out by a Bluetooth Bose home speaker system that sits up on the dash. Dice from a recent trip to Vegas were transformed into switch extensions and accent pieces throughout the cab, and a 20-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon was drank and then cut in half and used as an accent piece for the fixed steering column. Anti-glare lights finished out the interior upgrades, for now.
The trailer is a 48-foot 2005 Great Dane that Chris bought in 2010 that had never been registered – it was like brand new! He used it for a while and then someone hit it. Knowing he could never fix the damaged black panel and make it match, he decided instead to make a “Smokey and the Bandit” tribute trailer – which is something that he always wanted to do.
Tracking down a guy in Georgia who owns the rights to that digitized image, Chris had the sticker printed in Minnesota and then took it to Gatorwraps in Ontario, California, to be applied. After that, the trailer was taken to Vic Caliva in Montebello, California, where he polished it all out. Chris also had the rear frame member cut so he could slide the axles all the way back and delete the ICC bar. To finish it off, he made custom brackets to hold the classic “Hobbs” mud flaps and added the phrase “Mostly for the money” on the back, which is a partial quote from Bandit in the movie about why he trucks – “For the good old American life: for the money, for the glory and for the fun… mostly for the money.”
Chris’ love of trucks has led him down some roads that he will never forget. From that first day sitting on his dad’s lap driving, to now having his own son Lucas sitting in his lap – everything has come full-circle. He has had the opportunity to do things in a truck that some will never do. He’s been to The White House and backed onto the lawn to deliver; he’s been led by the Secret Service through the streets of downtown D.C.; he’s driven across Hoover Dam with a load on at sunrise (back when you could still do that); he once delivered $3 million worth of Viagra; he’s been out on the streets with the hookers and the drug dealers and the crazies at all hours of the night; he’s toured with some of the coolest bands; he’s driven a truck on TV (he starred in a few episodes of Shipping Wars); and now he gets to race trucks (legally) in the ChampTruck Series. Not bad for a 38-year-old working class kid!
Wanting to give thanks where it is due, Chris wanted to thank his parents, Fred and Shirley, for taking a gamble on their house way back when, and his sister Lori and brother Greg, who have always been supportive. Also, thanks to all the guys that pull for him at Sundance Transport, and especially his main-man Joe “Snowman” Maimone, for always being there, and Jeff Defazio, who has spent many late nights with Chris in the garage. “Those all-nighters, working on trucks, are times I will always cherish,” he said.
We met up with Chris (AKA “The Sundance Kid”) a few months ago in Las Vegas, and spent three days goofing off (working) with him. We took some of our pictures at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, where they have collected hundreds of signs from formerly-famous Vegas attractions and put them on display. For a fee, you can tour their “boneyard” or host a special occasion event there. We’d like to thank Courtney and Gabriela (Gabby) for all of their help with the photo shoot. While in Vegas, we also shot pictures out in the desert, on the strip, and near Hoover Dam. We would like to thank Chris for going the extra mile on this one, and for helping to make it all happen.
Chris has never been one to follow the crowd – he likes to take chances, in life and in business. He once drove 900 miles to Florida on a whim to visit a friend. That “friend” is now his wife, and has been for 19 years. He admits to “putting her through hell,” adding, “She should have listened to Waylon and took his advice: don’t mess around with no ramblin’ man.”
Chris loves waking up in the middle of nowhere, getting in the seat, starting the truck, rollin’ the windows down, and just strollin’ down the highway, headed west to L.A. or that Sin City in the desert, Las Vegas. “Coming down off the hill from Henderson and seeing those lights is a feeling some people just wouldn’t get, and I don’t expect them to. It’s my job, it’s what I love, and it’s what I was born to do.” Chris Kikelhan does not consider himself a gamblin’ man, but he’s certainly not afraid to throw the dice.