Mike Grim loves flying low. Whether he’s flying a Black Hawk helicopter into a hot zone in Iraq to pull out some of America’s finest or flying his aerodynamic Peterbilt into California with a hot load of steel, Mike gets it done – and he gets it done right! Always a fan of square-hooded trucks, like most of us, Mike (37) took a chance on a “curb-sniffer” and has not regretted that decision at all. In fact, with better fuel mileage and more money in his pocket, he’s a happy camper. And now, after getting a taste of the truck shows and doing a photo shoot, he is realizing that it pays not to be “just another long-hood Peterbilt” out there.
Born in 1978 in central Iowa, in the town of Grinnell, Mike grew up around trucks and farm equipment. Mike’s dad owned an ag-related construction company, and he moved the family south to a dairy farm in Pulaski when Mike was about four years old – and he still lives there today. Pulaski is a tiny town, with less than 300 people, and he doesn’t even live “in town” – he lives 17 miles out of town, and the last six miles is down a gravel road. To say Mike lives in “the sticks” would be an understatement. But, as trucking goes, he isn’t home very often anyway.
Growing up on a farm, there were trucks around all the time, but no one in Mike’s family was a “career” truck driver. When he was little, Mike and his brother used to play a game on road trips called “Long Nose Short Nose” (one of them would count the long hoods and one of them would count the cabovers and whoever saw more would win the game) – back then, there were a lot more cabovers on the road than today, so it was a fun game for them to play. After Mike graduated from high school, he got a job at the local tire shop and, eventually, started running their service truck, too. Not long after that, he got his first driving job, hauling grain and hog feed on the weekends in a “not-so-large” large car – a slope-nosed International daycab with a pretty weak 400 Cummins.
Working at the tire shop all week and then trucking on the weekends, Mike eventually quit the tire shop and took a job in the maintenance department at the local Dr. Pepper and 7-Up bottling facility. But, two days after his twenty-first birthday, he went to Aschenbrenner Trucking out of Fremont, Iowa, and officially began his “real” trucking career. Driving a very nice blue 1997 Kenworth W900 with a turned-up motor, Mike pulled a step-deck, hauling mostly pieces of Vermeer equipment (like chippers, grinders, directional boring machines, etc.) to Florida and Georgia, and then large propane tank ends back. After about two years, it came time for him to make a change – which happens more often than Mike would like to admit.
One of Mike’s old friends from high school had become a recruiter for the Army, and before Mike knew it, after a few beers, he was signing up! Wanting to be a medic, so he could be trained to later work in a hospital, Mike headed to boot camp in 2000, but he ended up not being accepted into the medical training program. Thinking that flying might be fun, he applied for flight school and, surprisingly, got in (which is rare). After about a year of training at flight school in Alabama, he became a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and was sent off to Germany to join, of all things, a medevac crew (the 45th Medical Company). So, instead of being a medic and sitting in the back of the bird, now he was a pilot and sitting in the front.
With war in the Middle East raging, Mike ended up doing several tours, including three in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. And these were not short tours – each one was at least a year long. On his first tour in Iraq, Mike had a fateful meeting with a man who nearly lost his life to an improvised explosive device (IED), disguised as a Pepsi can lying in the road. Mike and his crew safely transported this wounded soldier back to the base, where he would receive the life-saving help he needed. If this story sounds familiar, it is because we just told it two months ago when Sean McEndree, owner and operator of the “Band of Brothers” Purple Heart tribute truck, was on our cover (July 2016).
It was April 2004, and Mike and his crew were the ones sent to pick up wounded soldiers after an ambush. All these years later, while recently sitting together at the Top Gun Largecar Shootout in Rantoul, Illinois, these two Army veterans, Mike and Sean, realized they had a past together. With over 6,000 officially-recorded flying hours, Mike doesn’t remember every flight, but he remembered this one because a man died that night on his bird, and in all his years of flying a medevac helicopter, only two people had ever died while on his airship, so it was a night he could vividly recall. Mike remembers looking back at the soldier in his bird, who was lying in a strange position. As it turns out, the soldier, Sean, was plugging a hole in his armpit with his finger to help slow the flow of blood.
What an amazing coincidence – to meet in the states over a decade later, and to both be truck drivers, at a truck show, and both be featured on our cover, within two months of each other. This “amazing coincidence” can be attributed to our friend and past cover trucker Clay Snider of Queen City, Missouri. Clay is friends with both of these guys, separately, and kept telling each of them that they should get together and meet the other, figuring they would have a lot in common and a lot to talk about. Well, who knew – they really did! And sitting there, next to their trucks, at a decommissioned air base that looked a lot like the airport in Baghdad (except for the grass – there was nothing but sand in Baghdad), these two talked for most of the night about all the little details of that fateful meeting they had in Iraq, sharing stories, laughing and shedding a few tears. It sure is a small world.
Flying a helicopter in the Army wasn’t always bad. While in the Middle East, Mike had the opportunity to fly around comedians and actors, like Robin Williams and many others, musicians, like Kid Rock and Trace Adkins, and even cheerleaders from the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings. When the Iraqis reopened Baghdad University, Mike flew in many of the professors and dignitaries, and when they reopened the zoo there, he flew in caged animals like lions and tigers. But, after ten years in the Army, when he found himself flying more desks than helicopters, Mike decided it was time to get out. In 2010, he left the Army and headed home with three months of earned vacation time to figure out what he was going to do next.
After a bit of time at home, Mike got a summer job at the local power company, thinking he might want to become a lineman, but after a month, he was ready to go back to trucking. Calling his former employer, Aschenbrenner Trucking, they just happened to have an empty truck sitting around, so Mike got in it and didn’t look back. Starting out as a company driver, in a Freightliner, a few months later Mike got the opportunity to buy his own truck after a friend and fellow driver passed away. Mike always loved this guy’s rig, which was a 2003 Peterbilt 379 painted dark blue with orange pinstripe flames, and after he died suddenly, the family offered to sell it to him. Mike wasn’t quite ready to be an owner operator, but he couldn’t pass up this deal, so away he went.
Over the next few years, Mike replaced his truck a couple times, owning a red 2006 Peterbilt 379, a lime green 2008 Peterbilt 389, and then a 1999 Peterbilt 379. After buying this last truck, Mike did a full mechanical rebuild of the rig, which was black with red fenders and a red frame. It was a nice ride. Unfortunately, in February of 2014, a guy coming from the other direction crossed the center line and side-swiped Mike’s truck, wrecking it badly. Mike ended up buying it back from the insurance company and then put it all back together, giving it a fresh new paint job, as well (same colors). A few months after getting it back on the road, he left his employer after a dispute and signed-on with Long Haul Trucking (LHT) out of Albertville, Minnesota. Still there today, Mike couldn’t be happier.
Running hard for LHT, hauling aluminum, steel, and various pieces of machinery, Mike put a lot of miles on that rebuilt 1999 Peterbilt. About a year ago, he had to decide whether to dump a bunch more money into it or buy another truck. Searching long and hard for that perfect long-nosed Peterbilt, he kept stumbling on this aerodynamic, slope-nosed 2012 Peterbilt 386. Mike was the guy that made fun of all his friends who had those “curb-sniffing” aero trucks, but in the end, he just couldn’t refuse the deal – after all, the only real difference between a 389 and a 386 is the hood – everything from the windshield back is pretty much the same! Finally biting the bullet and pulling the trigger on the slope nose, painted Dark Saddle, Mike bought it in September of 2015 – it had 540,000 miles on it. Since then, he has rolled another 100,000 on it.
Looking very similar to what you see here now, Mike has not done much with the truck, which has a 525 Cummins, an 18-speed, 3:36 rears, and a 275-inch wheelbase, since buying it. He installed a RigMaster APU, replaced the cloudy headlights with new ones, and did a lot of polishing and cleaning. A few months ago, he took it to Thunder Grafix in Joplin, Missouri and had them add a unique vinyl stripe. While there, he also had them wrap and stripe the dash to match, too. He has plans to do a few more things to it, like replace the visor, remove the horns from the roof and move one of his fuel tanks back a bit. But for now, he is happy to be trucking along, saving fuel, making more money, and turning heads with his uniquely-colored and stylish aero truck, which looks extra-nice when hooked to his matching 49-foot 2006 Reitnouer spread-axle flatbed with a new Fastrak rolling tarp system.
With no wife and no kids, Mike trucks hard, but he never trucks alone. His dog, Winston, is a little fluffy white Maltese he has had for six years. Winston loves to ride, maybe more than Mike. When they are at home for a week, Mike has to take Winston out almost every day for a ride or he is not happy. Mike said, “It’s really Winston’s truck – I just drive it for him because he can’t reach the pedals!” On the rare occasion when Mike is home, he enjoys fixing up old cars he buys for cheap and selling them for a little extra money, along with going to NASCAR races (his family has season tickets at both Iowa Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway). One time, he even got to ride in the pace car at a race!
Mike misses flying, for sure, and even once considered buying a used Black Hawk from a government auction and starting a business, moving and lifting oversized and heavy items with it. But, as one might imagine, they are very expensive to own and operate, so that idea was put on the shelf. Running 2-3 weeks out at a time and then going home for a week, Mike currently has no regular route – he just goes where Long Haul tells him to go, and he’s cool with that.
Although many people have had problems with their newer trucks and all of the emission system parts, Mike has been very happy with his ISX Cummins, which has a DPF and uses DEF, and has had no problems with any of it. In fact, he said, his motor does not use or leak ANY oil between changes, and, he added, it runs circles around the hopped-up 650 Cat he had in his old Peterbilt 379. Add to that the fact that he is getting an extra 1.7 to 2.0 mpg consistently over his last truck, and you can see how Mike became a believer in aerodynamic trucks.
Wanting to give props to a few people, Mike would like to thank his parents, Jeff and Brandon at Thunder Grafix, and his Facebook friend Rob Coviello. Rob loves trucks, and recently convinced Mike to go to his first truck show – a charity event held in Brockton, MA called the Massachusetts Diesel Truck Show. This non-judged event raises money for a different charity each year, and after attending that show, Mike was hooked. Since then, he has been to a few more shows, and he is really having a good time.
Mike loves trucking, but every few years he gets fed up and quits – but he always comes back. And his ten years in the Army, well, that was all validated by Sean McEndree. While at the show in Rantoul that weekend they were both together, Sean became a grandfather for the first time. Mike was there when he got the call, and then realized that moment would have never happened if he and his crew had not flown in and helped save his life. Because Mike did his job, Sean got to have that moment – and, thankfully, Mike was there to share it with him.
To quote our mutual friend Clay Snider, “Mike is a hard-working guy who does things right. He recently taught me the importance of making my bed every morning to start the day with a small accomplishment, which sets the tone for the entire day. And I have to say, as silly as it sounds, he was right. I challenge everyone to start the day off right by making their bed.” But that’s just the kind of guy Mike is. He makes his bed every day, and he always puts on a clean shirt before getting out of the truck. Someday Mike hopes to fly high in the sky again, but for now, he will continue to “load it like a box car and drive it like a stock car” while flying low, along the ground, in his fuel-sipping but still head-turning aerodynamic Peterbilt.