In a world obsessed with “buying” instead of “building” stuff, it’s good to know that quality, creative, custom fabrication is still alive and well. Heavily inspired and influenced by the hot rod world, Roland Mendez and the crew at Texas Chrome Shop in San Antonio, TX recently created a show truck that is truly a work of art. “Project TOC” is a wild Kenworth that was built for a customer named Omar Ruiz of Midland, TX. This head-turning rig recently made its debut at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, and stole the show with its innovative metal work, eye-popping paint, and something we had never seen on a big truck before – engraved wheels and other accessories.
Although this rig will be mostly just for show, Roland built it to be able to work – whether Omar decides to use it for that or not. The mechanicals are all in order, and nothing done under the hood or to the engine sacrificed any functionality. In addition to that fact, the highly-modified 12 Ga. air-bag system can put the truck’s front end practically on the ground, but can also raise it up well over a foot for “normal” operation. And the interior, amazing as it is, was kept practical and comfortable. All of the lights can run perfectly legal as amber or red, but at the simple flick of a switch, the LEDs can go into show mode and all turn blue. Roland did not want to build a trailer queen – he wanted to create a unique show truck that could also be driven and used – and he feels like he accomplished that, saying, “The truck looks and drives like a dream.”
The Mendez family has been involved with trucking for over 40 years. Raul Mendez Sr. migrated to the United States with little more than his hopes and dreams. Originally from the city of Piedras Negras in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, Raul first worked in the fields picking a variety of fruits and vegetables in the lower valley of South Texas. After living in Eagle Pass, TX for several years, he moved his family to San Antonio, TX. In San Antonio, Raul worked as a truck driver, but he always dreamed about owning his own truck and starting a company. After years of hard work, Raul turned his lifelong dream into a reality when he sold his personal belongings and bought his very first 18-wheeler – a 1975 Kenworth K-100 cabover – and Mendez Trucking was born.
After a few years of hard work, Raul turned that one truck into ten. Years later, his two boys, Raul Jr. and Roland, got involved in the business. With an aggressive marketing plan and a lot of determination, they helped the Mendez Trucking fleet grow to 85 trucks, hauling mostly auto parts for General Motors. In 2001, needing a shop to maintain all of their own equipment, they opened Triple R Diesel, but it quickly became a place where other local truckers began to bring their rigs for service, too. On a whim, Raul Sr. decided to build a cool dump truck, and then put it out in front of their shop with a “For Sale” sign on it. Well, that sharp dump truck sold so fast, they decided to start focusing a lot of their business on building custom dump trucks.
Building and selling hundreds of cool dump trucks required a lot of chrome and accessories. So, in an effort to streamline their operation, they opened up their own chrome shop in 2005 and called it Texas Chrome Shop – and it took off! In addition to the dump trucks, the brothers eventually started building other types of custom trucks, too. In 2009, they built “Project One” – a totally custom orange and yellow 1997 Peterbilt 379 – and that rig not only opened up a lot of doors for the Mendez brothers, but it also cemented their place near the top of the ladder in the world of custom truck builders.
Since building the “Project One” truck, the Mendez boys have built several other popular rigs including “Hustle & Flow” – a green and black 2007 Peterbilt 379; “Vamonos” – a black 2004 Peterbilt 379; “Caliente” – a red and silver 2002 Peterbilt 379; “Black Betty” – a black Peterbilt 359; “True Blue” – a baby blue 2001 Peterbilt 379; and “Blue Eagle” – a special blue 1980 Kenworth K-100 cabover built for their father. Building all of these rigs, and so many others over the years, has honed the brother’s skills and raised their level of creativity to a height even they find hard to believe, culminating in their latest creation – “Project TOC” – the amazing 2000 Kenworth W900L seen here.
Omar Ruiz of Midland, TX bought this Kenworth back when he founded his company, TOC Trucking & Transports (the TOC represents the first initial of each of his children’s names). This was Omar’s first truck, so it has a lot of sentimental value to him. Having been worked hard for many years in and around the oil fields of Texas, he decided to take it to San Antonio and let the boys at Texas Chrome build him something special. When dropping it off, Roland noticed Omar’s fancy belt buckle, with intricate filigree-style engraving, which inspired much of what Roland eventually did to the truck. Omar only had three major requests: that the truck be blue, that the name Bill Burton be featured somewhere on it (Bill was the one who helped Omar get started in the oil and gas business), and that it be awesome. The project took just over a year, and Omar could not be happier.
Coming in with a freshly-rebuilt motor but some issues, Roland decided to go over the entire truck and take care of all of its mechanical problems first. Anthony Garcia, head mechanic at Triple R Diesel, went through everything and repaired and/or replaced anything that needed attention. By the time he was finished, the 2000 Kenworth W900L, powered by a juiced-up Cat 550 hooked to an 18-speed and 3:55 rears, was in perfect condition. From there, Roland and his crew tore the truck apart, stretched the frame to 303-inches, and then began the customization process. Taking a different approach on this build, knowing that it was going to get an extreme paint job with lots of detail, they fabricated every piece on the truck and then put it all together, and then tore it all back apart to paint everything at the same time, near the end of the build.
Heavily influenced by the hot rod community, Roland is a big fan and follower of the Ridler Award, which has been given out each year at the Detroit Autorama since 1964, to the coolest and most innovative car at the show. This is one of the greatest hot rod shows on the circuit, and one of the most prestigious awards. Wanting to build a rig at the same level of those past Ridler Award winners, Roland set out to create a unique truck that had the whole package, which included cutting-edge customization and design, innovative ideas, top-quality metal work, amazing paint, engine, interior and lights, and a booming sound system – nothing would be left undone. This was his vision and his mission from the very start, and we think he accomplished it.
Starting at the front of the truck, the Kenworth got a fiberglass Jones Performance “Raptor” hood that the guys spent two weeks completely smoothing out on the inside, so that the paint under the hood and inside of the wheel wells would be the same quality as the rest of the exterior’s paint. Later, a local artist even added a mural to the inside of the hood! Factory Kenworth grilles come in five pieces, but Roland wanted to make this a one-piece, so he welded all the pieces together and then recessed the completed unit into the hood. After installing a new KW-logo punched grille screen, he had a special stainless overlay made by Roadsknz, which included lightning bolts and the TOC logo, that he then bolted over the top of the screen with fancy 12-point polished bolts from Harley Davidson. The headlights are the latest projector headlights from Trux, which were then placed in chopper-style buckets from United Pacific.
One of the most distinct features on this truck is the rounded front bumper. Made out of 3/16” painted steel with a shiny stainless steel insert in the middle, the shape of the bumper was designed to mimic and continue the contours and angles of the front fenders and grille. This was no easy task. The 20-inch rolled bumper, complete with sunken LED lights from Trux in the lower front corners, went through several design changes during the fabrication process, but the end result turned out perfect. The final touch was more of those fancy (and expensive) polished Harley-Davidson bolts.
Moving around to the side of the rig, you will find one of the most unique and creative features on this truck – engraved wheels! In addition to the wheels, there is also engraving on the air cleaner straps, the stacks, the air tanks, the gear shifter, and special chrome plates that were inlaid flush into the deck plate. To make the process work, each piece, before it was engraved, had to be polished perfectly. Then, everything was sent to an engraver in Southern California who hand-etched everything. Each wheel took about two weeks to complete. After the etching was done, each piece had to then be dipped in chrome. The engraving on the sides of the 8-inch Dynaflex stacks mimics the paint scheme and stripes perfectly behind them. In 20 years of going to shows, we had never seen anything like this before – it was very impressive!
The cab and sleeper have been modified, as well. To give the truck a chopped look, Roland basically did a reverse chop to the truck’s side windows. Instead of shortening the top of the window, like a traditional chop, he re-skinned the door and raised the bottom of the window seven inches. He then added a chop panel to the top of the window that mimicked the daylight door drop, and also lined up perfectly with the custom visor they made. To complete the chopped look, they chopped the air cleaner screens, added seven inches to the bottom of the cans, and then installed a sunken LED Trux light (facing forward and back). Wanting that flattop look, Roland replaced the 72-inch sleeper’s original aerodyne roof cap with a mid-roof version. Then, the windows on each side of the sleeper were also modified to line-up with the windows on the cab, and then pieces of tempered glass were sunk an inch and then bonded into place. Custom cab and sleeper extensions were also made, complete with small sunken LEDs from Trux, as well.
Another nice touch that many folks do not even notice is the angled-cut fuel tanks. Since the elbows on a Kenworth exhaust system go under the truck at a slight angle toward the back, Roland cut that same angle into the front of each fuel tank. The fuel tanks are also painted and strapless, and feature custom-engraved billet filler caps with the TOC logo from JR at Lifetime. JR made all of the custom billet emblems on the truck, and the step plates, as well.
Heading to the rear of the sleeper, not surprisingly, a lot was done back there, too. One of the most difficult modifications they made was the custom back panel on the sleeper with a sunken round window and five sunken load lights. To get that “sunken” look for the lights, 5-inch diameter tubes were welded to the back of the panel. The factory panel is really thin aluminum, which made the welding process very difficult (and ruined the first two panels). It took three attempts to finally get it right! The round window was sunk two full inches and then bonded into place, giving the back of the sleeper a very thick and sturdy, carved-out look.
Behind the sleeper, covering the remainder of the frame rail, is a smooth and painted deck plate with partially-sunk engraved air tanks, as well as completely flush, engraved, decorative chrome inlays. The underside of the frame is nicely covered with removable panels for easy access, and a painted and pinstriped belly pan covers the driveshaft. Roland got a lot of help with the frame work from his friend Louis Carillo, who is a famous hot rod builder in their area. On top of the deck plate also sits a unique air-line connection “box” – but it really isn’t a “box” at all. This thing has a unique rounded shape that looks like it would be more at home on Star Trek’s USS Enterprise than on a big rig truck.
Working our way to the back of the truck, you’ll find one of the wildest rear bumpers ever built. Like the front bumper, made of heavy 3/16” steel, with seven sunken lights and a large sunken TOC logo, this thing took months to make. With rounded and curved edges and a unique shape, reminiscent of a Corvette rear end, this bumper also acts as a rear bracket system for the fiberglass Bad Ass fenders. On the very back of the truck is a long and thin stainless plate with “Bill Burton” in blue letters on it. This nameplate was placed as a tribute and thanks to the man, as mentioned before, who helped Omar get into the oil and gas business. In front of the rear fenders is another wild and completely custom light bar/fender bracket, that is also fitted with sunken LEDs, to match the rear bumper.
The paint was applied by veteran painter Raymond “Rainman” Lund of San Antonio, TX. Featuring three different shades of blue and black with Blue Ice Pearl added to it, Rainman first laid the medium blue color on the bottom of the truck and frame, then the darker Cobalt Blue in the middle section, and then the black on the top. The filigree patterns and shapes were generated on the computer and then cut into vinyl, which was then applied to the rig. Working as a reverse stencil, Rainman airbrushed around each of them to create a soft outlined look, and then the stickers were removed. After that, the other stripes were added, and then everything was cleared and sanded. Once that was done, he went in and did all of the other fine details and outlines, and then cleared it again. It was a long and painstaking process, for sure.
Like the rest of this show truck, the engine compartment is show-stopping, too. The engine block was painted black, and custom six-inch piping, painted blue, was made for the air intake system. Much of the engine and under-hood accessories were painted either blue or black, or chrome plated, including the fan and valve covers. The engine compartment also features a one-off removable firewall cover. Painted black, this cover really cleans up the firewall – and it goes on and comes off easily, with just five bolts. In addition to the slick metal-braided hoses, a local painter added a mural of a girl, standing out in the oil fields, to the inside of the hood.
Going inside the truck, you’ll find the same paint scheme and colors continued throughout. Although Roland decided to keep the dash pretty simple, for practicality purposes, everything below the dash was covered with custom panels and a wood floor, painted like the exterior, was installed. The door panels were smoothed-out and painted to match the exterior, and the dash and steering wheel were painted blue, as well. Black and blue Bostrom Wide Ride seats, with the TOC logo embroidered into the headrests, were added, in addition to pedals from Lifetime.
Back in the sleeper and throughout the cab are a bevy of amps and speakers, built into the walls and ceiling, in custom painted enclosures. With (8) 10-inch subs, (16) 6.5-inch mids, (10) tweeters and (4) 1,000-watt amps, this DB Drive system, along with a Pioneer head unit, pumps out a whopping 4,000-watts of power. The bed has been removed and replaced with a black leather bench seat with blue piping. Along with all of the speakers and amps, there are also a couple flat-screen TVs built into the sleeper walls just behind the front seats.
A project of this magnitude cannot be done alone. Roland wishes to thank everyone involved, including those already mentioned and Douglas Ortega, Rogelio Fuentes, Angel Chavarria, Cesar Rojas and Raymundo Lopez. He would also like to thank and acknowledge everyone at Dynaflex, Lifetime, Roadsknz, Trux and ATA for all of their help and support, as well as Marty at Axalta for the paint. Besides the candy colors, which they do not offer, all of the paint for this project was supplied by Axalta. But, most of all, Roland would like to thank Omar Ruiz for putting his trust and faith in him, and allowing him to “go crazy” on his truck. It was truly an honor.
Today, Raul Sr. is semi-retired and Mendez Trucking is no longer in operation. Triple R Diesel is still a respected service center in San Antonio, and the Texas Chrome Shop is thriving. Back in 2011, when the oil industry began to boom, Raul Jr. started a new trucking company called Texas Chrome Transport (TCT), which specializes in hauling frac sand in dry bulk trailers to oil sites. In just five short years, Raul Jr. has been able to build his fleet up to 48 units.
Another exciting recent addition to the Mendez family’s busy schedule is a television show. Texas Trocas, a reality program on the Discovery en Español channel, premiered on September 15, 2015. The highly-rated show is centered around the Mendez family and their day-to-day challenges of running a chrome shop and building custom trucks. With eight episodes per season, their third season will begin on October 17, and, like the previous two seasons, will feature Raul Sr. and his wife Guadalupe (AKA Lupita), Raul Jr. and his wife Lorena, and Roland and his wife Johann. Most of the family really enjoy being in front of the camera, but Roland and his sister-in-law Lorena, not so much.
Texas Chrome is a true family operation, and this family is truly living the American dream. Raul Mendez Sr. is a shining example of how hard work, patience, persistence and faith can make anyone’s dreams come true. His boys and the companies they are involved with continue to grow and prosper, thanks to the work ethic he and Lupita instilled in them. While Raul Jr. is at his best behind the desk, focusing on marketing plans and fiscal growth, Roland is happy to be out in the shop, banging out metal masterpieces, like the work of art “Project TOC” became. And, with the level of success these two have achieved so far, it’s a system that works for them – and hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!