Not everyone can afford to drop their truck off at the local customization shop and then write a big check several months later. Heck, most truckers couldn’t shut down for a few months without going belly-up. Max Mondragon II (34) of Los Banos, CA is one of these guys – building his “dream ride” one thing at a time, as time and money allows. Hauling hay and livestock with his slick little 2-axle, Max is working hard to set a good example for his son, like his father did for him – and those are big shoes to fill.
Starting with nothing but a solid work ethic and the need to take care of himself, Max’s dad (Max Sr.) immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the early 1970s. Getting a job as a welder at a local truck repair shop in Los Banos, Max Sr. eventually worked his way up to the shop foreman position. After working there for 28 years, the shop closed-down, so Max Sr. opened his own shop – Max’s Truck Repair – in the same location. Today, he still owns and runs that shop, working on trucks every day.
Growing up in a strict Christian home, Max and his siblings (three older sisters and one older brother – Max is the “baby” of the family) were not allowed to goof-off much, and were expected to work at an early age. As far back as Max can remember, he was always at the shop, helping wherever needed, when he wasn’t at school. As he got older, he started to get his hands dirty, working on trucks, but he really wasn’t excited about it – but he still learned a lot. Today, he can fix just about anything on a truck, based on what he learned from his dad at the shop.
After graduating from high school, Max got a seasonal job at the local tomato-canning plant in town, while still working part-time with his dad at the shop. Eventually, his dad made him an offer to pay for whatever schooling he might want, but Max had other plans. Wanting to get into trucking, he asked if his dad would help him buy a rig, instead. His dad answered, “If that’s what you want to do.” Shortly thereafter, Max hit the ground running (well, driving, in this case).
Getting his CDL at 22 years old, Max bought a 1989 Freightliner cabover and a set of 1977 Utility 28’-6” outside-frame flats, and started hauling hay in 2006. Hauling locally in central California at first, he eventually began to run in neighboring states, as well. These days, most of his work is in California and Nevada. Painted white with a green stripe, the COE was powered by a Cat 3406-B hooked to a 13-speed, and featured a polished visor, a custom bumper, extra lights, a big stereo, a rear light bar, shiny quarter fenders and plenty of polish. Max ran this Freightliner (dubbed M1) for eight years, until CARB (California Air Resources Board) and some of his customers forced him to upgrade to a newer, emission-compliant rig.
Finding his current truck (the one on the cover, centerfold and these pages) at Coast Counties Peterbilt in San Jose, CA in October of 2014, Max purchased the 2014 Peterbilt 389, which had about 100,000 miles on it and was bone stock. It was the current color (Pewter with Sable fenders), but it had no options – it had minimal gauges inside, and it didn’t even have a passenger seat (there was a tool box over there). Powered by a 455-hp PACCAR engine and a 13-speed, the little 2-axle day cab rides on a 187-inch wheelbase. Max put the truck (dubbed M2) straight to work because, as mentioned before, Max can’t afford to just shut down and build his truck – he has had to do things little by little, as time and money permit.
Over the past 2+ years, Max has done quite a few things to improve and personalize his rig. These days, it has an 18-inch tapered bumper from Valley Chrome, extra grill bars, an “Air Ride by Horse” front end kit, 34-inch stainless Hogebuilt quarter fenders, and 7-inch Lincoln exhaust, with 90-degree elbows and “turnout” tips, for that hay-hauler look (the system is seven inches all the way to the “Y” pipe). The exhaust has also been hard-mounted to the cab, like on the old 379s. It also has an ATA visor, chopped air cleaner screens, five old-school incandescent cab lights with glass lenses (all his lights are like this), and a polished stainless deck plate. The rear light bar was built by his friend Matt Chavira in Madera, CA. Removing all the red from the Peterbilt emblems added the finishing touch (and made everything look cleaner).
Moving inside the cab, Max added a bunch of gauges and painted all the dash panels, along with the steering column, to match the exterior. He also added a unique 4-spoke billet steering wheel, new black carpet, silver glitter ball shifter and air brake knobs, and a bench seat out of a 1991 Chevy Silverado. The seat is a 60/40 split bench – the passenger side is the 60, and it sits on a speaker box, while the 40 on the driver side is on air and can move completely independent of the rest of the bench. Until he can get it reupholstered, along with the headliner and door panels, he currently covers it with a sarape – a colorful Mexican blanket.
The sound system in Max’s little day cab is not too shabby, either. The stereo has an Alpine head unit with (2) JL Audio 10-inch sub-woofers (under the passenger seat), (4) 6.5-inch and (2) 4-inch mid-range speakers, along with (2) tweeters. Two separate amps are mounted to the back wall, behind the seat – one puts 1,000 watts to the sub-woofers, while the other sends 500 watts to the rest of the speakers. The system also has an Epicenter base processor, which further enhances the sound.
One other thing worth mentioning on the rig is the personalized, classic, black and yellow California license plate – which says HAYPYSA. Max wanted something hay-related, in homage to the many old-school hay-haulers, and he came up with this one. PYSA stands for “paisano” which, loosely translated from Spanish to English means friend, companion or co-worker. But, Max and his friends use the term “paisano” or PYSA to refer to someone they jokingly consider to be a “super Mexican” (they kid each other about this all the time). Max checked with the DMV and the plate was available, so he just HAD to get it!
These days, Max pulls a set of 2012 Western 28’-6” air-ride flats when hauling hay, or a set of Merritt 28’ livestock trailers when moving small animals, which he does from time to time, for a local outfit that has 2,000 goats and 2,000 sheep. Currently, the hay trailers are blue, but Max plans to paint them Sable to match the fenders on his truck very soon (he already has new quarter fenders ready to go, as well). He also will occasionally put some regular freight on his flatbeds, if the need arises. Last year he got his hay dealer license, to do some buying and selling, but he hasn’t done much of that… yet.
As many might recognize, we took these pictures at the San Luis Reservoir, just west of Los Banos, along State Route 152. After record rainfalls in California this winter, the reservoir, which is the fifth largest in the state, was at or near capacity – it was really full. We spent a nice, quiet day out there, in 90-degree heat, taking pictures, having a few ice-cold Taco Truck lagers, and playing around with the truck (and a rattlesnake, too). Heading back to the yard for a few more final photos, we were able to get a couple shots of Max with his dad and son – three generations of Max Mondragons! It doesn’t get much better than that.
Wanting to give credit where credit is due, Max would like to thank his dad and brother for helping him with the truck in the shop and before shows, David Reyes at Kustom Shine in Manteca for getting the rig ready for the shoot, the folks at A & L Chrome Shop (he spends way too much time and money there), and Z-Boys Detail in Madera, for helping Max clean-up the truck for some of the shows. Max only goes to local shows, but he has been to several – he even won “Best of Show” at an event in Fresno last year.
Max is happy to just have one truck right now, but hopes to one day add a few more, along with a hay squeeze, that he hopes he can pass down to his son, if he wants it. Max III is from a past relationship, and Max gets him every other weekend. He likes to go out with his dad in the truck to “feed the cows” but he falls asleep pretty quick. Max is currently in a relationship with a longtime girlfriend named Annabel. He used to play softball, but injuries stopped that. Last year, he started bowling, and now he really likes doing that (even though he still isn’t very good at it).
Being able to get up every morning, go to work and provide for his family, like his father did for all those years, is the most important thing to Max. Always joking and kidding around, Max is an easy-going and fun guy, but when it comes to his truck and trucking, he doesn’t mess around. Little by little, Max Mondragon is slowly building his dream ride – piece by piece – doing one thing at a time. But, we have no doubt that this HAYPYSA will eventually get it all done, and when he does, it will be muy bonito!