The term “unique” has probably been overused in the trucking industry, but in this month’s Fog Line Rewind, I’ve found it to be the proper term for two more trucking-related things – Preston Johnson and INCO Express. Although they are two uniquely-different things (one is a now-defunct company and the other is an actively-operating trucker), they are uniquely connected, and each is individually unique themselves.
Naturally, because I’ve always been a truck nut, I remember those uniquely-cool baby blue INCO Express produce trucks, with red frames, from Seattle, Washington, running up and down I-5. Back then, when I was just a little kid, I loved them – and still do. INCO Express was a Seattle-based carrier, founded by two brothers, Vic and Art Di Pietro, in 1958. Their outfit was named from the first four letters of their mother’s name, Incornado Di Pietro. INCO’s good reputation and cool trucks were famous all around the western United States for decades, up until 1999, when they decided to close their doors. But, for many, myself included, their uniquely-cool trucks would forever be remembered and admired.
It just so happens that I spotted an ex-INCO Peterbilt 352 cabover several months ago up in Yakima, Washington. Still dressed in its INCO uniform, baby blue with a white stripe, I just had to find out more about it and its owner. I ended up finding the owner, Preston Johnson of Yakima, and let me tell you, I’m sure glad that I did! I’m proud to say that the only thing as unique as Preston’s original INCO 352 is Preston himself.
A true gear-head since the day he was born in February of 1980 in Yakima, Washington, Preston Johnson grew up in the “rough” part of town (believe it or not, even Yakima has a seedy side), which is where Preston and his mother Mary Hill lived in those days. The “6th Street ghetto” never bothered Preston or his mom a bit, because they had what mattered – a loving home and a huge truck terminal right across the street. Preston was born into a family that had nothing to do with the trucking industry, but thanks to some knot-holes and cracks in the fence, Preston was able to get a good visual on all the awesome trucks and warehouse equipment operated by the Pepsi distribution facility directly across the street from his house.
Noel Canning Corp. in Yakima, Washington, was a pretty happening place in the early 80s, owning several classy dark blue Kenworth A-Model conventionals, as well as some Ford cab-forward local tractors, that were just as nice. There were many times throughout each week where Preston would wander over to Noel’s yard to get a closer look, and if they had mistakenly left their gates open, Preston would immediately go right into the terminal lot to get an “up close look” at all the cool iron. Preston would stay out there in that yard until either his mom said it was time to come home or until one of Noel’s security guards reminded him that he shouldn’t be inside the gates.
In those days, the most important priority for Mary was that her son gets a good education. The public school in their area wasn’t nearly safe enough or good enough for Mary, so she enrolled Preston into a better school across town, which worked out great for Preston, and also taught him the value of a dollar. How, you ask? Well, Preston would take his lunch tickets and sell them for cash, then take his earned dollars down to the local arcade and have a blast! Preston learned his wheeler-dealer ways young, which he would later master. He also thoroughly enjoyed riding in a 2-stroke Detroit-powered city bus, to and from school, from kindergarten until he was old enough to get his driver’s license. Well, maybe a little longer than that.
When Preston was 15 years old, his mom would let him go out and warm-up her car in the driveway during Yakima’s really cold winters, and Preston’s way of “warming-up” his mom’s Chevy station wagon was hot-dogging it around the neighborhood a few times… or more! That is, until the day one of Yakima’s local PD officers pulled him over and asked for his license. Needless to say, he didn’t have a license. The officer asked if his mom was home, and Preston replied, “Yes, sir.” Then, the officer cited him for $200 and told him to go home. Preston did yard work and mowed many lawns to pay that ticket, and that’s exactly what he did – without his mom ever finding out about it! That is, until the police department eventually called his mom to confirm Preston’s story. Uh, oh! Bottom line, Preston’s mom didn’t let him get his driver’s license until he was 17.
Preston’s grandfather Ace Metcalf was an Alaskan bush pilot, as well as many other things, throughout his many years, and by the time that Preston was born, Ace had built up and earned many decades of knowledge. It took a few years for Preston’s grandpa to come to grips with the fact that Preston was his only grandson, but once he did, it was game on! Preston recalls the day he helped him install a 427 Big Block into a 1968 Chevrolet step-side pickup. Grandpa Ace quickly realized he had made a huge impression on this young man, who was not only destined to later become a true gear-head, but also his only grandson, which meant a lot.
Throughout the late 1990s and the early 2000s, Preston became fascinated and motivated with the mechanical side of the trucking industry. He worked at many varying jobs, including local lube shops, but finally landed a good truck repair gig at a local Yakima truck shop named Diesel Tech Machining. Preston loved to finally learn new things every day about trucks, and about anything to do with them, in fact. Around 2006, Preston took a job at Yakima’s local Peterbilt dealership, Western Peterbilt, and learned even more about the normal day-to-day life of being addicted to these big dang trucks and trailers.
Preston really enjoyed working at Western Peterbilt, not only because of being able to do and learn new things every day, but also for the job perks. One perk Preston will never forget was a company trip to Peterbilt’s factory in Denton, Texas, where Preston got to spend several days learning about many things, including Paccar engines.
The mid-2000s were really picking up for Preston when his son Peyton was born in 2008. Two short years later, his daughter Vivian was born. By this time, Preston was building a reputation as a good mechanic and an honest person. And, if you were to ask his two kids, he was also “The best dad ever!” There are so many things Preston is grateful for and happy about in his life, but one of the best is his great friend Butch Ball. Preston appreciates every minute he gets to spend with him and, in fact, considers Butch to be his second grandpa.
In 2012, Preston was given the opportunity to buy one of his favorite trucks of all time. Growing up around this well-kept 1979 Peterbilt 352, an original INCO cabover, owned by JR Smith from Yakima, Preston used to sneak around town driving this 352 when he was younger. JR Smith made a deal to sell this 352 to Preston for $3,300 as long as he promised that he wouldn’t scrap it. Preston saved his money and paid cash for the COE, handing JR the last $75 of the purchase in one dollar bills.
Basically, folks, it’s safe to say that Preston would NEVER scrap his baby blue “baby” – in fact, Preston even does some lowboy heavy-haul work with it these days, along with some seasonal fruit hauling between Yakima, WA and Portland, OR. Other than running his 352, Preston is basically a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to rebuilding truck motors, and virtually anything that someone may need (mechanically) in the world of trucking. Look him up if you need something “fixed” or tricked-out, cause this guy really knows his stuff.
If you ask Preston what he does, he’ll just say, “I do truck stuff.” But, when you watch him turn 16-17 second quarter-mile runs at the local drag strip with his old 352, you instantly realize that Preston does much more than just truck stuff. Preston always says, “Live life!” and that is exactly what he does, just at a faster pace than most of us.
Thank you, Mr. Preston Johnson, for letting us share the stories and photos that bring your fast-paced world to life – you are truly a unique individual. And, if you ever even consider scrapping or getting rid of that historical INCO 352 of yours, you’d better call me first!