Some people are born to be trend-setters. Some do it with an outlandish and brash style, while others don’t choose to do it at all – it just happens naturally. Such is the case for Steve Chandler of Camano Island, Washington, who has been quietly setting the standard for “cool” in the Pacific Northwest with his understated and subtle style since the late 1980s. His current ride, a clean W900L Kenworth, is a perfect example of the type of rigs he has ran over the years, which have just enough done to them to turn heads without being too obvious or obnoxious.
Growing up in a trucking family, Steve’s dad Jack was your typical gypsy trucker of the 1960s and 1970s. Steve was born in Nebraska in 1962, but only lived there for about a year, then the family moved out west to Southern California (Colton). Steve has a brother (Jack Jr.) and two sisters, and all of them were born in different states, too. After seven or eight years in Colton, they moved to Sun Valley (just north of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley), and then after a few years there, they moved to Canyon Country, another suburb north of Los Angeles, for a couple years. In 1979, when Steve was about 16 or 17 years old, the family moved to Blaine, Washington, a city located right at the US/Canada border. After 40 years in the oilfields, working in Alaska for Chevron, Steve’s grandpa retired and moved to Blaine, which is what drove Steve’s family to go there, as well.
Blaine is a fishing town, and Steve quickly took to it. Although his dad owned and operated a small fleet of trucks, Steve wasn’t interested in that – he wanted to be a commercial fisherman. After graduating from high school in 1981, he spent that entire summer fishing. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a terrible year, and he wasn’t making any money, so when the fishing season came to an end that September, Steve began working in his dad’s truck shop.
Wanting to drive, his dad bought a 1950 Kenworth and the two of them restored the rig so Steve could run it. Powered by a 262 Cummins and a 5+4 two-stick transmission, Steve learned to drive from his dad and his brother in this truck, but after just a few months, his dad decided that he wanted to run the old rig himself, so Steve ended up in one of his dad’s 1972 Peterbilts with a 335 Cummins and two sticks.
Pulling flatbeds back then under the name Chandler Transportation, Steve ran this ’72 Pete until 1985 when his dad decided to sell all ten of his trucks, get rid of all the hired help, and buy three new trucks – one for him and one for each of his two sons. Steve’s dad ended up buying three new International 4300 conventionals. Steve’s was a 1984 painted gray with a black and white stripe, his brother’s was a 1984 painted green with a black and white stripe, and his dad’s was a 1985 painted yellow with a black and white stripe. The three men ran together like this until 1988, when Steve decided to buy the International truck from his dad and form his own company – True North Distributing (named after a fishing boat he had back then).
Around this time, Steve also switched from pulling flatbeds to pulling vans and reefers and started running up and down I-5 from Seattle to Los Angeles or Seattle to the San Francisco Bay area, hauling paper south and a variety of products north, including beer, wine, American Racing wheels, and whatever else he could find to fill his trailer. In 1990, he traded-in his International and bought a brand-new white long hood Peterbilt 379 with a Slate Grey frame and fenders. Featuring a 48” flattop sleeper, a 425 Cat, a 15-speed transmission and a 250” wheelbase, this was a dream truck for Steve (and most truck drivers at that time).
A few years later, in 1994, Steve acquired a 1985 Peterbilt 359 to restore. After about a year, the truck was ready to hit the road, so Steve sold his 1990 Pete, which now had 750,000 miles on it, and began using the 359 as his daily driver. Featuring a slick silver and gray paint job, a 63” flattop sleeper, a 400-hp B-model Cat, a 15-speed transmission, 265” wheelbase, Pete LowAir suspension and ghost flames on the tanks, this truck was really cool.
After running the 359 for seven years, in 2002, Steve bought a used, dark blue 1999 Peterbilt 379 with a 70” stand-up sleeper, a 475 Cat, an 18-speed transmission and a 275” wheelbase. Our resident “Poetry in Motion” writer here at 10-4, Trevor Hardwick, was hired by Steve while he had this Peterbilt, and Trevor got to drive it for Steve for a few years!
In 2010, after almost three decades of being an owner operator, Steve decided it was time to take a break and sold both his trucks and trailers, along with his hauls, and took a company driving job at Twin City Foods in Stanwood, WA. Driving a company-owned International, Steve pulled a reefer and made deliveries all over the Pacific Northwest for this outfit, which grew and packed vegetables.
In May of 2012, Steve made the mistake of going to the big ATHS National Convention and Antique Truck Show in Yakima, WA. Seeing many of his old friends and over 1,000 sweet rides sparked Steve to begin thinking about buying his own truck again. In November of 2014, Steve went to Kenworth Northwest in Marysville, WA and ordered a new W900L, which arrived in February of the following year.
Ordered from the factory in a dark blue Chevrolet color with a gold stripe, the truck is equipped with a 550 Cummins, an 18-speed, 3.55 rears and a 40” flattop. Wanting/needing a “pusher” axle, the factory would not position it exactly where Steve wanted it, so he ordered the rig without it and then, after it arrived at the dealership, they installed it. From there, it went to Kevin Pickett’s shop in Marysville, WA for a few custom touches, before hitting the road a few weeks later, with a brand-new 2015 East quad-axle flatbed trailer in tow.
Once the truck arrived at Pickett Repair, Kevin went to work, replacing the square cab lights with five bullet-style lights, and then he added two chrome horns to the roof. He also installed a new visor and tapered front bumper, Hogebuilt stainless steel rear fenders, billet hub grease caps, and modified the stacks to hide the “bells” behind the heat shields. He then made a custom steel tail plate, which was painted by Casey DeBeau of Casey’s Body Shop in Lake Stevens, WA. Casey also removed the emblems from the side of the hood, the blinkers from atop the front fenders, and the hood latches (Kevin later added hidden hood latches). Kevin also made 3-step box covers, several modified Harley lights, and a painted aluminum deck plate, complete with a hidden compartment housing a second air and electrical connection box so Steve could hook to trailers that were not plumbed underneath, like his.
Once the truck was ready to roll, Steve leased-on with Bert Matter Inc. of Nooksack, WA. For more than 90 years, Bert Matter Inc. has delivered reliable service at competitive prices from their home in Northwest Washington. Started in 1927 with one man and a coal truck, Bert Matter himself delivered the coal that fueled industry and heated homes in the Northwest. By mid-century coal was on its way out and oil was coming in, so Bert Matter’s coal box was replaced with an oil tank. When their customers needed them to haul construction materials, they bought flatbeds. When their jobs required them to go further, they obtained permits for interstate commerce, including Western Canada. When their customers asked them to help find partners for needs they couldn’t meet, they started a brokerage.
Over the years, Bert Matter’s authority changed hands a few times, but in 1980 it ended up with Jim Christofferson and his wife Teri. In 2000, Shane Bass joined the team, and over the years has become an owner, as well. When the time comes for Jim and Teri to retire, Shane is poised to take the reins. The company has always focused on creating and maintaining mutually-beneficial partnerships, which is seen in their loyal customer base, in some cases going back more than 30 years. Today, with five or six company trucks and 20+ leased-on owner operators, Bert Matter Inc. currently runs in the states of WA, OR, ID, MT, CA, NV, UT and AZ, along with British Columbia and Alberta in Canada.
Meeting Steve at a friend’s house in scenic Priest River, ID (Frank and Diana Pangburn, who produce and run the Truckin’ For Kids Show & Drags each year in Irwindale, CA), many of the pictures were taken right in Frank’s driveway and on the street in front of his house, with the rest being taken in turnouts along Highway 2 south of town. We had hoped to drive the rig out into one of his neighbor’s green fields, but it rained the night before and Steve came in with a load of brick weighing 100,000 lbs. so we did not want to risk getting him stuck. Big thanks go out to Frank and Diana for their hospitality and help.
Happily married to his “smart” wife Diane, who works as a Paralegal, the couple has been together for about 13 years and married now for three. Both have grown children from previous marriages – Steve has two daughters, and Diane has three sons and a daughter. Although he no longer has the boat that became the namesake of his company, True North Distributing, he does now have a different one – a 26-foot ocean fishing boat he takes out whenever possible. Truth is, if he could find a way to fish for a living, he’d probably give up trucking!
When Steve’s dad retired in 1995, wanting to keep the family name going, he changed his company from True North back to Chandler Transportation, and has been operating under that name ever since. Sadly, his father passed away in 2014. His brother, Jack Jr. (known to many as Jackie Chan), still drives a dump truck locally around the state of Washington.
Although Steve has attended many truck shows over the years, he has never taken his truck to one, so we were very excited when he accepted our invite to bring it to the Brooks Truck Show in Brooks, OR (August 24-25, 2018) and park it next to our booth. So, if you want to meet Steve and get an up-close-and-personal look at his rig, come on out to the show! In addition to our booth and Steve’s awesome KW, there will be hundreds of antiques and hundreds of working show trucks to check out, along with a handful of vendors and a large swap meet section, where you just might find that illusive part you’ve been searching so long for.
As mentioned before, our resident “Poetry in Motion” writer Trevor Hardwick drove for Steve before he became an owner operator from 2006 to 2009. Driving Steve’s dark blue ’99 Pete 379, Trevor loved working for Steve and the two became good friends. Later, when Trevor bought his own truck and became an owner operator, Steve became a mentor to Trevor. Helping him with the business-side of trucking, Trevor said, “I have emulated much of Steve’s conservative style and ethical approach to both trucks and trucking. I often ask myself, what would Steve do in this situation?” When we called Trevor to ask his opinion of Steve and his truck as a possible cover feature, Trevor very excitedly and quickly answered, “Yes! But he probably won’t think he is worthy – but he is!” And he was right.
Humble and subtle, nobody gets to this level of success alone, and Steve Chandler is no different. He wanted to thank Kevin Pickett of Pickett Repair, Casey DeBeau of Casey’s Body Shop, everyone at Bert Matter, his wife Diane, his dad Jack Sr. (RIP), and his brother Jack Jr. for all their help and support over the years. Steve’s level of “understated cool” is off the charts, and we are so glad we got to put him and his rig in the limelight this month, even if it wasn’t the most comfortable place for him to be.