There’s something special about being in charge of your own destiny. The freedom and control that comes with being your own boss can be both scary and liberating, but when done correctly, it can give you the most opportunities and choices. In today’s “big box” corporate business environment, one-truck independent operators are being forced out of the game by high costs, ridiculous regulations, cut-throat competition and the lure of stability and security. But, Bill LaBrocca (46) of Medford, Oregon, is not falling for any of that – he is proud to be a true independent owner operator and loves the freedom and lifestyle it provides.
Born in Sylmar, California (a suburb just north of Los Angeles) in 1972, Bill did not grow up in a trucking environment. His dad, who worked for the Los Angeles County School District, repaired musical instruments, while his mom raised game birds and fancy chickens. When Bill was two years old, the family, seeking more property, moved to Acton – a small rural community nestled between the L.A. basin and Palmdale (the High Desert). In Acton, Bill’s mom expanded her bird-raising business, and his dad continued to commute into Los Angeles.
Once a week, Bill’s mom would load up about 100 of her “Silkie” chickens and drive them to a butcher in Chinatown, near downtown Los Angeles, to sell them. She got very popular with the locals, who would see her pickup truck and come running. This breed of chicken is very beautiful and unique, known for their fluffy and soft feathers and interesting colors, but it is also a delicacy in many cultures. Bill’s mom also sold quail and pheasants personally to Wolfgang Puck, which he would serve in his restaurants. Bill loved going with his mom on those trips down to Los Angeles, driving down the I-5, and seeing all the large rides of the day – like Peterbilt 359s, Kenworth W900As, Freightliner Classics and International cabovers, to name a few.
Growing up in Acton, which sits right next to the busy 14 freeway, Bill would sit on his front porch and watch the trucks go by. Later, he befriended some local construction haulers (Jim Carson and Chuck Ryan) who moved heavy equipment and such, and a 10-year-old Bill would go trucking with them whenever he could. Running with these guys in a 359 Pete and an old Mack, it didn’t take long for Bill to figure out what he wanted to do – and the hook was set.
When Bill was 13 years old, his parents got a divorce, and his mom moved he and his siblings to the resort town of Mammoth Lakes, California. After graduating from high school there, Bill got a summer job with the city working on a road crew. Dave Beck, a guy on the crew, taught Bill how to drive a 2-stick Mack water truck. After just one day of instruction, Dave told Bill he was going to punch him in the arm every time he missed a shift. Needless to say, he got a lot of bruises that summer, but he also learned how to drive that beast of a truck.
Although he was never hired-on as a full time employee, Bill worked for the city for two summers and one winter, where he learned how to drive a snow plow. During this time, he also learned how to back up a tractor-trailer. His supervisor, Alan Goodall, taught him the fine art of driving backwards in an old Peterbilt hooked to a belly dump. His unconventional method of teaching involved money for motivation. Alan would put a dollar bill on a random spot, and then Bill would have to add a dollar of his own. From there, it was Bill’s job to back the trailer up until one of the wheels was on top of the pile. If he was successful, Bill got the money – if not, Alan took it. Money is a strong motivator, for sure, so Bill learned fast.
In 1993, when Bill was 21, his family moved east to Fish Lake Valley, Nevada, seeking warmer weather. Located near the California-Nevada border, about 50 miles northeast of Bishop, California (as the crow flies), Fish Lake Valley is in the middle of nowhere! Bill got a job on a rig drilling geothermic test wells, and these wells were thousands of feet deep. They wanted to build a power plant out there, but none of the wells had enough pressure, so the project was eventually scrapped. In 1996, Bill had a choice to make – stay in Fish Lake Valley, or move to either San Diego, California, where his brother now lived, or Medford, Oregon, where his mom and sister now lived. Bill chose Oregon.
After moving to Medford, Bill got a job at Gold River Distributing delivering beer around Medford and Grants Pass. Driving a 2-axle GMC Top Kick conventional and pulling a 45’ dry van, Bill learned a lot in the seven years he was there. But when his “cool” boss left the company and a “not-so-cool” new guy came in to replace him, Bill and several other drivers left. From there, in 2003, Bill started hauling containers between Medford and Portland for a guy named Bill Owens. Bill Owens and his wife Judy became Bill’s mentors and second set of parents. To this day, they are still great friends.
In 2005, Bill Owens sold Bill LaBrocca his first truck – a 1994 Peterbilt 379. Offering to have it repainted and even letting Bill pick out the color (he chose a dark red color that ended up being more purple than red), the truck had a 63” flattop sleeper, a 3406C Cat and a 10-speed. It was an awesome first truck! From there, Bill became an owner operator and started hauling lumber for Cascade Wood Products to the San Francisco Bay area of California, running several loads a week with Bill Owens and our good friend James Davis (who would later go on to grace our June 2008 cover with his ground-breaking and cool orange and black Peterbilt 379).
Two years later, in 2007, Bill bought his second truck – the one you see here (and on our cover and centerfold) – a 1999 Peterbilt 379. Back then, it was painted Starfire Red (a maroon color) and featured a 265” wheelbase, a 63” flattop sleeper, a 475 Cat and an 18-speed. The truck only had about 300,000 miles on it when Bill bought it. Selling his 1994 Peterbilt to a local guy in Medford, Bill still sees it running around town these days, and it still looks good.
Like everyone else in the trucking business, the recession that began in 2008 hit Bill hard. As the building industry came to a near standstill, hauling lumber no longer was a viable option. To survive, Bill sold his roll-top trailer and bought a 2002 stainless Wabash reefer, and switched to refrigerated freight (everyone has to eat, right). As it turned out, Bill loved pulling a reefer. He loved the hustle, and he loved the challenge of getting everything to work – making multiple picks and deliveries, loading the trailer in the proper order, and getting it all delivered in a timely manner – it was a whole different world.
Over the years, Bill added some accessories to his truck, like the double-round headlights and bullet-style cab lights, but nothing too major. In 2011, our friend Jeff Botelho painted Bill’s truck a dark red color with a unique cream-colored “scallop” design and added a back window to the sleeper (actually, he switched-out the sleeper to a different one with a window). Still pulling the reefer, Bill did a lot of work for Oldland Distributing back then. Bill eventually switched back to a curtain van around 2013, after the building industry had made its recovery.
After switching back to a curtain van, Bill hauled a lot for his old friend James Davis, who now had a thriving and growing trucking operation (JDT) of his own, running lumber and building products up and down the west coast, doing the famous I-5 shuffle. The following year, Bill and his wife Leslie had their first (and only) child – a son named Cameron – and everything kind of changed. Suddenly, Bill wanted to be home more. And although that change did not come immediately, with hard work and some luck, it eventually did. These days, Bill runs between Northern California and Medford, and is home almost every night. What a perfect scenario – he gets to run “the big road” in a big ride, and still be home most nights – not many owner operators can say that.
In 2015, needing some write-offs, Bill was considering buying a new truck. After hearing some of the horror stories going around about these new trucks, Bill decided to just refinance, rebuild and refresh the one he already had. Taking the truck to C Bar C Truck Sales & Parts in White City, Oregon, Jeff and Todd went through the entire truck and rebuilt or replaced anything that was broken or worn out. After that, Bill had them stretch the frame and build a custom deck plate. When asked how long he wanted to go, and after his wife Leslie encouraged him to “go big or go home” with the stretch, he threw out a random number, and the rig now sports a very unpractical but cool 319” wheelbase.
Once all the main pieces of the puzzle were in place, Bill took the truck to Commercial Collision & Paint in Central Point, Oregon, where Bill Abernethy and his wife Lisa finished the job. Painting the truck and fitting it with many of the accessories you see now, the rig spent about a month at Commercial Collision. Starting with a Harley-Davidson color called Amber Whiskey, Bill Abernethy worked his magic and added extra metallic and pearl to the paint, creating an amazingly-deep copper color, that changes a lot, depending on the lighting. Mr. Abernethy also designed the simple but elegant stripe pattern, which looks like black with a white outline, but it’s actually a dark root beer brown color with a cream outline. But the rig’s unique color isn’t the only thing that makes it stand out.
Still featuring its original drivetrain, which has now been all rebuilt, the truck also has a stainless visor, custom mirror brackets from Silva Kustoms, a 20” tapered front bumper from Valley Chrome and painted half-fenders, mounted on custom hidden brackets (made by Bill’s friend Jeremy). Other exterior accessories include 7” Lincoln Chrome pipes, custom painted aluminum battery/step boxes with custom billet step plates made by Northwest Mechanical in Central Point, Oregon, painted aluminum cab and sleeper drop panels, and a punched grille with five Kenworth grille bars. Up front, he also added small round turn signals, from Harley-Davidson, mounted to the front fender brackets.
One of Bill’s favorite things on his entire truck are the custom emblems on the side of the hood. Wanting to take old square Peterbilt emblems and remove the square (leaving just the letters), Bill took the emblems and the idea to a friend, who decided it would be easier to just recreate the text using billet stainless. After the emblems were created, Bill Abernethy painted the edges to match Bill’s truck, and then Bill’s friend Jeremy polished the fronts, giving the rig truly unique old-school-looking emblems.
Another one of Bill’s favorite things on his truck is the painted “I-panel” between his fuel tanks. Actually, the most important part of that particular piece is the lettering on it. Adorned with the word “Independent” on the I-panel, that word really means a lot to Bill. When asked about its meaning, he got pretty choked-up about it, and then proceeded to tell me a story about how he vividly remembered the day he delivered his 1,000th load as an owner operator to a place in Fresno, California. That is quite an accomplishment, and he is very proud of it – and, since then, he has delivered a bunch more!
The inside of Bill’s Peterbilt features an American Class interior, spiced-up a bit with a hardwood floor, which Bill installed himself many years ago, along with some custom orange anodized knobs from Silva Kustoms. The cab also has a unique Peterbilt shifter knob, two old-school fans, billet pedals and a painted steering wheel. Bill has plans to do more work inside the cab sometime soon, but he just doesn’t have the time to do it right now.
Wanting to acknowledge a few people, Bill wanted to thank his friend Jeremy for all his help with this project. He not only helped with some of the various pieces mentioned before, but he also made the custom rounded air cleaner light bars for Bill, and even lent him a truck to drive while all this work was being done. He also wanted to thank Bill and Judy Owens, who not only taught him what to do in regard to his business, but also what NOT to do, and his wife Leslie for putting up with all this foolishness. Lastly, he wanted to thank all his customers, past and present, and all the nice people he has met over the years. No one gets through life alone, and all these people have helped Bill to get where he is today, and he is very thankful for them all.
Last year, Bill got the opportunity to buy a cool custom trailer from a popular guy in the Pacific Northwest named Ned Vander Ploeg, who had decided to retire. Some of Ned’s past trucks have been featured in the magazine, and they were always top-notch rides. Well, this trailer is top-notch, too. Originally painted red, to match Ned’s trucks, Bill pulled the trailer, which is a 48’ 2016 MAC flatbed with a Quick Draw roll-top system, for a few months like that before taking it to Commercial Collision for the copper-colored matching paint. Featuring custom light bars and panels, plenty of extra lights, and a polished front, this spread-axle trailer now looks right at home behind Bill’s Peterbilt.
Now that Bill has a gig that gets him home almost every night, he is enjoying spending more time with his wife and son. Most of his “free” time just goes to family stuff, but when Bill and Leslie get the chance, they enjoy competitive target shooting. And speaking of shooting, Bill recently took the truck and the newly-painted trailer to a truck show in Brooks, Oregon, where it was awarded Best Combo, out of over 300 first-class rides. That was impressive – so much so, we decided to follow him home to Medford after the show and “shoot” his rig. And after seeing the pictures and realizing that it was a perfect color for October, it quickly landed on our cover. Congratulations, Bill.
Still running I-5 but more locally, and still hauling lumber and other building materials, Bill is happy to be a single-truck owner operator. In fact, that is all he ever wants to be. His truck now has over 1.4 million miles on the odometer, but you sure wouldn’t know it by looking at it. One day he knows that he will probably have to replace this rig, but he is not looking forward to that day. In the meantime, he’ll just keep running hard in the day, and enjoy being home every night. Being a true “independent” has allowed Bill LaBrocca the freedom to live the life he wants to live – and that’s all most of us want – because that’s what life is really all about!