Around trucks and truck rebuilding his entire life, Josh Riccio of Stroudsburg, PA had nothing to prove – but he did it anyway! In the midst of fighting cancer, he turned his attention to building a truck, and that distraction helped get him through some tough times. We first met Josh when he worked at Elizabeth Truck Center in Elizabeth, NJ, where he helped build some game-changing rigs. Josh was also the one behind the SuperShowRigs website, which posted pics from truck shows. When asked to submit some information about his latest build, the KW seen here, he sent a 10-page essay! We decided to let the story stay in his words, since he did such a good job, but we did shorten it a bit.
Trucks have been my whole life for as long as I can remember. I got my CDL right out of high school and then went to work for Bill Gorman, hauling demo and trash. In 2007 I started working for Elizabeth Truck Center in NJ as a mechanic and fabricator, and was there for four years, building show trucks and fixing wrecked ones, as well. In 2009 I bought my first truck – a W900A that I found through a friend who lived out west. In 2010 I got hurt in a car accident and was sidelined with back injuries for over a year. Unable to go back to ETC due to my back issues, I went back to driving trucks.
From 2011 to 2016 I worked at various companies, driving all types of trucks, from dump trucks, container hauling, flatbed work, tri-axles, log and mulch wagons. In 2013, I sold off my first truck, after having it in a million pieces, and bought my second A-model KW. After three years of working on it in my driveway, it was about 70% finished. By then, in 2016, I had finished it enough to take it to a show, and on a first test drive, after doing all new head gaskets and re-doing all the dash and cab wiring, I was hit head-on by a car on the wrong side of the road not far from my house. The truck was damaged so much that the insurance company totaled it out before it was ever even finished.
The silver lining, if you can call it that, was that after the accident I had an MRI and a few other tests done, due to my history of back injuries, and they found a softball-sized lump in my neck, which ended up being a cancerous thyroid tumor. So, if it wasn’t for the accident, who knows what would have happened! After the accident, it was time to move forward and find another truck. My same friend out west found another A-model that was for sale in New Jersey, which ended up being owned by the brother of a friend of mine, that had been sitting inside for years – and came with a ton of extra parts.
That truck became the one seen here – a 1980 Kenworth W900A that was originally from Texas. Specially-ordered with a factory 400 BC1 Cummins, 5+4 Spicers, a 36” coffin sleeper, and an aluminum frame with Hendrickson Walking Beam suspension, the truck went from Texas to three different owners in New Jersey before I bought it. The last owner of the truck, before me, was the brother of a good friend of mine, Mickey Delia, who owns a Mack truck restoration shop in New Jersey. His brother, Jimmy, owned this KW for about 15 years. During that time, it was fully stripped down, to the bare aluminum, with parts all over his shop, but he just never got around to finishing it. I was able to make a deal, and thanks to Paul Baldwin at AJACO Towing, both the wrecked truck and my new truck were towed to my buddy’s shop in Bangor, PA.
While dealing with all the doctor visits and everything else, a friend of mine named Chapa, who has a shop about 10 minutes up the road, needed some help, so I did that for a few days a week. This part time work gave me a reason to get out of the house and not go stir crazy. After I started to feel better after the accident, Chapa and I decided to bring the trucks to his place and start the rebuilding process there. Doing the work at his place was great, because any time I had a problem or needed an extra hand, Chapa was there to help. Once both trucks were at his shop, the wrecked one was totally cut apart and dismantled, then work on the new one began.
The first part of the truck I worked on was the sleeper. After stripping it down to the frame, I reskinned the corners, fixed the roof, and made a C-shaped couch that flipped-up into a bed. After the sleeper was finished, I bought a parts truck, that also had an aluminum frame, and I also bought a Freightliner Airliner cutoff. Once the wheelbase was figured out, I was talked into converting my truck from a short hood to an extended hood. A friend found me a factory extended hood sitting behind a warehouse in New Jersey for $200, so I bought it and then moved everything back 12” to accommodate it. I also pulled out the original motor, sold it, and bought an electronic N14 out of a 1994 Peterbilt.
After what felt like four months of body work, prep work, and converting the factory manual steering over to a power steering setup, Chapa and I finally got the frame inside, where I then spent 13 hours welding-up over 200 holes, doing the frame stretch, and customizing the rear-end of the frame, an idea I got from my friend John Noto Jr. of New York. On Father’s Day 2017, I pushed the frame inside the shop and, with help from my girlfriend Danielle and friend Gregg Hoffman, we got it all cleaned-up and I sprayed the primer. The following day, Chapa and I laid down three coats of that bright Omaha Orange paint on the frame rails.
I had my first cancer surgery in December of 2016. All the preliminary tests on the tumor came back benign. After the surgery, which only removed half the tumor, the doctor called me and said the original diagnosis was wrong – it WAS a cancerous tumor. In his 30+ years, he said he never saw the results of a genetic test come back wrong – but that is what happened.
The following month, January 2017, I went to my doctor’s office for the pre-appointment for my second surgery to remove the rest of my thyroid, and I found out that as of January 1st, my doctor had been dropped by my insurance company. It wasn’t until Memorial Day weekend of 2017 that we could get this all sorted out and I could get me second surgery. A few months later, I began radiation treatment. With all this going on, my doctor just kept telling me to keep my spirits up and to not get depressed. It’s amazing how something like building a truck could keep my mind off everything negative and keep my attitude positive.
Here is where the story of my build gets crazy. After the frame was finished, painted and sitting pretty at its new 275” length, which was originally only 233” long, I began to prepare the N14 engine for installation. Upon a deeper inspection, I realized that the motor was in bad shape – it needed rods, mains, a camshaft, head gaskets and a new front cover. After looking into the cost of fixing the N14, I decided to go a different route. Searching online, I found a guy in southern Ohio that had a pair of 8V92 fire truck motors who was willing to trade for my bad N14. So, Chapa and I loaded up my pickup with the N14 and a Series 60 he sold to a friend in Ohio, and off we went on an 1,100-mile road trip.
Once home with the 8V92s (motor number 3), my buddy Jon Zucal, who is a 2-stroke Detroit guy, was able to get the motor running and go through it, and was quite happy with how good of shape it was in. Then, I had to track down all the original 8V92 KW mounting brackets, change all the front-end driveline mounts, and make a new driveshaft between the main box and auxiliary transmission (yes, I kept the original 5+4). Then, I made the 5th wheel plate and painted it, got the new air bags mounted, and then had to repaint the outside of the frame and the front end again after changing over to the 8V92 mounts. After painting the motor and connecting it to the transmission, we installed everything in the truck and set the cab (still in primer) on the frame as the winter was setting in.
Expecting a massive cold spell, I fired the 8V92 up inside the frame to get it warm and to get the fluids moving. Up until this point, the truck still hadn’t been able to move under its own power yet. The following day I came in to the shop and found the radiator empty – the motor had dropped a line, which bent a rod and cracked a liner, dropping nine gallons of antifreeze into the motor. So, yet again, after a few days to clear my head, I started ripping the motor out of the truck and tracking down another W900 that a friend had that he wanted to part out.
So, in the middle of a snowstorm, my buddy Nick Deschaine brought his ‘77 A-model with a 3406A over to Chapas and, with help from Rick Decker, we got the ‘77 stripped and cut up. After hearing it run, we took the Cat motor out (motor number 4), but then plans changed again. My friend Dalton Degroot came over and said his dad was interested in my Cat motor, and he had a Cummins 400 BC3 crate motor with roughly 197K miles on it he was willing to trade. After making the deal, I helped pull the Cummins out of his truck and put the Cat back in it. Once we got his running, we went back to focusing on the 400 Big Cam, which was perfectly fine with me, because I am a Cummins guy, anyway. So, I went from the factory 400 Cummins, to an N14, to an 8V92, to a 3406A, and then back to another 400 Cummins, all before I was ever able to put the truck in gear and move it under its own power.
Once the motor came back to Chapa’s place, I got it washed, replaced a bunch of parts, changed the spring and button in the fuel pump, added a bigger turbo and dual fuel feed lines, and then painted it Caterpillar Matterhorn white. Chapa and most of my friends are all Cat guys, and when I got rid of that 3406A they all gave me such a hard time, I wanted to poke some fun at them by painting it white. Thanks to some chromed valve covers I got from Charlie Bates Jr. and some powder-coating, the motor looked awesome. For the final touch, I reached out to Peachy Cole Jr., who owns a local business called Lettering by Peach, who came out and pinstriped and lettered my motor and oil pan, and even added a cool little mural on the bell housing.
The motor and transmission were joined for the first and final time. After switching all the mounts back to the original Cummins mounts, thanks to help from Bobby, we were able to slide it right into the frame. With the motor back in the frame, all the electrical, air and coolant lines were made and fabricated. Chapa took two exhaust elbows for a car and made my upper radiator hose, and on a rainy day, the truck was finally started with it fifth power plant – and was able to build air pressure and move under its own power for the first time. After turning the truck around and being very excited, I attacked the dash.
Taking all the panels out, I removed all the gauges and switches and every wire behind the dash, and then the dash itself. Then, I sent the dash and panels out to JPC Fabrication to be powder-coated. While that was being done, I took a fuse box panel from a Peterbilt 379, installed it in the cab, and then rewired the entire thing. No longer does the truck have a relay bar mounted to the center dash panel – it now has relays and fuses for everything. All the wiring behind the dash is brand new. I can’t tell you how many people stopped while I was doing the interior and freaked-out about the spaghetti mess of wires and said that it would never go back together. Well, after about 3-4 days of work, the dash was back together, with all new sending units and wires, and everything on the truck worked how it should.
While the dash was being done, the hood was at my friend’s house all winter getting fixed up. Once I got the hood back from Louie, I got it into primer, and then was able to test fit it on the truck. At this point, the truck was getting to the point where it needed to be pulled apart for the final time and have the final body work done for paint. Fast forward to March 2018, and I set a goal of taking the KW to the Antique Truck Club of America (ATCA) national meet in Macungie, PA for its first-ever show that June. Now, I had a deadline to shoot for!
My good friend Rick Decker called me up one day and said that the owner of the welding and sandblast shop where he kept his work truck and antique trucks parked was going to have an open shop available for rent. After the e-logs took effect, Rick decided after almost 40 years of trucking he was ready to retire and work on some toy trucks, for himself. So, Rick and I made a deal with the owner, Mark Boyle, and rented out the shop space.
Before I had the truck trailered to the new shop, I got the wheels and tires mounted and put brand new Hogebuilt full fenders on it. Then, my friend Bryan from Houser’s Truck Service came with a Landoll and towed the truck to the new shop. Once at the new shop, the truck was taken back apart, everything was wet sanded, and the final body work was done. Then, the hood and sleeper were put back on the truck and another friend, Brian Kemm, came and helped me trim the hood for the Cabmate air-ride, and then we figured out the location of the stripes I choose. After getting the landlord to let me use his front shop as a paint booth for a week, we put the truck in the shop (after pressure washing the floors and sweeping like crazy), got it all masked off, and then covered it with plastic.
Now, it was time for paint. Another friend, Louie Horvath, who normally does body and paint on cars, pick-ups and race cars, spent three days painting the truck. Spraying Rugged Brown, Omaha Orange and Mojave Sand, the colors were laid and then covered with clear. All the colors are 2016 Dodge colors. I wasn’t comfortable spraying the cab, hood and sleeper myself, but after helping Louie and watching it be done, I then did the air cleaners, visor and back of bumper myself with base and clear.
Once the truck was dry enough, we pulled it out of the front shop and put it back in our shop. With just a few weeks left until the Macungie show, the countdown clock was started. Assembly was in full swing, as the exhaust and a lot of the exterior pieces were put on, the air cleaners were painted and installed, the visor was painted on the inside, roof lights (which have glass lenses) were installed and more. The visor was then taken to Lettering by Peach to have the back of the visor lettered. On April 21, 2018, my dog Smokey passed away due to cancer. Before we buried him in the back yard, I took a print of his paw, which Peach digitized and then made a cut vinyl copy of, which we then put on the dash and the inside of the visor.
Next, we went to work on the interior. Done by Travis Baxley of Two Bees Upholstery over a year prior, much of the interior was still in the screwed-shut shipping crate it came in. Done in a medium gray with black buttons, to match the brand-new seats that came with the truck, I wasn’t sure on the colors for the outside of the truck when I made the order, so I chose colors that I felt would work with any color exterior. And it came out awesome! The inside of the cab and sleeper were all double-layered with HushMat, then insulation and foam, before the interior was put in. The hardest part was cutting the back panel of the sleeper for the window in the bunk. Cutting that expensive interior apart was scary! I can’t thank Brian Kemm enough for his help, as the truck would not have been done in time if it wasn’t for his help on the weekends.
Once I got the visor back from Peach, I was able to install it on the truck. Peach then came to the shop and did all the pinstriping on the dashboard, glove box door, air cleaners and hood, along with the “Not for Hire” decals on the stainless battery box covers. The fifth wheel was also pinstriped, along with the wing window on the driver’s side (I had a spider web painted on the glass in honor of my good friend Sal C who passed away in 2017 after battling the same cancer that I fought).
After all the pinstriping was finished, the assembly went into high gear. The hood was dressed, the grill was installed, the bumper brackets and rear of bumper were painted orange, and then the bumper was mounted, with matching dark amber glass roof lights on each side. The entire truck was lit-up underneath with red LED lights, at first, but after a few pictures were sent to some friends, my buddy Ace sent me a text telling me to come get some amber lights from him. He said, “You can’t run red under that truck!” So, thanks to him, it’s now all lit-up underneath with eight amber 4” round lights.
With just a few days left before Macungie, the truck was pulled out of the shop and taken for a spin, where a few bugs were found and then corrected. After changing the tires out for straight tread all the way around, new front drums, a new leveling valve and a few other changes, the old KW rode like a brand-new truck. Then, finally, the day came to clean it up and leave for the show on the Friday morning of Father’s Day weekend 2018. After being without a truck for almost two years, the accident, the battle with cancer, and the endless hours working on this truck, I was back behind the wheel – and the weekend at Macungie was a total success.
Later, a few issues came about that needed to be fixed, but they were just little things. On my birthday weekend, in July 2018, I took the truck to a show in Honesdale, PA for the ATHS, and after hitting nothing but rain the whole way up and getting to the show filthy, the truck took the show’s “Best Appearance” award.
After taking the truck to the Spencer’s Chrome Shop show, also in July, I figured out what I wanted to do for the deck plate. I made a call to my buddy JP Noto in New York and talked to him about his real wood deck plate that he has on his show truck and his work trucks. He said to come on up, and that he would hook me up and show me what to do. So, I drove to JP’s and picked up (4) 15’ long and 2” thick oak boards that were cut from a tree that fell on his parent’s property. The boards were cut, planed, sanded and then bolted together, and the bottom was painted orange. I then took a torch to the wood grains on the top to add some character, then applied eight coats of urethane. Once installed, the truck was finally done and ready for the photo shoot, where the pictures you see here were taken.
Towards the end of July, I called a friend of mine named Colin Kund who is a professional photographer and owns CWK Images. I reached out to another friend, Reuben Strunk, who is the manager for W.W. Transport out of the Ardent Mills location in Martins Creek, PA, and was given permission for us to do the shoot at the old Alpha Mill. We shot the photos of my truck at the now-closed Alpha Cement Plant in Martins Creek, which is now used by Ardent Mills. My thanks to Colin – he did a fantastic job on the pics!
Come August 2018, I was officially one-year cancer free. The first weekend of that month I took the truck to its first real judged show – the Carlisle All Truck Nationals. Being parked next to my buddy, JP Noto and his hot rod single-axle A-model, which took 1st place, I was happy to earn the 2nd place trophy in our antique class. Nothing better than being able to show with someone who helped you a lot. We battled to the very end, and it was a blast!
The ride home from Carlisle was anything but exciting. With its first real judged trophy still sitting on the passenger seat, the auxiliary transmission started heating up, causing the pocket bearing to blow apart. Luckily, it was a $22.00 bearing and an $80.00 gasket set fix, but the transmission hit close to 280 degrees coming home, and as I parked it in my driveway, the air compressor let loose. Both have since been fixed, but it was a frustrating way to end an otherwise fabulous weekend.
As awesome as it was taking 2nd place in Carlisle, the most important thing that happened during that weekend was when Steve Pesce Jr. of Elizabeth Truck Center – my old boss from 2007 to 2011 – came up to look at the work I was able to do, with the help from so many friends and businesses, and to hear him say he was proud of the work I did. For me, it all came full circle. I never would have had the skills or the circle of connections to complete this project without first being hired by ETC. Those simple words meant more to me than anything.
With the show season winding down, I took the KW to the US Diesel Truckin’ Nationals at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ. With no more drag racing happening at the track, the turnout was a little bit smaller, but the event still had over 500 rigs, and with over 100 trucks in my class, I was proud to get 3rd place, as winning anything in Englishtown is a feat. Then, for the final show, I took the truck to my own event, which I produce, at Island Dragway in Great Meadows, NJ.
After all the shows were finished, and with a lot going on in my personal life, I made the decision to put the truck up for sale. With a ton of medical bills stacking up, making the decision to let it go was like a breath of fresh air. As much as the truck meant to me, the thought of it just sitting in my driveway all winter bothered me. Even though I built it to be a toy and a show truck, this truck could work, so I decided to pass it on to someone who could (and would) use it. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I feel like I rescued this truck, but the truth is that it rescued me! These days, the old Kenworth W900A can be seen running around Pennsylvania hooked to a brand-new Timpte hopper.
Since selling the truck, my focus has been fully put towards the shop that me and my close friend Rick Decker started. We currently are renting a small space from a friend in Tamaqua, PA (Mark T. Boyle Welding & Sandblasting). The shop, which we named Crooked K Customs, will do everything from full restorations to simple accessory installs. We are currently working on finishing Rick’s 1979 Kenworth W900A, along with doing a full frame-off restoration on a Mack B52 for Dave Mitchell and his wife Tami. The truck is currently waiting to be sandblasted and will be unveiled at the ATCA National Show in Macungie, PA on Father’s Day weekend 2019.
As I sit here today, I’m still cancer-free, as far as I know, but I was told from the start that there is a high probability it might return. I just want to say, to anyone out there dealing with cancer, what it comes down to – and I say this from the bottom of my heart – your mental state is everything. Your mind is more important than you can imagine, and building this truck is what kept me sane and my mind off all the crazy stuff going on. The head-on accident I had in my blue truck saved my life by finding the tumor and the cancer, but this truck saved my life by keeping my mind busy. So, with that said, as the inside of the visor says, this truck was for me, whether I kept it or not. It served a purpose, and I had “Nothing to Prove” – which became the name of the truck, when I had it. Until someone knows what it feels like to be told you have cancer, or someone you love has cancer, it’s something that just cannot be explained.