Dave Charlebois of Quebec is one cool cat, and his latest “Rattification” rat rod creation proves that you just never know what to expect from him. No stranger to being in our magazine, Dave’s 1997 Freightliner Classic has been featured twice – once on the cover in 2005, and then again 10 years later, after he re-did a bunch of stuff. But, as much as I love his custom Freightliner, this latest rig is a true work of art!
Starting life as a typical 1996 Pete 379 with a 260-inch wheelbase, Dave bought the rig from Bryan Martin at 4 State Trucks in Joplin, MO in December of 2017. Bryan and his guys stretched it to 285 inches, replaced the suspension with a Low AirLeaf system, doubled the frame, added an axle and replaced the high-roof cap with a flattop cap. Dave picked the truck up in February 2018, took it home, and then the fun began.
Mechanically, the truck now has a 550-hp Cat, an 18-speed transmission and 3:55 rears. Virtually everything on this truck has been replaced or upgraded, so it might look like a beat-up old truck, but she is solid! Dave spent about two months “ratting out” this rig, with help from his friends at Ferblanterie Daniel Bilodeau (Dan, Remy, Alex and Marco), one of the finest custom metal fab shops in all of Canada.
When creating a truck like this, most people paint fake rust – not Dave! He mounted most of his accessories in their raw form, drove on salted winter roads, let stuff rust (it only took a few weeks) and then clear-coated over it. The only “fake” rust on the entire truck are a few accents on the body panels, where rust is not easily achieved.
Some of the more custom features include a heavy-duty steel front bumper with a hydraulically-controlled hinged extension on the bottom, custom mirror brackets made out of actual plumbing pipes and fittings, completely handmade rear fenders (which began as flat 4×8 sheets of aluminum), and a “butterfly” visor with extensions on the bottom (which can be unbolted and swung up if needed). The small LED cab lights are hidden inside the large nuts and bolts running across the top of the visor.
Up front, there is a handmade “Rat Fink” statue, which Dave found on e-bay (in Thailand) – they had two left, and Dave bought them both. There is also a chain, which Dave had to cut in half and weld to make work, running around the perimeter of the billet grille. The front fenders were completely unbolted, except for the first bolt in the front, and then they were slid down in the back about two inches, then re-attached. Custom panels were made to fill in the gaps. All the rusty straps for the fuel tanks and breathers were hand-built, along with custom rusted heat shields, which cover the shiny six-inch pipes (something had to be shiny).
Moving behind the sleeper, Dave built a custom airline connection “box” out of a fire extinguisher, welding an oxygen bottle cap to it, along with some chains and an old pair of pliers. A piece of rusty corrugated tin was used to cover the frame under the 5th wheel, the fuel filler necks were moved to the back of the tanks, and custom fuel caps were fabricated out of old gears, sprockets and chain. When 4 State Trucks stretched the frame, Dave had them sandblast it down to raw steel from the cab back, then he let it rust and clear-coated over it.
Inside the cab, all the dash panels were stripped of their “imitation wood” vinyl stickers and then roughed-up with a grinder. All the gauges, switches and bezels were painted black, and a custom overhead console was built to hold the rig’s stereo and CB. In addition to black leather seats and door panels, the ceiling and parts of the doors were covered with black and white cow hides, while the floor was covered with charcoal-colored, tongue and groove, hardwood maple.
Made of various nuts and bolts, an old crescent wrench and two pistons, all welded together, the shifter is completely custom, as well. It is so heavy, they had to design and make a special piece, on top of the transmission, to hold it in place and provide some extra support so it wouldn’t fall out of gear.
After finishing the truck in May of 2018, Dave hit the road for the rest of the year, doing several runs into the States, and even stopping by to participate at GBATS, the 4 State truck show held in Joplin, MO in September. Dave is not a “truck show” guy, so it is rare to ever see him at one! This is where we ran into he and Kime, his longtime girlfriend, and took our pictures. We had planned to meet in California a few months later to get more photos, but bad weather forced us to cancel. After that, Dave took the truck home and put a driver in it. These days, you can find it running throughout Canada and the United States, pulling an RGN trailer, hauling all sorts of heavy equipment.
With two other trucks – his custom 1997 Freightliner Classic and a 2004 Peterbilt 379 – Dave keeps busy. He loves getting out on the road, but not in the winter months. Running in the snow is not only hard on the equipment and the driver, but it is also less profitable. In the winter, it might take twice as long to move a load, but you only make a little more money. So, if you are willing to work your butt off the rest of the year, you can take the winters off – which is basically what Dave does.
He also takes that time off in the winter to fix his trucks and do more customizing. Funny thing about this new “rat rod” truck, with all its beat-up parts and rust, it takes more effort, creativity and ingenuity to keep it looking “good” than a shiny truck! Go figure. Congrats to Dave Charlebois for building yet another stellar ride – we can’t wait to see what he does next!!