Living in the Midwest during the 1930s was tough. The “Dust Bowl” was in full effect, and struggling families were leaving the area in droves, heading west, to California and other states. But, one tough family in Kansas, despite the hardships, welcomed their son, Dean Berg, who was born on January 12, 1935. The term “tough” instantly came to the mind of Dean’s father Walter Berg and Dean’s mother the second they set their eyes on their new son. But, tough runs in the Berg genes, so they could handle him.
This rugged mindset lead Walter from Kansas to the San Fernando Valley in California in the 1940s, searching for a better life for his family. Not wanting to upset the home life of his family, Walter went to California alone before Dean turned 10. Almost immediately after arriving in California, Walter got a great job at the Lockheed Aircraft Company and instantly moved the entire Berg family to California. Not only was Walter’s gutsy quest in search of a better life a great decision, but it was also the gateway into young Dean’s future, which helped blaze his trail into what would be known as “Cool California Truckin” for this energetic young man.
Southern California was a real eye-opener for Dean once moving there in the mid-1940s, and it didn’t take long for him to realize that he loved shiny machines. From cars, to pickups and trucks, he admired them all, and began planning (in his mind) how he was going to have all of them when he got older.
During Dean’s middle school years, he also met another future love in his life – Marjorie – a young lady that Dean went to school with since moving to California. Luckily, Marjorie was just as energetic and outgoing as Dean, so it didn’t take long for the two to realize that they were a heck of a pair.
By the time the two entered high school, Dean had already been fixing up 40s- and 50s-era hot rods and pickups and had made quite a name for himself as being a hard-working young man with a talent for building machines. Dean’s good reputation landed him his first job for a tree trimming company in San Fernando, named Thompson’s Tree Service, at the ripe age of 15. Dean loved working hard, but he loved driving around in that early 50s tree-trimming truck even more. Needless to say, Dean got the trucking bug!
Building this reputation as a tough, hard worker, with a knack for gears, Dean’s brother George noticed it right away. George got Dean hired-on as a hay hauler for N.W. Duckels Ranch in Reseda, California in 1953, driving late 40s and early 50s Kenworth bullnose cabover truck and trailer combinations, as well as Kenworth conventionals. To Dean, life couldn’t get any better than hand-stacking those loads of hay, then jumping up in his cab and firing up that 165 Cummins – and all for $1.25 per hour! That was a damn good wage for having so much fun. Always one to take care of the ones he loves Dean bought his parents their very first television set before he was even 18 years old in the early 1950s. Around this same time, in 1953, Dean and Marjorie got married.
In 1956, Dean received word from good friend and fellow hay hauler Lee Bartoch, head driver for a local giant in the industry named Ed Erro, that Ed was going to buy another flashy red and yellow Peterbilt hay truck and hire a new driver. With Lee’s encouragement, Dean landed that driving job with Ed Erro and became only the second driver hired outside the Erro family, next to Lee. Instantly, Dean fell in love with his new job, hauling hay primarily between Nevada and the L.A. Basin, and out to the coast. He especially loved his red and yellow bubblenose Peterbilt.
Before long, Dean had that truck looking sharp, adding lights, chrome and plenty of tire shine. In 1958 he decided to enter his truck in the Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival, a large event held annually in Lancaster, California. At the time, the event had a backing contest, which Lee Bartoch held the record in, so Dean joined in on the fun that year for the first time.
This fun event became a must for Dean every year, and in 1960 he proudly debuted his new Peterbilt 352 flat front at the fair that year. This truck would soon become legendary, and so would Dean! This red and yellow Ed Erro truck was perfect for Dean, and it didn’t take long for him to personalize it, adding chrome, pinstripes and, of course, a ton of lights. Dean was even given the nickname “Christmas Tree” by the CHP (California Highway Patrol) in the early 60s. In 1961, Dean and Marjorie had their first child – their daughter Mardean – born on June 13. What a perfect way to kick off the 60s for this young Berg family.
By the mid-1960s, Dean had his Ed Erro Peterbilt 352 looking absolutely perfect. On regular occasions, Dean’s neighbors, cousins, sister and, of course, Marjorie, would all pitch in to keep the truck pressed out. 1966 was a special year at the Lancaster Fair for the Bergs, when Dean finally broke the record in the backing contest, doing it in only 48 seconds! His flashy truck also inspired the idea to begin a “Best Equipment” category at the fair, which, thanks to Ed Erro, Dick Cano and Dan Mueller, may very well have been one of the first truck beauty contests ever held.
The 60s proved to be a huge decade for Dean, being truly one of the hardest working hay haulers in the valley, with some of the finest street rod cars and pickups that Southern California could offer. With the birth of Marjorie and Dean’s son Jim Berg on May 27, 1969, the Berg family was complete.
As the Berg family closed out the 60s, Dean landed another brand-new Ed Erro Peterbilt 352 cabover and, naturally, lit it up and chromed it out in Dean Berg fashion. Many evenings, Dean would roll up to the house after a 20-hour round, eat dinner, then head straight to bed for a 3-hour nap, before going out to do it all over again. Meanwhile, while he was napping, Marjorie, Mardean and young Jim would go outside and clean up that beautiful Ed Erro Peterbilt for Dean. This was the Berg family way of life, with a lot of fun along the way.
Young Jim was stuck by Dean’s side since he was born, and he would never miss a chance to ride with dad and learn from the pro. Dean’s many good years driving for Ed Erro came to an end in 1976 when he decided to go to work for Buck Wicall driving a dual-stacked, 4-horned, green and white Peterbilt 352 single-axle COE pulling hopper doubles. Dean then moved over to J.E.T. Trucking just a few years later, but his next real trucking opportunity came around 1980, when Dean’s sister’s son David Stout got Dean on at Golden Bear Marketing, a local fuel-hauling tanker outfit with around four trucks at that time.
Within a few years of moving over to Golden Bear, Dean worked his way up to a day shift spot, hauling fuel, with a completely refined maroon 1980 Pete 359 and, of course, never let it get dirty! Throughout the 80s, as Golden Bear’s fleet grew, they’d often offer Dean the newer trucks, but he loved his #2 – that 1980 Pete 359. Dean never missed the World’s Greatest Working Truck Show, held every year in Pomona, California, among other events, and always treated #2 like it was his own.
Time has a funny way of blessing guys like Dean. In 1995, Dean left Golden Bear after 15 great years and then purchased his maroon 359 from the company. At the time, it was nothing more than bare frame rails, but Dean transformed it into a stunning brown and black hay truck and trailer. And, if that’s not cool enough, later that same year, Dean returned to the Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival, where he had made records at decades ago, and set a new backing up record again – and this time it was in his own truck!
The 90s were great to both Dean and his son Jim, who was now in his early 20s. Jim had his share of trouble and hard times as a young adult, but never forgot what his parents taught him. Not only was Jim one hell of a truck polisher, but one hell of a hard worker, just like his dad, as well. To this day, Jim is still thankful for the way he was raised, but especially for meeting his wife Michelle Marie, aka Shelly, his wife now of almost 30 years, and the unconditional support and encouragement she has given him since the day they met.
During the 90s, Jim was making a decent living polishing trucks, when one day a family friend, Alvin Gerritson, referred Jim to a local freight and hay hauler, Mr. Tom Lanting, one of the founders of Gardner Trucking, which at the time was one of the cleanest large fleets in the west, for a job detailing trucks. Wow, what an opportunity this was for Jim, and maybe even a chance to earn his way into a truck. Jim loved working for Tom, polishing trucks and moving equipment around the yard, and within six months, in 1995, Tom hired Jim on full-time at $10 an hour.
About a year after hiring Jim, Tom asked him to go to the DMV and take his written test to earn his CDL, and Jim jumped on it. A short time later, Tom officially signed off Jim’s qualifications to legally get his CDL, and Jim promised Tom he wouldn’t let him down. Tom knew he wouldn’t, which was one of the reasons why he decided to freshen-up his personal truck for him to drive – this was Tom’s very first truck, the sweet metallic silver 1979 Peterbilt 352 2-axle cabover that graced the cover of 10-4 Magazine’s 25th Anniversary Edition back in September 2018! This was truly a major highlight in Jim’s life, but the 1990s also brought Jim and Shelly something even more amazing – the birth of their son Devin Berg on August 28, 1996. These were great and blessed years in Jim’s life, for special reasons, and because of special people, like Tom Lanting and Alvin Gerritson.
Jim Berg left Gardner in 2001 to take a gracious opportunity hauling fuel for a local company called Goodspeed Tank Lines (GTL). Mike and John Loya gave Jim instant trust driving for them, even though he had no fuel-hauling experience, and for that, Jim is forever grateful. GTL, who are the best in the business, taught Jim to pump and throw tire chains, and he absolutely had a blast driving for them, and learning from all the great drivers there, for over five years. Then, Jim’s good friend Bryan got him hired on at Golden Bear in 2006, pretty much taking things full circle for the Berg boys, father and son.
Daily trucking life for Jim felt right at home, rolling around in those Golden Bear trucks, as it was just like riding in his dad’s Golden Bear trucks. In 2005, Dean sold his 359 and went to work for Mark Tarascou, driving a few nice 379 “slam bang units” (transfers), hauling sand and gravel locally. The early 2000s brought complete happiness and stability to Jim and his young family, and a good local job for Dean, who was still going strong, well into his 70s.
Sadly, in 2008, Jim and his sister Mardean lost their mother Marjorie, a strong woman that forever left her mark on everyone in the Berg family. But, thankfully, Jim had (and still has) the love and support of his wife Shelly, her mom Beatrice Strother, Shelly’s brother Matthew Monaco, Jim’s boy Devin and, of course, his father Dean. In 2011, Dean retired after almost 60 iconic years of first-class trucking, leaving huge impressions on virtually everyone that was lucky enough to work with or around him and learn from him.
Today, Jim is the first person to say that nobody will ever compare to his dad – ever! Jim is still sitting pretty in those beautiful brown Golden Bear tankers, and proudly proclaims he will drive their KWs and Peterbilts until he retires. At 84 years old, Dean Berg is still as energetic and outgoing as he has always been, staying very grounded and close to his loved ones, bouncing back and forth between Jim and Shelly’s house in California and his sister Betty Babb’s house in Fallon, Nevada. Betty was always one to help her brother clean up his rigs over the decades and, in fact, both Dean and his sister Betty are planning to attend the big 2019 ATHS National Convention and Antique Truck Show in Reno, Nevada together.
Dean Berg was influential to so many more people than he’d probably ever admit, but his son Jim will always attest to the inspirational role his dad has played in his life. Jim will always be grateful for his wife Shelly, for going through thick and thin with him, even when the two didn’t have a real place to live, almost 30 years ago. Jim is also thankful for his unofficial “step daddies” too, including Tom Lanting and Alvin Gerritson, for their trust and opening major doors in his life. Lastly, Jim smiles every day at the thought of his son Devin and is so very thankful that he was blessed with such a great young man.
When asked, Jim will always say that if Devin ever wants to carry the third iconic Berg trucking torch, “My doors will ALWAYS be open.” Thank you to Jim Berg for sharing over 80 years of your great family’s history (including all these amazing old photos) with the 10-4 community and thank you Dean Berg for inspiring so many of us truckers for decades. You are an absolute “Hall of Fame” west coast trucker, and one of the most tastefully tough and dedicated truckers I’ve ever known.