After fighting cancer for a year, our co-founder, publisher, salesman, photographer and friend Erik Sieben (68) passed away on August 9, 2019, at around 6:20 in the morning. Although most people knew him as “Big E” he was always just Erik to me. Working side-by-side for the past 25+ years at 10-4 Magazine, we were the “odd couple” of trucking – two completely different personalities with completely different ways of living and outlooks on life, but, somehow, we just worked perfectly together as a team.
Erik Lloyd Sieben was born on July 18, 1951 in Berwyn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to his father Donald and mother Charlotte. Growing up, his family included six siblings – older brothers Kurt and Marc, younger sisters Charlotte and Noreen and younger brothers Karl and Rolf. Erik’s beloved mother passed away from double pneumonia when a blood clot passed through her lungs when Erik was just 10 years old. After that, the family was broken up – some of the kids went to relatives’ homes while others, including Erik, ended up in Catholic orphanages – Guardian Angel Home in Joliet, Illinois and later Marysville Academy in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Erik never made it through high school. During his freshman year he got caught stealing the answers to an upcoming test and got kicked out – and he never returned. In 1968, at just 17 years old, Erik was the Best Man at his brother Marc’s wedding, and soon after moved to California for a short time with his brother’s family and fell in love with the place. When Erik was 18, his estranged father was shot five times and killed outside a bar in Cicero, Illinois. Over the next couple of years, he took a few trips out west but always returned to his home – Chicago.
Around 1970, Erik got a job with Shell Oil Company and, at the tender age of 19 or 20, ran a car wash for them in downtown Chicago. This is where Erik got much of his “street smarts” and he thrived in this environment. This is also where he learned how to wash a car, and for anyone who knows him, Erik loved to wash his cars and keep them clean. And, God forbid, if you ever slammed one of their doors too hard, you got an earful! Back then, he had some cool rides, including a 1957 Cadillac, a 1966 Pontiac GTO, a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner, a Dodge Charger and others. Later, he graduated to “hot rod” Mercedes Benz cars, and owned three of them over the years.
At an early age, he began playing drums, getting his first set at 15 or 16 years old. Erik always claimed that playing those drums down in a brick basement gave him hearing loss in his right ear, but most of us eventually realized that he suffered more from “selective listening” than any actual hearing loss. Nevertheless, he always had a drum set and banged on them whenever he could, even playing in a few bands here and there over the years. Erik loved listening and jamming to loud music, and most of our car rides and photo shoots included a soundtrack with plenty of volume and bass. But his short attention span made him an incessant fast-forwarder, which drove me nuts (we rarely ever made it to the actual end of a song).
Around 1971, while working at the car wash together, Erik’s friend and roommate, Jorge Cardona, who was also a photographer, gave Erik his first camera – a Minolta SR-T 101. Jorge showed him some things, but for the most part, Erik was self-taught. Back in those days, he even developed his own film in their apartment on Lake Shore Drive. Living on the 45th floor of the 54-story building, their apartment looked right down on Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Erik loved the Cubbies, and when they broke their curse and won the World Series in 2016, I was right there with him, at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Vancouver, WA (we were there on a photo shoot). He was so excited, he called his sister Noreen back in Chicago, and the two of them talked for at least an hour (and it was very late), swapping old stories about their days as kids at Wrigley Field sitting in the cheap seats.
In 1974, Erik moved to Santa Monica, CA, and this time he stayed for good. Selling Volkswagen parts over the phone, he met his best friend and desert rat Jimmy “JC” Connelly. Together, with several other friends, they spent 40 years playing out in the desert, riding dirt bikes and driving sand rails and buggies. When I asked Erik about the “good” times in his life, he said his time in the desert was the “best” of times. He participated in an annual outdoor scavenger hunt called Treasure Trails, held near the Salton Sea in California, for 33 years, only missing one or two ever. He loved it!
In 1980 he met Jean, and the two were married in 1984. Around that same time, while living in a small condo in Costa Mesa, CA, the two opened a dart and billiard bar in Santa Ana, CA called the Ton 80 Club (a Ton 80 is the maximum score you can get in darts). Erik was an excellent dart thrower and an even better pool player, but you wouldn’t know that by playing with him. It was always my opinion that he could run the table at any given time, but how would that be fun for anyone? So, instead, he did fancy bank shots and “missed” a lot of others to allow you to stay close and not get discouraged. Later, at the office in their home, when I worked there every day, there was a pool table and a bar, and every day we took a break at 3:00 PM and I got my “English” lesson – not writing, but how to spin the cue ball and make bank shots and such. I never mastered it, but we sure had a lot of fun anyway.
The Ton 80 Club lasted about five years, until 1989, but ultimately did not survive. Erik said it was in the wrong part of town, and that was the cause of its demise. Although, I would suspect, he may have been drinking many of the profits, as well (he loved his beer). After that, he went to work for an automotive equipment company, selling smog machines, brake machines and other various auto-shop related gear. He did that until 1993, and then took a few months off. In February of 1994, a fledgling 10-4 Magazine, which was only 6 months old at the time, hired him to do sales. Erik knew nothing about trucks and had never even sat in one, but he could sell, so he took the job.
Around that same time, I worked for the parent company that owned the magazine, an outfit called The Sonora Group, doing various tasks, including the mailings for 10-4 Magazine. When the girl that was putting the magazine together got pregnant with twins and had to go on bed rest, she quickly trained me how to run the software and put it all together. That was also in February of 1994. I had just graduated college with a degree in Architecture, but here we were – two unlikely guys, with no knowledge or experience with big rig trucks or trucking – and we were making it happen!
Selling stuff was Erik’s specialty. We always said he could sell ice to Eskimos, and he could! Naturally, this was his main job at 10-4 Magazine. When we started working together in February, the magazine was 33 pages, mostly black and white, there were no stories (the cover story was a sentence on the cover itself), and it was printed on thin newsprint paper (you got dirty fingers when handling it). By May, Erik had it up to 60 pages, we added some color and started doing stories. And, just when things were getting good, the parent company had some legal issues in June 1994 and decided to walk away from the magazine and several other small companies they had invested in.
After all his hard work over the past few months, Erik saw the potential and took the magazine. We decided to rename it 10-4 Express Magazine, just to avoid any legal issues that might arise. Using his and Jean’s life savings, they paid me to put the July edition together and the printer to print it, then sent out the billing. I remember the day the first check came in the mail for an ad – it was for $200 – and he and I went out to lunch and spent all or most of it! He was so excited. Over the years, the magazine grew tremendously, as did our knowledge of trucks and the trucking industry, and in July 2000 we quietly changed the name back to just 10-4 Magazine (we also secured our copyright on the name at this time).
At the end of 1995, Erik and Jean purchased a home in Huntington Beach, CA which also became the main headquarters for 10-4 Magazine. Over the years, and after several remodels, this home also came to be known as the “rehab center” – Erik would invite anyone and everyone to the rehab center for some R&R and always showed them a 1st class time and treated them like family – no matter who they were. Back in the early days, we called Erik “Slim on Assignment” (he was tall and thin – imagine that), but at some point, he became Big E, which is what most people knew him as. Being 6’-7” tall, his favorite answer when someone asked about his height was to say that he was 4’-31” tall (do the math).
Using his self-taught photography skills, Erik and I began seeking out trucks to feature on the cover of the magazine and began doing photo shoots. At first, he took all the pictures, but when I started complaining about his composition and such, I got a rig of my own and, learning from Erik, we eventually shared the photography responsibilities. Over the next 20+ years, we traveled all across the country doing photo shoots and attending truck shows. We made a lot of memories and had a lot of good times, for sure.
Erik’s personality was always larger than life, and he was the kind of guy that got things done. He was never a “let’s sleep on it” kind of person. When a decision needed to be made, it needed to be made NOW! Erik was fearless to a fault, generous to most, always looking for new things to experience, and truly lived life for the moment, never considering any of the consequences (which is a good and bad trait). Life was about having fun and creating memories, and he did a lot of that. And, for as important as money seemed to him (he had a lot of stuff), it was not that important. What was most important was the experiences and memories he could buy with it – for not only himself, but those around him.
Erik lived for everything 10-4… there were “10-4 Bucks” ($104 cash), he’d call me all the time and say, “What time is it?” It was always 10:04. We had a 10-4 handshake, and whenever someone said “10-4” for anything, we always added “magazine” afterward. He always wanted and/or gave a 10.4% discount, there were group 10-4 chants when saying goodbye, and there were plenty of 10.4 second hugs! Erik lived and breathed 10-4, and for that fact alone, his energy and boundless amount of enthusiasm will be missed by all.
Getting a divorce from Jean in 2014 but remaining business partners, Erik eventually moved to Rancho Santa Margarita, CA and got remarried. This house is where he spent the remainder of his days, up to the very last one.
Being sick as far back as January 2018, it took his doctors almost nine months to diagnose Erik as having Stage 4 bladder cancer. Sadly, he got the phone call with that diagnosis on his favorite day of the year – “10-4 Day” (October 4th) 2018. Seeking care from the best-of-the-best doctors at the best-of-the-best facility (City of Hope), his doctors could not get in front of his aggressive cancer, which spread quickly to multiple places throughout his body. On Monday, July 22, after finding new tumors in his head, he was taken off all treatments and given 4-6 weeks to live. He only lasted 18 days.
However, before his passing on Friday, August 9, 2019 he had multiple visits (some came from out of state) from family and friends, tons of phone calls and even more texts. To all the people who reached out to him near the end, you have no idea how much that time meant to him. Erik was a social person, and not being able to be out there having fun with his friends was probably the worst part of his sickness. Thank you to everyone who reached out, and to those of you who waited too long, do not beat yourself up. None of us knew he would go so quickly. Being with him the entire day before his last, I can say with certainty that my friend was done fighting, had made his peace with God and was ready to go.
Proceeded in death by his oldest brother Kurt, Erik leaves behind the rest of his siblings, a son and daughter, two granddaughters, a wife, many nieces and nephews, and thousands of friends, business associates and fans that make up his extended 10-4 Family. He will be missed by many, but none as much as myself – his business partner, travel companion, confidant and friend for the past 26 years. Rest easy and say “hello” to all our trucking heroes already in Heaven – I will join you one day and we will all raise our glasses for one more “cheers” together.