Not everything in life starts out perfect… some things need to age a bit and get faded to perfection. Such is the case with both Tony Huttenstine (39) of Queen City, MO and his cool 2010 Kenworth combination. Both have been through a lot, and both are better for it. Having survived cancer, an ugly divorce, an accident and other hardships and mishaps, Tony and his truck are survivors and fighters, for sure. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at either of them!
Born in 1980 in Monmouth, IL, Tony’s dad and mother, along with his much-older brother, were all truck drivers. Growing up, Tony spent a lot of time with his dad in his International cabover. Back then, Tony’s dad was an owner operator that ran for Hirschbach out of Sioux City, IA. When Tony was about eight years old, his dad went to work at A & R Transport, hauling dry bulk loads regionally, to be home more. At that time, A & R had been in business for almost 20 years, but they were still a pretty small outfit compared to now (today they have more than 800 trucks, 1,200 trailers, 23 terminals and 10 warehouses, making them the largest dry bulk carrier in all of North America).
Following an opportunity from A & R, the family moved to southern California when Tony was in sixth grade (around 1991). Once they got settled in California, his dad was put in charge of running a new terminal for A & R at a Dow chemical plant in Torrance, CA. Not wanting to live in Los Angeles, they found a place in Sun City – a rural suburb some 80 miles east of L.A. in Riverside County (it is now known as Menefee). Not only was Tony’s dad running the terminal and dispatching, but he was also hauling loads. Needless to say, he was a busy man, and his long commute was a killer.
Being a country boy from the Midwest, Tony never really fit in with the southern California vibe. After about five years, at 15 years old, he went back to the Midwest for the summer to help longtime family friend Clay Snider clean up a truck he had bought. Clay (who was featured on our cover back in December 2014) and his family lived in Queen City, MO, and Tony spent the entire summer with them. When it was time to go back to California, Tony told his parents that he wanted to stay and go to school there in Missouri and, surprisingly, they agreed. Tony lived with Clay and his family for two years (his sophomore and junior years), and then his family moved back, too, after his dad decided to leave A & R.
With the family back in Queen City, Tony moved back home with his parents, Tony Sr. and Barbara, for his senior year. Buying a Kenworth T600 from Clay, Tony’s dad leased-on with a company out of Des Moines, IA and then later to another outfit based in West Fargo, ND hauling flatbed freight. Tony graduated from high school in 1998, and although he got his CDL at that time, he went to work in the construction industry, installing skylights in large commercial buildings, with a dedicated crew, throughout the country. After two years of that, he got a job at Meeks Lumber in Springfield, MO driving a 10-wheeler with a piggybacked forklift, delivering lumber and other building supplies locally.
Working at Meeks Lumber until 2004, Tony began his OTR trucking career when he got a driving job at BTI pulling a flatbed. At the time, his dad and brother Jack, along with friend Clay Snider, were all at BTI, which probably helped him get hired there with no experience. Putting him in a 2001 Peterbilt 379 with a flat top sleeper almost immediately, Tony was on cloud nine, hauling “sticks and bricks” (and lots of oversized tires and plate steel) all over the country. In 2005, he switched over to Structural Transport Inc. (STI) out of Franklin, WI and began running heavy haul. He learned a lot while at STI, even though it only lasted for about a year.
In 2006, wanting to own his own truck, Tony went to Peterson Transportation out of Manson, IA and entered into a lease/purchase deal. After three long years, the metallic blue 2003 Kenworth W900L he had been driving was now all his. Shortly after completing that lease/purchase plan, he left there and went to Long Haul Trucking in Albertville, MN and has been there ever since (10 years now).
When first at Long Haul Trucking, driving his blue KW, he rented a Conestoga trailer from Clay Snider because he couldn’t afford to buy one. In 2011 he sold the blue KW and bought an orange 2005 Peterbilt 387 from Long Haul. The very next year, in 2012, Tony was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had to have surgery and radiation. His surgery and follow-up treatments were deemed a success, and his cancer has been in remission ever since. Not having health insurance at the time, all these costs came out of his own pocket, which was not easy.
Getting back to work as soon as he was able, Tony drove that orange Pete 387 for two more years. During the three years he owned this truck, Tony did a lot of work to it, but in 2014 he replaced it with a really nice black 1999 Peterbilt 379 with a stand-up sleeper. Also, after getting the black Pete, he purchased his first trailer – a new 49-ft. 2015 Benson Conestoga with an 11-ft. spread. This combo looked so good it was featured in Long Haul Trucking’s 2016 calendar!
Putting a lot of work into this black ’99 Pete while he owned it, Tony lowered it, added tall pipes and a billet grill, installed seven bullet cab lights and a drop visor, painted the tanks black, added polished half-fenders and much more. In the summer of 2016, when every pre-ELD truck became rolling gold, someone offered Tony a large amount of money for his Peterbilt, so he sold it. In July 2016 he bought a slightly used 2016 Peterbilt 579. This truck was plain-Jane white, and Tony hated it. He liked how it drove and it was very comfortable, but the 485-hp Paccar motor under the hood was a dog – it just wouldn’t perform like Tony wanted or needed it to, so he sold it. Which leads us to the truck featured on these pages (and on our cover and centerfold this month).
Finding the 2010 Kenworth W900L with a 86-inch sleeper in Georgia in March of 2017, the one-owner truck had about 900,000 miles on it but was in immaculate condition. Featuring a factory 307-inch wheelbase and a maroon frame, the truck, which is powered by a 565-hp Cummins hooked to an 18-speed transmission, had tall rubber, square cab lights, turnout stacks and sat way too high. One cool thing the truck did have when he bought it were two diamond-shaped Double Eagle-style windows in the back of the sleeper, which were installed by Deihm Services out of Honey Brook, PA. Painted the same color silver but with maroon fenders, the truck was really clean but not really Tony’s style – so he went to work on it.
Over the next two years, Tony made a lot of changes to his KW. One of the first changes came when the wind nearly blew his hood off! Having to replace the entire hood after the wind incident, the painter had a tough time matching the paint to the original paint code because it was about eight years old and faded, but as Tony described it, he said, “The original paint had some red in it, which I didn’t like. But now it is faded to perfection.” Instead of using the paint code, the painter just matched the faded metallic silver paint, which Tony liked better anyway, and sprayed that on the hood. Not opting to keep the maroon on the fenders, Tony got a lot of flack from some of his friends – but in my humble opinion, it looks way better all silver.
Other changes made to the KW include switching out the nine square cab lights with nine bullet-style lights, changing the visor, grill and bumper, adding polished Hogebuilt half-fenders and a polished stainless deck plate. Lowering of the truck was done by Fletcher’s Diesel Repair in Lancaster, CA. Adding an air-ride system with dump valves and de-arching the springs got the KW a lot closer to the pavement, and then the OEM shocks were replaced with new Fox Shocks (which Tony got from our friends at Diesel Exhaust & Emissions in Santa Fe Springs, CA). These shocks really helped smooth out Tony’s ride, and gave the rig a lot more stability. Other updates were an RLK light panel on the tail of the truck, custom vinyl covers over all the stock Kenworth emblems, breather light panels and billet fuel caps, engraved with the “Keep On Truckin’…” phrase and graphic.
More recently, what really got people to start noticing the truck, were the black vinyl stripes added, and the new 8-inch Dynaflex AK Lite exhaust system. This system, which is brand new (Tony was one of the first to get it) features built-in heat shields that you cannot see (they are inside the pipes) and custom step box replacement covers. This exhaust system really changed the look of the truck – for the better. Another unique shiny piece is a custom air-line connection box, made by some local Mennonite fabricators near Tony, that fits perfectly between the angled rails at the end of his frame.
The truck’s red button-tuck interior was originally done by Two Bee’s Upholstery in Maple Valley, WA but at some point, someone added extra pieces. Because of this, some of the buttons in the interior are red and some are black, but Tony is in the process of swapping out all the red ones with a friend for black ones so they all match. Other interior goodies include billet foot pedals, a few glitter knobs, a chrome steering column and a vinyl-covered aluminum floor. The two-piece floor was purchased from 4 State Trucks, covered with silver vinyl with the black stripes (to match the exterior) by Thunder Grafix, and then Tony, with help from Jimmy at Fleenor Bros., installed it. The floor was also covered with a thick layer of clear 3M protective coating, so Tony can step on it without worry.
In 2017 Tony bought a new trailer – a 2018 Extreme Conestoga fitted with a 2019 Quick Draw system. Featuring a polished frame and rub rails, painted-to-match (maroon) suspension cover panels and plenty of watermelon-style LEDs, this trailer looks fantastic behind Tony’s KW. It also has plenty of under-glow lighting, a painted tail with polished filler insert panels and painted (maroon) landing gear.
Just a few months after purchasing his new trailer, tragedy struck in the spring of 2018 when he fell off it. While securing a load in Casa Grande, AZ, the pallet shifted beneath him, causing him to lose his balance and fall off the trailer. Landing hard in the dirt, Tony broke his hip, three ribs and punctured his lung. After taking a helicopter ride to the emergency room, he spent several weeks at a hospital in Chandler, AZ, and then two more weeks in a hotel room, until he was strong enough to endure the ride home. Taking six months to heal, he is certainly not as strong as he used to be, and cold weather can now be “felt” in his bones. Getting old is hard enough but busting yourself up and compounding the problem does not help.
Showing this clean combination at several events this year, Tony has won a few trophies and turned plenty of heads. We first saw his truck at the Top Gun Largecar Shootout in Rantoul, IL in July and then again at GATS (the Great American Trucking Show) in Dallas, TX last month. Funny thing is, three different people, that do not know each other, took the time to bring this truck and its owner to my attention. The first was Clay Snider, who texted me about two months ago; then my friend Ron Pettijohn (Trucker Ron) in Oregon, who had met Tony once, called me just before we went to the Dallas truck show to let me know Tony would be there and that I should check out his truck; and then our past cover trucker from May of this year, Tim Cody, while at the Dallas truck show, pulled me aside and told me (without me even asking) that I should be looking at that silver and maroon Kenworth. And when three people you trust tell you to check out a truck, you do it. And they were right! The very next day, after the show ended, we were out shooting his truck for the cover.
On the more personal side of things, going back a bit, at the age of 22, Tony got a girl pregnant. Later that year, in December 2002, his son Holden (now 16) was born. Three years later, in December of 2005, Tony and another girl had a daughter, Kaylee (now 13). Not too long after that, Tony and Kaylee’s mom got married in 2007. They were married for almost eight years, getting divorced in 2015. Tony met his current girlfriend Emily about two years ago, and the two live together, along with Tony’s son Holden, on the property right next to his parent’s place in Queen City, MO.
Running OTR for 16 years now, Tony is happy to be a single-truck owner operator and has no desire to own a fleet of trucks. In fact, he said, he wouldn’t turn down a good driving job if it presented itself. “Running your own truck and business can be exhausting, so not having that stress might be nice someday,” he said. When I asked Tony, “What is important to you?” He replied, “If you’re not happy with what you are doing, change it. Life is short and things can change in an instant, so enjoy every day and don’t take anything for granted.”
With 1.2 million miles on the odometer, Tony’s KW is alive and well and running strong. Now that he has it where he wants it, he has no intentions to replace it anytime soon. It is his dream truck, for sure. Both he and the rig have seen some hard times that include cancer, injuries, accidents, divorce and other struggles and setbacks, but together they continue to press on. Neither of them is perfect, by any means, but both are faded to perfection – and that’s more than most will ever admit!