Montana is famous for its harsh winters and uncrowded spaces, but these days, it is also known as the home of sweet rides. Nestled in northwestern Montana, about 16 miles east of the Idaho/Montana state line, is a town called Haugan, known for its popular “Silver Dollar” tourist area. Established as a pusher station for the Milwaukee Road railroad trains ascending the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains, Haugan is also the hometown of this month’s feature truck, which is one of nine cool rides owned and operated by Sweet Rides Logistics. Montana is one of my favorite states, so I was excited when I got the opportunity to visit Haugan, MT and shoot this “sweet” W900L.
Owned by Shawn and Amy Cielke, Sweet Rides Logistics is a family-run company with everyone not only having designated duties but also having the ability to fill other positions within the company when needed to get the job done. Shawn (as most people know) drives, but behind-the-scenes he also works on the trucks, performing both maintenance and custom work. Amy is the office manager, overseeing all the office operations and Shana, Shawn’s sister, dispatches. Everything is a team effort at this company – for example, when Shawn is on the road, Amy and Shana oversee the shop operations with Dale, their full-time mechanic. If a driver is needed, it is Shana who heads out on the road, or if extra hands are needed in the shop, Shana is also there.
Before getting into trucking, Shawn’s dad Mark was certified by the Coast Guard as a boilermaker, pipefitter and specialty welder on ships. Later, he started his own trucking company, Cielke Express, out of Fort White, FL. Two years ago, Mark relocated and began driving for Shawn. Over the years, Mark has taught Shawn a lot in the ways of welding and fabricating and now, working for Sweet Rides, he applies his years of knowledge and expertise into each project they build. Of the immediate family, Chloe, Shawn and Amy’s middle daughter, helps in the shop when she is not in school.
Comprised of not only friends and family, the company also has some well-known rigs, including “Lead Sled” (a 2006 W900B), “Redneck Low” (a 2005 T600), “Outcast” (a 2007 T600), “Old Skool” (a 1995 W900), “Lowkey” (a 2015 W900L), “Back in Black” (a 2017 W900L), “Penny Pincher” (a 2016 FL Coronado), “Money Maker” (a 2015 FL Coronado), and “Road King” (a black 2018 Kenworth W900L with silver and orange stripes) – the one featured here. Over the years, many of these unique trucks have made their way to the shows, and each of them have distinct features that set them apart from the rest.
At just 18 years old, Shawn started driving for his dad hauling logs, then started running over-the-road hauling seafood from Florida to Washington every other week. Making this run, they would pass through Haugan, MT and Shawn told his dad that one day he would live there. Both were born and raised in Florida, but in February of 2001, Shawn and his wife made the move to Haugan, MT and couldn’t imagine calling any other place home, along with their five daughters, from oldest to youngest, Aly, Shania, Chloe, Cammie and Wren.
How did they come up with Sweet Rides Logistics? In Shawn and Mark’s trucking travels, they often discussed what Shawn might one day name his company. Shawn always said, as a good lookin’ truck passed by, “There’s a sweet ride!” So, Mark said, “Why not call it Sweet Rides?” Shawn completely agreed and, later, in November 2010, Sweet Ride Logistics began. Logistics was added to the name to accommodate everything they are into besides just the actual trucking, like the custom work and fabrication they do, as well. To this day, they still do all their own shop work out of their old hay barn, but there are future plans to build a nice shop.
Recalling a favorite memory from his childhood, Shawn told me about when his dad hauled gas. Shawn was around six years old at the time, and his dad drove an old Freightliner with orange and yellow stripes, dual stacks and no air conditioning. This rig was loud and always rolled coal, and Shawn loved riding in that truck with his dad, no matter how hot it was outside.
I met Shawn and Amy for the first time in June 2016 at the Shell Rotella SuperRigs show in Joplin, MO and have remained in contact ever since. In February 2019, I was scrolling through Facebook looking at trucks (most can relate) and happened upon a post of a black W900L, the aforementioned Road King. It definitely caught my eye, so I went and looked at the comments to try to figure out who’s truck it was and, without surprise, found that it was owned by Sweet Rides Logistics. I finally got to see an up-close look at this truck at the 2019 Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) back in March in Louisville, KY, and knew right then and there I would be shooting this truck one day.
Road King was originally bought for a driver, but this driver terminated his employment shortly thereafter to take a local driving job. Though incomplete, the W900L was a good fit for Mark because he needed a little more room in the truck for himself and his two pugs, Charlie and Boo Boo. With Mark being a Harley Davidson enthusiast, the vision they had for Road King (and the name) is what you see here on these pages.
As previously mentioned, the truck is a 2018 Kenworth W900L glider kit, put together by Fitzgerald, with a 12.7 Detroit under the hood, a 13-speed, 3:55 rears, a 278” wheelbase and an 86” Studio sleeper. But what makes this truck unique is the attention to detail Sweet Rides Logistics puts into each of their trucks – including this one.
For this ride, they added a Herd bumper (which is Rhino lined in black) to the front, cut down the air breathers, hand-built custom cab and sleeper drop panels/light bars, installed their own air ride kit, and fabricated their own snow chain hangers and fender brackets. The silver stripe, which features a marbled look and an orange outline, was sprayed by the Kenworth dealer in Missoula, MT. The truck also sports half fenders from 4 State Trucks, 8” Lincoln Chrome stacks and a Lincoln Chrome visor. Besides the window cutout in the sleeper, the inside was kept basically stock because the KW already had a nice interior package.
Back in August, after attending the Great Salt Lake Truck Show in Lehi, UT, I made my way north through Idaho and up to Haugan where Shawn and Amy Cielke and Sweet Rides Logistics reside. For those who have been to or through that area, there is no bad spots to shoot a truck, and there is a feeling of solitude not only driving on the back roads, but on the interstates, as well.
We spent the first day scouting out spots, and I had a hard time narrowing it down to the few we chose. I-90 boasts some large rides, and Shawn said if I ever wanted to see a lot of trucks rolling through, I need to set up on the side of the interstate on a Sunday morning as all of the Wisconsin and Midwest trucks roll through on their way to the northwest pulling refrigerated trailers.
Chatting with Shawn, he told me of various times and scenarios when the drivers and himself worked together to make sure everyone got their jobs done and home safely. The trucks generally run from Texas to Washington or Oregon every other week, hauling produce, with the occasional dry freight and flowers.
Winter and high winds is what they seem to fight with the most, but all his drivers are very accustomed to driving in those conditions. He said there are times where the drivers can’t see out of their windshield because of the blinding snow, but they can’t stop for the concern of being rear-ended by the traffic behind them. In those situations, they roll down their windows and use the reflector poles to gauge where they are and keep in constant communication on the CB with the trucks in front and behind them.
As mentioned before, their other main obstacle is high winds. If there are lighter trucks coming into Wyoming, crosswinds can be in upwards of 60 mph, which can easily blow a truck over. When that is the case, that lighter truck will either have one of the heavier trucks with it coming out of Texas or will meet up with one of the heavier trucks on the road so they can run side-by-side, with the heavier truck blocking the wind. Shawn said this is what it is all about – taking care of each other, staying safe and getting the job done.
Residing in Montana and doing the consistent runs between Texas and the Northwest, their experienced drivers know how to handle their trucks in the winter. These trucks will be seen running a safe speed on both snow and ice because they know how to safely operate and maneuver them in these challenging conditions. Their trucks don’t park unless it is so icy they are unable to steer. Only then will they park the trucks until conditions improve.
Our photo locations were narrowed down to just a few unique and pretty places. We started at a tunnel, which is one of ten train tunnels along the 15-mile path of the Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail. This trail is part of the original 46-mile Milwaukee railroad route that was mentioned at the beginning of this article, but of the original 46 miles, the bike trail contains the best scenery.
The trail holds ten of the eleven train tunnels and seven sky high trestles, including the 1.66-mile long St. Paul Pass Tunnel (also known as the Taft Tunnel), which was completed in 1908 and connects Montana to Idaho.
Hooked to Road King’s designated trailer, a 2014 53’ Wabash spread-axle reefer, we made a few passes on I-90 to get some scenic rolling shots, too. We also took the truck to a lower area near the St. Regis River to get shots looking up at it with a picturesque background of tall pine trees and mountains. Last, but certainly not least, we were given permission by Black Diamond Ranch, which leases the property across the road from Shawn and Amy’s house, to get photos in the middle of their pasture.
Everyone at Sweet Rides prides themselves on running nice equipment, exercising safety at all times, maintaining their equipment and providing their customers with an unparalleled level of service. Over the years, their trucks have been seen at many shows, but make no mistake, these trucks don’t just sit during show season – even the popular “show trucks” run 150,000 to 175,000 miles per year. Sweet Rides has become known for their vision to create custom trucks that are different from the other trucks attending shows, and everyone involved uses their unique skills to put details into each rig with a sort of theme no one else has thought of. From the first time I saw “Redneck Low” in Joplin to their trucks since then, I am in awe of the details they create and the final products you see running the interstates every week.
Special thanks to Shawn and Amy Cielke for allowing me the opportunity to visit and learn about their family, their trucks and their company operations. I truly appreciated the time, stories of their lives, the outpouring of kindness and the humble nature of the entire family. I fell in love with Montana all over again, and I look forward to the next opportunity to visit the state. What is the next “sweet” project in the works at Sweet Rides? I guess we will all just have to wait and see. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.