It’s hard to believe that a Peterbilt 359 could be better today than when it was brand new, but the folks at Penn Valley Gas (PVG) believe that to be true of their old girl. After undergoing a full restoration, this rig was put back into service at the Pennsylvania-based company and stands out as the one that started it all – the first Peterbilt – and it’s still going strong!
Penn Valley Gas, Inc. was founded in 1957 by Ken and Ruth Balmer. Ken and Ruth operated one truck, served a few small routes, and ran the company out of their home. Six years later, the Balmer’s purchased a farm in Telford, PA (where they and the business still reside today) to allow for additional expansion of the company. Around the same time, PVG also installed a 30,000-gallon storage tank and entered into the wholesale propane business.
By the 1990s, the business was being led by the second generation, the Balmers’ three sons: Dan, Dale and Dwane. In 2002, the first member of the third generation, Josh Balmer, began working for the family business, followed by four more cousins over the next several years. The PVG fleet has expanded significantly and now has over 20 trucks, which includes their Peterbilt 359, 379s, 389s and straight trucks. The Balmers thank the Lord for over 60 years of faithful and trusted relationships with all their employees, families, customers and friends.
Featured here, PVG’s 1986 Pete 359 was custom ordered by Ken Balmer and ready for pickup in November of 1985. Up until then, the Balmer’s ran IH cabovers and a few Macks. Dwane Balmer remembers the drive home from the dealership with the new truck. The 359 was PVG’s first Peterbilt, and it was originally built with a 400 Cummins and had a 207” wheelbase (the truck was later upgraded with a B-Model Caterpillar powerplant). The rest of the driveline includes a 13-speed transmission and 3.70 rears.
The truck was placed right into service and driven by Walt Detweiler, who delivered propane around PA and NJ during the day. During the busy winter season, Dwane would run the truck at night to keep up with customer demand. The truck was part of the everyday fleet up until 2004 when PVG purchased their third Peterbilt 379. The 359 was then relegated to a spare truck and tagged as a farm truck. It was used in the family’s farming operation to transport corn and beans from the fields to their storage bins.
“For the past 8 years it sat in my shop being protected from the weather, just waiting for the day when I had the time and energy to put into a full restoration,” said Dwane. “I stopped by Floyd Martin’s shop in Terri Hill, PA to see if he had any projects going on,” Dwane added. He asked if Floyd would be interested in restoring the 359. Floyd said that he would think about it. “A few days later, my phone rang – it was Floyd. He asked me when I could get the 359 out to his shop!” The project took 18 months from start to finish.
The 359 was stretched from its original 207” length to a modest 245” wheelbase. The bunk was converted to a Unibilt by widening the hole from the cab to the sleeper. Other than the bunk conversion, the interior is completely original. The truck currently has over a million miles on it and it’s on its third odometer. Bill Deihm of Deihm Services in Honey Brook, PA did all the paint work on the truck. The rig was originally brown, but Bill sprayed a beautiful dark metallic green color onto the truck. An old-school-style stripe was added to pull the look together. Rounding out the exterior of the truck is a 6” Lincoln Chrome exhaust kit.
The 359 is now tagged and runs propane with the rest of the fleet, which, as mentioned before, consists of 379s, 389s and numerous straight trucks. The 359 has a special place in the company, as one would imagine, and all three generations involved today can attest to that fact. And all these years later, the old girl is still working and earning her keep! Some may disagree, but Dwane thinks the truck is better today than the day he first drove it home from the dealership back in 1985 – and that is saying a lot, because those old 359s were awesome to start with.