To create one of the most epic big rigs ever made, you need to be a pretty epic person, as well, and “Big Mike” Harrah is certainly that. Endowed with a unique ability to look beyond the ordinary and the drive, determination and resources to make big things happen, Mike (68) has been breaking barriers and living life to the fullest for as long as he can remember. From racing all sorts of vehicles, being a stunt pilot, building many successful types of businesses and now diving into the world of specialty truck building, Big Mike truly lives by the moniker “Go Big or Go Home!”
By now, unless you live under a rock, you have probably seen Big Mike’s “Thor 24” truck, which darn-near broke the internet when videos of the 24-cylinder Detroit-powered rig were first posted online. Covered with multiple chrome blowers sitting atop the gigantic two-stroke engine, along with flashy paint and accessories, the videos quickly racked-up millions of views. Then, when it was sold at an auction for $12 million dollars a few months ago, the buzz was rekindled, causing another onslaught of stories and video views. Mike is working out the details of the sale with the buyer, but at this point the transaction is still not complete.
Aside from this unique truck, “Big Mike” himself is a fascinating guy with an interesting story, which includes a little trucking, too. Born and raised in Whittier, California, his dad was a machinist and his mom was a high school teacher. Mike learned a lot of his carpentry and metal-working skills from his dad, but much of his childhood was spent surfing, instead. After graduating from high school, Mike and a friend bought one-way tickets to Hawaii where they planned to surf and be beach bums. A guy they knew had promised them jobs framing apartment buildings on the island, but after they arrived, that employment never panned out.
Needing money to live (especially there in Hawaii), Mike took a job picking pineapples for .43 cents an hour in 1969 – he was 18 years old. After several months of picking, looking to make a little more money, Mike went through a truck driver training program offered by the pineapple company. The final step of their program involved a skills test requiring Mike to back up a set of doubles in and out of a row of coconut trees without hitting any of them. After completing the course and getting his license, his pay was increased to a whopping .66 cents an hour. And, since he was docked a day’s pay for each plant he accidentally ran over out in a field with his truck or trailers, you can bet he honed his driving skills in a hurry.
Although his pineapple hauling days were short lived, they made a lasting impression, and created some interesting memories, too. Many of the fields went right to the edge of cliffs, dropping hundreds of feet to the rocky coast below. One day, while driving in one of these fields, Mike’s boss was directing him to avoid running over a plant. Mike kept swinging wider to avoid the plant, getting closer and closer to the cliff, and his boss just kept telling him to go wider – so he did – right off the cliff. Yes, you read that right, the truck and two fully loaded trailers slipped off the edge and dropped 300 feet into the ocean. Mike was able to bail out in time, but the company docked him two days of pay! They even sent workers down the cliff with nets to recover as many of the pineapples from the ocean as possible, but the wrecked truck was not recovered. Some 30 years later, Mike and his wife were in Hawaii and they went back to that spot (which is now houses and not pineapple fields) and looked over the edge, and low and behold, the truck’s rusted-out frame rails, engine block and rear-ends were still down there!
It didn’t take Mike long to realize that living in Hawaii was not the best plan. Short on funds, he spent three days in the airport waiting to get a standby flight back to Southern California. Returning to the mainland, Mike got a small scholarship to attend Cal State Long Beach, where he studied Architectural Engineering. Setting his sights on construction, Mike began swinging a hammer, building apartments and houses throughout Southern California.
Although construction was – and still is – his main business, Mike dabbled in trucking, as well. Buying two old Peterbilt cabovers and forming a company called Harrah Distributing, Mike began hauling asparagus and strawberries from Bakersfield to the east coast in the early 1970s. Obviously, trucking didn’t pay as well as construction and it took him away for long periods of time, so after only making a few runs, he hired drivers to fill the seats. Not knowing much about how to run a trucking company, this venture only lasted a couple years before Mike sold the trucks and closed it down.
Mainly focusing on construction and real estate for the past 40 years or so, Mike is the President of Caribou Industries and operates forty-five world class companies known for premier real estate, executive aviation, five-star restaurants, hotel resorts and entertainment venues in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada. Since its founding in 1989, Caribou Industries has maintained its commitment to “Preserving the Past and Ensuring the Future” through the development of inner-city properties and venues. Looking at Big Mike, you’d never guess he was a real estate tycoon or business mogul – with his wraparound dark sunglasses and long beard, along with cut-off shirt sleeves and a cigar clenched in his teeth, this 6’-6” tall 275-lb. man certainly breaks some stereotypes.
Getting to know Mike, it didn’t take long to see where his real passion lies – building stuff. More specifically, stuff others said couldn’t be done. Stuff that really pushes the envelope. Stuff that makes your heart beat faster. Enter Thor 24. It all started with the engines. Wanting to build a diesel-powered motorcycle just for fun, Mike went on the hunt for a big two-stroke diesel engine, like maybe a 8V-92 Detroit or something similar, when he stumbled on (2) 24V-71 Detroit Diesel marine engines, that had been removed from a 300-foot boat, for sale in San Pedro, California. Mike didn’t even know Detroit made an engine this big, which is actually a pair of 12V-71 engines mated together, but he knew he had to have them.
Taking the gigantic engines to his hangar in Lake Havasu City, AZ where most of his “projects” reside, it took him about a year to start formulating a plan. At first, he thought about putting both of the engines in one truck, but after realizing that it would just be way too heavy and have way too much torque, he scrapped that plan and decided to just use one of them, holding on to the second engine for another project later.
Wanting this power-plant to be something unique and special, Mike decided it needed more power and more pizazz, so he spent more than six months designing and building a massive blower manifold template made of 3/4-inch plywood. Once completed, the manifold was machined out of thick aluminum plate and now holds eight BDS 871 superchargers which force pressurized air down through a pressure chamber and into four more blowers underneath. To drive all the blowers and accommodate for the extremely high amount of torque the system creates, Mike designed and built a stout 2-inch diameter shaft, made out of Monel alloy, that is 103-inches long and weighs 235 pounds. Sitting atop the manifold are also eight polished NOS bottles that feed nitrous oxide into the system, as well. When the engine was completed, Mike claims it hit 3,424 horsepower at 2,500 RPM on the dyno! Now, it was time to build an equally unique rig to hold this beastly power-plant.
Starting with (2) 40-foot long pieces of 4×14-inch rectangular tubing that is 3/8-inch thick, Mike used a Peterbilt AirLeaf suspension with frenched-in brackets on the rear, and a VanHool A-arm type suspension system, typically used on buses, on the front, to get a tighter turning radius. Riding on Alcoa polished aluminum wheels, the truck was fitted with Michelin 315/80R22.5 steer tires and Goodyear 11R24.5 drive tires. Once the chassis was put together, the engine was installed and mated to a polished and chrome-plated 6-speed Allison automatic transmission.
The unique crew cab was constructed using two modified Peterbilt 359 cabs mated together. All the door handles were shaved, and the front doors, which use polished battle axes as their hinges, are air operated and swing both out and up, like Lambo doors, while the rear doors were made suicide-style. Between the doors, on the cab’s exterior, Mike mounted a dual-edged broadsword, mostly for decoration, but it can be used as a “grab bar” (although it is kinda scary to grab the blade of a sword, even if it isn’t really sharp). Fiberglass fenders were installed on the front and back, and a custom coffin sleeper was fabricated and mounted behind the crew cab. The Candy Red paint on the cab and sleeper was sprayed by Glenn Bohannon at Brothers Auto Body in Lake Havasu City, then multi-colored flames and murals were added by SKC Customz, also in Lake Havasu City, AZ. The finishing touch was old-school pinstripes, added throughout the exterior, done by Havasu’s Chris Snead.
Other exterior details include a custom aluminum front grille shell, stylized to mimic the iconic front of a 1933 Ford, made by Marcel’s Custom Metal in California, and a custom grille insert, made by a guy in Canada, that made at least 20 grilles until he finally felt that he got it right! Both these fabricators are true artisans and masters of the craft. Mounted behind the sleeper is a small jet powered APU which Mike uses to start the truck. Mike also fabricated and installed a custom visor, roof wing, an all-chrome and polished firewall, and two huge fuel tanks (one on each side), which are partitioned inside to accommodate the three different types of fuel used to power Thor and its accessories (gasoline, diesel and jet fuel). The truck also has dual square headlights mounted on polished brackets that look like battle axes.
Moving inside the cab, the interior features two sunroofs, polished door panels and interior pieces, a 359 “Corvette dash” filled with more gauges and switches than you have ever seen in a truck, Moon Footprint aluminum pedals and a 4-spoke steering wheel from Steering Creations. The (4) black leather bucket seats, complete with Big Mike’s cigar-toking silhouette embroidered on the headrests, the black diamond headliner with chrome buttons (also done throughout the sleeper), and dark gray industrial carpeting on the floor was all done by Main Stitch Upholstery in Lake Havasu City, AZ. There is also a cool polished center floor console between the front seats that holds the broadsword gearshift lever, along with more gauges and switches for the jet APU, and a special “Thor 24V-71” logo emblem, done in anodized gold and red (there are several of these custom emblems mounted in various places on the truck).
On each side of the sleeper are doors that open on the outside to expose an audio and video station on each side of the truck, along with drawers that slide open below them, full of speakers. The system features 1,500 watts of power per channel, and there are two channels per side, for a total of 6,000 watts. Video is fed into the cab to a 40-inch monitor on the back wall of the sleeper, as well as (2) screens mounted into the back of the headrests of the front seats for the passengers sitting in the rear seats, along with (4) 4 x 6 screens mounted above the driver in a polished overhead console. The video screens above the driver can also be switched to access feeds from four cameras outside and underneath the truck, helping the driver to see everything around it more clearly.
The entire project took over seven years to complete, at an estimated cost of $7 million. The 32,000-lb. machine is 44 feet long and burns about 1 gallon of diesel fuel per mile. Getting it up to speed is not the hard part but slowing it down is (thankfully, there are four drag chutes mounted on the back, just in case the brakes aren’t enough). With at least two guys working on this project full time, five days a week, and Mike flying in on weekends to come up with new ideas and help make them come to life, it isn’t hard to imagine how that total cost added up so quickly on this project. Mike’s main fabricator for the past 15 years has been Tim Spinks. Tim helps Mike with most of his projects, and was instrumental in the building of Thor, along with Paul Abram and many others.
Along with Thor, Big Mike has plenty of other “toys” filling his hangars in Lake Havasu. Along with his various race cars, boats, hot rods, classic cars and motorcycles, he also has a few trucks – the most notable being a beautiful big red 1982 Peterbilt 359 fitted with a huge custom ICT sleeper with an extensive amount of woodwork inside and a “garage” in the back to house one of Mike’s Harleys (which is loaded and unloaded using a hydraulic winch system). This super clean rig is equipped with a 1,500-hp Cummins KTTA engine, and Mike likes to take it out every now and again for a drive on Interstate 40. He has even hauled a few loads with it, but just for fun. We actually saw this truck and took pictures of it at the truck show in Las Vegas in 2009 – the one and only time he ever took it out to a show.
Another neat “truck” Big Mike has is a rat rod semi called “Sneaky Pete” which is powered by an air-cooled, aluminum, V12 engine out of a 1951 M47 Patton tank. Originally built by Rodney Rucker, this 1,200-hp truck participated in the 2007 Great American Race – a fun cross-country rally for street legal automobiles that are at least 45 years old, which started in Concord, NC and ended in Anaheim, CA. Built out of a chopped 1964 Peterbilt, Mike bought this truck from Rodney around 2009, and stores it with his other “toys” in Lake Havasu.
Another vehicle Mike has worth mentioning is a custom 1965 Chevy El Camino with a 540 cubic-inch V8 mounted in the bed. Mike saw this pickup driving in Southern California and followed the guy home. Obviously getting a little nervous that this big guy was following him, the guy drove to his brother’s house where he came out to greet the two of them with a gun in his hand. Mike was like, “Whoa, I just want to buy your truck!” Utilizing a V-drive setup like a boat, the power and weight distribution allow this El Camino to do a 1/4-mile wheel stand down the drag strip. But Mike still has not mastered the art of bringing the front end down – gently. On his last run, about a week before we met up with Mike for the photo shoot, he came down extra hard and smacked his face on the steering wheel, breaking both his front teeth!
Since Mike keeps many of his “toys” in a hangar at the airport, it would make sense to assume that there might be some personal aircraft in there, as well. And there is – in fact, Mike has been a member of the Screen Actors Guild as a helicopter stunt pilot since 1998, and has several airplanes and helicopters, including a Cobra attack helicopter, which he has flown in several commercials, TV shows like E.R. and in blockbuster movies like The Hulk, Terminator 3, Blackhawk Down and The Siege.
Oh yea, there’s one other vehicle – Mike’s next custom semi-truck, dubbed Medusa, which is getting the other 24V-71 Detroit! This truck is being built on the chassis of a 1951 Iron Nose Peterbilt and, this time, Mike is mounting the massive engine behind the cab and putting turbos on top to feed the lower blowers. Set up for drag racing, Medusa will be lower, lighter, faster and easier to see out of, and Mike is going to retain as much of the original cab, fenders and front end as possible. He’s already two years into this project, but he’s still got a few more years to finish, so stay tuned.
If you want to see “Thor 24” in person, the rig will be a highlight vehicle at the Big Boys Toys event at the Las Vegas Convention Center this coming October 23-25, 2020. This annual innovation and luxury lifestyle expo will feature all sorts of high-end products and services including art, adventure, aviation, electronics, automobiles, fashion, marine, motorcycles/bikes, off-road, health and wellness, and even luxury pets and pet products. For more information, visit www.bigboystoysvegas.com and then come out to Vegas and join 10-4 Magazine for some fun, meet Big Mike, and see “Thor 24” up close and personal. Really, as amazing as this vehicle is, pictures do not do it justice – you really must see it in person to fully appreciate it.
We would like to thank “Big Mike” Harrah and his fabricator Tim Spinks for giving up one of their Saturdays to spend the day with us, taking pictures and videos for this feature. We had a great time, and were absolutely blown away at the craftsmanship and thought put into “Thor 24” – there are so many details on this truck, it is hard to list them all, because everywhere you look, you see something else.
Nothing on “Thor 24” was left untouched or un-customized, leading us to say, “Holy Mother of Metal” quite a lot, that day. It’s just a fitting statement. And, if you ever get a chance to see (and hear) this truck in person yourself, we can almost guarantee that you will be thinking or saying the exact same thing!