Having been a location in over 100 films plus the “Dukes of Hazzard” and “Vampire Diaries” television shows, Covington, GA is known as “Film Town” for obvious reasons. This part of Georgia is so close to Atlanta, yet by the look of the area, you wouldn’t be able to tell. As in most Georgia towns, there are many historic buildings keeping the nostalgic look of the south. This is the story of one Covington man who took a vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains and had a chance encounter with a diamond-in-the-rough Freightliner that was destined to be part of his family.
Raised in Conyers, GA, Kenny Wilson’s love of trucks was instilled in him at an early age as he traveled to visit his grandparents in Tennessee, seeing trucks along the way on the interstates, as well as sitting on his grandmother’s lawn next to Hwy. 78 in Memphis. At the time, Hwy. 78 was just a 2-lane road, but it was well-traveled by big trucks. Kenny’s grandfather, Pop, drove for Spector Freight Lines out of Memphis, and even though the company policies prohibited him to ride along, Pop would take him down to the terminal so he could see the trucks and sit in them. The love of trucks was in his blood, and Kenny liked to count how many of each make he would see on trips. As most of us can agree with and understand, the shiny trucks always caught Kenny’s eye.
Growing up, weekends were spent hanging out with his dad at the Southern Railroad Yard in Atlanta where his dad was contracted to operate the Piggyback ramp. For those who don’t know, local trucks would bring trailers into the yard to be loaded on rail cars and hauled off to other locations. It was there that Kenny would learn the basics, after professing to his dad that he wanted to drive a truck. His dad took him to a large vacant lot, set up two trailers with a spot in-between them for another, and then set Kenny up in the Ottawa yard spotter truck (some may refer to them as yard dogs) hooked to a trailer. His dad showed him how to back up a trailer, then told him to practice until he could park it with no mistakes, then come back and get him.
One would think, after graduating from high school, Kenny would get in a truck immediately and start running up and down the road, but he attempted the college route, first. He learned after a year that it wasn’t going to work for him, so he transferred to a local tech school to become a diesel mechanic. Trucking wasn’t far from his mind because, in the evenings, he worked at a local trucking company washing trucks, changing oil and tires. What really hooked him, on the weekends, was when he would ask drivers of that company if he could ride along with them. One of the drivers (they called him “Bambino”) gave Kenny his first chance to get behind the wheel. He drove a Peterbilt 352 cabover with a 6V-92 Detroit and gave Kenny the wheel on Hwy. 411, a 2-lane road running from Cartersville, GA to Knoxville, TN. This experience really gave Kenny the chance to learn how to drive with the patience and coaching “Bambino” provided.
Over the years, Kenny had the opportunity to operate some very nice trucks. He had been running U.S. Mail in the southeast, but the company he worked for began hauling coast-to-coast, leasing some of their trucks to L&S Trucking out of Riverdale, GA (with Kenny’s being one of them). He knew he wanted to run west, so he started out running team to California for a few months so he could be proficient at getting the job done. Then, at just 25 years old, Kenny was let off the leash to run solo coast-to-coast, hauling produce, in a 1981 Peterbilt 359 boasting a 400 Cummins and a 13-speed transmission. He really thought he was somebody!
Eventually, Kenny did buy his own truck – a 1988 Freightliner cabover with a 104” cab, 400 CAT motor, 13-speed transmission and 3:36 rears. What the truck lacked in stamina up the hills, she made up for in looks, running the Midwest to the east coast and Florida. Things changed when Kenny’s high school sweetheart Cathy became a permanent fixture in his life, along with her daughter, Whitney, when they got married. Shortly after that, the couple welcomed their son Taylor Eli into the world. At that point, he quit driving and went to work for his dad’s semi-trailer repair shop, B&W Trailer Sales in Atlanta, GA, which was started in 1981, to be part of the family business.
Since coming off the road, Kenny became an ATHS National Member, as well as a member of their West Georgia, Music City and Palmetto Upstate local chapters. As they say, you can take a trucker out of a truck, but you can never take the truck out of the trucker. Kenny enjoys being able to meet new people at shows, reminisce with old friends, and marvel at trucks from days gone by.
Taking a trip with some friends in 2012 to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia, while out on the road, Kenny spotted a truck in Morganton, GA. Parked by the fence of a salvage yard sat an old Freightliner that was a little rough around the edges, but it caught his eye. He spoke to the owner and said he would get back to him. When he got home from the trip, Kenny told Cathy about the truck, and although he wasn’t sold on the idea of buying it, Cathy was intrigued. Together, they went to a show in Cherokee, NC for the first time and they took notice that there were no Freightliners at the event. Cathy convinced Kenny to go and look at the truck again together. Kenny was still undecided, but Cathy convinced him to buy the truck, and in February of 2013, she came home with them.
When purchased, the truck was a 1980 Freightliner FLC120 with a Big Cam 400 Cummins under the hood, 13-speed transmission, 4:44 rears and a 220” wheelbase on a spring suspension. After years of sitting, Kenny installed new batteries and the truck came back to life again. Over the course of time, he changed the air and fuel lines, air tanks, air valves, wheel bearings, brake shoes and, with fresh oil and fuel, the truck finally moved on its own power.
After giving the truck a good bath, Kenny polished all the aluminum. He also installed a new 6” straight pipe exhaust from 4 State Trucks, a new bumper and Hogebuilt quarter fenders. The interior remains original, and when he purchased the truck, Kenny noticed that it just needed a really thorough cleaning – which he gave it. He also installed his Cobra 29 radio, which just happens to be the same radio he used back in his west coast hauling days. In April 2018, the truck was down for four months to get a four-foot frame stretch and then have a Freightliner Airliner suspension installed.
The truck was featured in two movies as a truck stop prop, including the Netflix movie “Sextuplets” which is a comedy about a father-to-be finding out he had five siblings and then tries to find them before the birth of his child, and then it was used in the filming of another movie, but that scene was cut. Kenny said it was pretty cool to get to see how a movie was made.
Today, Kenny still works full time at the family business, but also runs mail occasionally, on the weekends, to feed his need for chrome parts. Cathy works part-time at a facility in Atlanta as a taxidermist, as well as provides part-time taxidermy services from home.
Social media has proven to be a wonderful outlet to network with others who have the same passion for trucks and trucking, as well as a passion for Freightliner FLCs, in particular. The truck hasn’t hauled a load since Kenny bought it, and it never will. It is strictly a hobby truck for him, but one he takes great pride in. Like Kenny said, from the name of one of the trucks he used to drive, this truck is “Nuthin’ Special” but she is his and part of the family.
I met Kenny for the first time at the beginning of March 2019 at the Shine in the Pines truck show in Dublin, GA. I had been taking pictures for my show report and decided to photograph some of the trucks as they were coming into the fairgrounds where the show was held. From a distance, I saw his truck and instantly knew I needed to find out what its story was and take some time to photograph it. It took me almost a year, but I was able to finally get it done.
Kenny and his wife Cathy are both wonderful people, and they spent the entire day with me, moving the truck to various locations, near their home in Covington. These locations proved to be perfect for this truck. The first location was an old grain elevator in the town of Newborn; the ranch-style building was in Rutledge; and, of course, we took the truck onto I-20 for some rolling shots. The only way the day could have been any better was if it had been 25 degrees warmer, but that didn’t stop me.
You just never know when and where you are going to have a chance encounter that leads to something else. Kenny’s chance encounter at finding his good-lookin’ truck while on vacation, mixed with my chance encounter of deciding to go to a show in Dublin, GA for the first time, set the stage for a future which included some outstanding photographs, a great story and an even better friendship. How cool is that! As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.