For some, image is everything, but for others, it’s just an added bonus! Tyler Gwillim (22) of Carlinville, IL has that phrase painted on the back of the visor on his cool “new” truck, and it definitely rings true. But, more importantly, this young fifth-generation trucker (yea, you read that right) has the integrity and work ethic to back up that image he puts out there. This young man has been immersed in the world of trucks and trucking his entire life through the past four generations of his family – along with a bunch of other trucking legends – but mostly by his dad, Mickey, whom Tyler idolizes.
Born in 1998 and raised in central Illinois, Tyler and his parents lived in Waverly, IL until they got divorced in 2006. Getting full custody of his son, Mickey and Tyler moved to Carlinville, IL the following year, where most of their family and their family business – Gwillim Trucking – was based. But this story does not start here. To get back to the true beginning, we need to go back to the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Tyler’s great great grandfather George Gwillim started hauling freight in a straight truck. Back then, if you had any type of truck, you’d haul anything and everything, and that’s what George did.
The fruit did not fall far from the tree, and George’s son Nelson Gwillim formed Gwillim Trucking in 1939. The carrier number the ICC issued for his company was a short three-digit number (798) – and it is still active today. In fact, it is the oldest continuously active number in the state of Illinois. Back then, the company specialized in hauling rock and shelling corn. Nelson’s first trucks were gasoline-powered International dump trucks, but he was known to buy just about anything. Over the years, in addition to the Internationals, he had all sorts of trucks including Freightliners, GMCs and Kenworths, but one thing was consistent – they were all Detroit-powered with straight pipes.
In 1942, after being hired to spread gravel in their parking lot by hand with a shovel, Tyler’s great grandpa Nelson began hauling canned milk for Producers Creamery of Carlinville, which had just opened in 1938. Shortly thereafter, Gwillim Trucking became the main hauler for this outfit, which changed its name to Prairie Farms Dairy in 1962. Starting solely with butter, the company now manufactures and sells dozens of products including milk, cheese, ice cream, juices, sour cream, dips and more. Today, Prairie Farms is a huge corporation with over 5,700 employees, operating 44 manufacturing plants and over 100 distribution facilities in 15 states, with annual revenues around $3 billion – and Gwillim Trucking (now TKNG Transit) was there when it all began, and is still one of their prime haulers out of the Carlinville facility all these years later.
Nelson Gwillim passed away in 1994 and then his wife Elizabeth took over the company, with help from their two sons, including Tyler’s grandpa Jim Gwillim. When Tyler and his dad Mickey moved back to Carlinville in 2007, Mickey and his brother bought the business, along with Nelson and Elizabeth’s home and property, which is where the company was based. Tyler’s great grandparents built their home on this property in 1962 and the shop behind it in 1971, and Tyler’s dad Mickey spent a lot of time there after his parents got a divorce when he was a kid. Moving into that same house in 2007, Mickey and Tyler built a life there – along with a lot of cool trucks out back in the shop – the same shop two other generations of Gwillims built trucks in, too.
Over the next few years, Mickey and his brother worked hard and built the business, peaking at 31 trucks. But as most know, more trucks mean more headaches. In 2013, Mickey bought out his brother and became the sole owner of Gwillim Trucking and began downsizing the operation. Today, they operate six trucks full time and have one leased owner operator. Mostly pulling trailers for Prairie Farms, they also haul some grain and other ag-related products in hopper trailers, as well. In 2018, Mickey changed the name of the company to TKNG Transit but was able to keep the same three-digit operating number. TKNG is Tyler’s initials – Tyler Kenneth Nelson Gwillim – and Mickey is grooming him to eventually take over. This kid was destined to be a trucker in so many ways, even his initials spell out the abbreviated version of “trucking” (which was not a coincidence).
Trucking is all Tyler has ever wanted to do and idolizing his dad might have something to do with that. When he was younger, he participated in sports like football, basketball, and wrestling, but once he realized he needed to earn money to buy things, he began working in the shop and doing other jobs. At just 10 years old, he taught himself how to polish, and at 16 he was making good money on the weekends doing it.
As soon as Tyler turned 18, he got his CDL, and later that year, after graduating from high school in May of 2016, he was ready to hit the road. Unfortunately, Mickey’s insurance company did not make it easy, wanting an extra $39,000 a year to add Tyler to the policy, forcing Tyler to spend an extra year in the shop while everything got worked out. When their policy eventually came up for renewal, Mickey switched to a different company and they did not even blink an eye that Tyler (and his young friend Jack Boehm who we featured last month) were both listed as drivers. So, away he went.
Driving a really nice 2000 Peterbilt 379 with a 48” sleeper, owned by the company, the metallic gray truck had black stripes outlined with green. Powered by a Cat 6NZ hooked to a 13-speed, this was the first and only truck that Mickey ever bought brand new (it was all red when he bought it). He later sold it to Gwillim Trucking, and then when he bought the company in 2007, he got it back and repainted it. Tyler drove this truck for two years, and also helped his dad run the company. Mickey recently took this truck off the road to rebuild it again, so Tyler was forced to drive various trucks – but what he really wanted was his own.
While Tyler was growing up, his dad built a lot of cool Peterbilt 359s right there in the shop behind their house, and one was even featured on our January 2014 cover. That was Mickey’s thing – still is – he loves 359s and has owned, built, bought, and sold many of them over the years. Mickey’s first truck was a black 1981 Pete 359 with a short hood. After that, he built a lime green 1986 Peterbilt 359 with a long hood and matching reefer that went on to win a lot of shows and grace the pages of many calendars and magazines. When Mickey sold that truck, while going through his divorce, he stripped a few parts off it (which were also used on his first black truck) and put them in a box in his closet, hoping to one day pass them on to Tyler.
Obviously, that love for 359s rubbed off on Tyler, so when he began looking for a truck, that is what he was looking for. When he found one he liked, it had a little added sentimental value (the Gwillims are a very sentimental bunch). This particular 359 had once been part of the Gwillim fleet! Mickey purchased the truck from a guy in Louisiana in 2013. At the time, the truck had a 63” sleeper with a crawl-through hole, so Mickey cut the opening larger and then swapped out the sleeper with a 36” model, made it a unibilt system, and then put it to work. Painted Firethorn red, the truck was used daily for three years, and then it became a spare truck. In 2016, Mickey sold it to Abe Wiser in Waverly, IL who used it as his personal truck for a little over two years.
Purchasing the 1984 Peterbilt 359 from Abe in April 2019, it was not Tyler’s intention to completely rebuild it, but that’s what happened. Fitted with a freshly rebuilt 425 Cat hooked to a 13-speed, the truck was mechanically sound, but when Tyler and their mechanic Charlie went to change out the rear suspension for a newer model, they found cracks and corrosion under the bolts. Charlie said, “If you were ever thinking about stretching it, now would be a good time.” So, they stretched it out from 250” to 272” and then installed that newer suspension. And that is how much of it went – a common saying around the shop became, “Well, you’re already here, so you might as well (insert some specific rebuild or upgrade to make here).” In the end, they spent over a year, working when they could, to complete the entire project.
Although this truck looks simple and stock, many changes were made that the average eye might miss, like lowering the battery boxes three inches and then installing bigger air tanks under the doors, rolling the front fenders back a bit, switching out the original dual round headlights with dual squares and mounting them about an inch lower, rebuilding and re-skinning the doors (the peep hole was removed from the passenger side door), and installing a Gen 3 air-ride system from 12 Ga. Customs on the front. They also filled in the front fender brackets and made them smooth, filled the five holes on the air cleaner bracket bases and made them smooth, added two extra cab lights (for a total of seven), and mounted two extra-long horns on the roof, a few inches forward, so they would hang over the edge more. Then, they had Rick Arnett cut the 26” diameter fuel tanks shorter.
When it came time to paint, after changing his mind several times, Tyler settled on metallic charcoal gray with a turquoise metallic chassis, which Pat, their paint and body guy, sprayed. Once the painting was completed, they started adding the accessories, like 6” Lincoln Chrome exhaust, a 20” Valley Chrome bumper, Hogebuilt long-drop stainless rear half fenders, a stainless RLK Services visor and rear light panel mounted behind the sleeper, 3” blank body drop panels from 12 Ga. Customs, a functional Merritt deck plate, and plenty of hidden lights, including under-glow lighting. They also had custom bus glass made by a local guy, installed a filler panel between the fuel tanks from 12 Ga. with lots of lights, and mounted new Vortox air cleaners and tops they got from the Velasquez Brothers (Henry, Alfred, and Oscar) in Los Angeles.
Most of the accessories and all the lights were purchased from Nick at Amcan Truck Parts in Pewaukee, WI. All the lights are Peterson or Grand General, except for the headlights, which are LEDs from Truck-Lite with smoked lenses. And remember that box of parts from Mickey’s first truck that he put aside? Well, the slightly modified hood ornament (from an old Peterbilt), the billet aluminum foot pedals inside, the horn covers, a chrome fire extinguisher (mounted on the floor inside the cab), and a few other miscellaneous items came out of that box. Like I said, the Gwillims are very sentimental.
Moving inside the truck, the entire slate gray interior with teal stitching was done by Brad Barrentine of Truck’n Awesome Restorations in Bogata, TX. Some of the other neat additions inside include a chrome tilt steering column out of a 362 Pete cabover (another piece acquired from the Velasquez Brothers in Los Angeles), cruise control, Bostrom seats, a “retro” 3-spoke SCI leather-covered steering wheel, painted (metallic charcoal gray) dash panels, and one of the very last available sets of original 359 Peterbilt rubber floor mats. Tyler also modified crystal doorknobs for inside a house and made custom air brake valve knobs. As mentioned before, pinstriper Van Gogh painted “Image is Everything” on the back of the visor and flanked it with the Thrush Exhaust roadrunner on the left and the Mooneyes logo on the right, to complete the retro vibe in the cab.
Another unique feature about this build is that none of it was financed. Tyler personally bought the truck himself and has a payment on it, but the entire build was paid for as he went along. There is some pressure to live up to the family name and reputation, but nothing this young buck can’t handle. He knows that being “the boss’ son” could change the way people look at him, but Tyler is committed to proving them all wrong by outworking everyone! He’s earned all he’s got and works his butt off – and has since the day he got his CDL at age 18.
Mickey is an amazing dad, and he has done a great job of raising Tyler on his own, but he didn’t do it all alone. Growing up in the trucking business, attending and hosting truck shows, building show-quality working trucks, and being entrenched in the world of trucking, Tyler was exposed to many great truck drivers that had a major impact on who he is today – guys like Vinnie Diorio, Arlyn Workman, Dustin Pope, Bill Warner Jr., Curtis Christians, Rich Stark, David “Beerman” Brewer, Billy Carter, Lavern Cross, Jeff Botelho, John Silva, Randy Humphrey, Neil Dykman, Dustin Foster, John Stolzfus, Truett Novosad, Matt Canagy, “Tanker Dave” Marcotte, Larry Dyck, Adrian Al-Amin and so many others all had a big hand in raising Tyler and teaching him how to not only be a good trucker, but a good man, as well.
Since completing the build, which he literally (basically) did the day we showed up to do the photo shoot, Tyler has been getting the rig ready to go to work full time. Taking its maiden voyage on September 15, hooked to his 2015 Timpte polished stainless-steel hopper, Mickey shot and posted a video of him rolling by the house, hammer down, headed for a load. He was so proud you could hear the smile on his face. He later said, “I’ve waited 22 years to see my boy roll by the house in his own truck, pulling his own trailer, going to work. It was a surreal sight to finally see, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Typically running fairly local, Tyler will be pulling reefer trailers for Prairie Farms, mostly moving packaged milk and milk products, along with his hopper, hauling grain, corn, beans, and other ag products, within a 100-mile radius of Carlinville, except for a few runs that take him out a little further, on occasion. Although Gwillim Trucking (TKNG Transit) had many cool 359s in their fleet at one time, it is now comprised of all 379s, along with some daycab Freightliners, for getting into those tight spots. Tyler’s truck will be the only 359 in daily service, and it will be leased to the company.
Regarding future plans, Tyler is looking to start buying into the business soon and slowly starting the succession process of shifting the ownership from Mickey to him. They (Mickey and Tyler) have also talked about opening a truck repair shop, and maybe even expanding their grain-hauling side of the business, as well. Mickey has also been building trucks for a few select clients lately, and Tyler loves helping out with those projects, too. Recently moving into his own place on the opposite side of town, Tyler is enjoying his new-found freedom (when he’s not too busy) and spending as much time as possible with his girlfriend, Tarren.
Trucking is still alive and well in the Gwillim family, as Tyler’s grandpa Jim still owns and operates one truck. Hauling grain, he has been working with the same elevator for over 40 years. His truck is nothing fancy, but he takes good care of it. Tyler’s great grandmother Elizabeth, Nelson’s widow, is also still alive and well at 98 years old (she was born in 1922)! The company is now 81 years old, and still going strong. What a testament that is to the Gwillim family. Mickey doesn’t drive much anymore, but Tyler still says he is the most knowledgeable and skilled trucker he’s ever known, adding, “I can back up pretty good, but I’ve seen my dad put trucks in places I never would have believed they could fit.”
Wanting to thank a few special folks for their help and contributions on this build, Tyler thanks his dad, first and foremost, for his guidance, the opportunities he has given him, all the help and advice, and finding all those perfect parts for his 359. He also wanted to thank their mechanic Charlie, along with Pat and Mike in the paint and body shop, and Rick Conner, for his help with the paint and other things. He also wanted to mention and thank James Bray, who helped install the truck’s interior, and his girlfriend Tarren, for all her patience and support. Lastly, we at 10-4 would like to thank Mickey Gwillim for supplying the fantastic combo shot of Tyler’s truck and hopper trailer, along with the picture of the lettering on the truck’s frame.
Continuing to rebuild his 2000 Pete 379, Mickey is planning to paint it the same color as Tyler’s 359, but with a slightly different color on the frame. Hoping to have it done soon, this will be another milestone Mickey has looked forward to doing with his son all his life – trucking with him on the big road in nearly-matching trucks! Being a fifth-generation trucker, Tyler Gwillim’s ancestors have built a great image and created a lasting legacy for him to follow. It’s true, image can be a good thing, but for this hard-working young man, integrity is everything – and at only 22 years old, he’s already got it!