I hope you don’t mind, but this month I’m veering out of my typical lane of travel and not writing a poem. I’d like, instead, to make a plea to track down some pictures and information. If you’ve been a reader of this column for a while, then you may already know that I have a deep affection for how things used to be. I love reminiscing about yesteryear, and I model much of my lifestyle and my trucking career after the influences of my past. More specifically, I just love the memories, pictures, and stories of my dad’s generation of trucking. That era from the early 70s through the 90s. I’m not going to claim that everything was better back then, but in my opinion, it certainly was a more impressive time in the trucking industry. At least it was for this kid!
I was one of those kids who idolized my dad. I have always tried to emulate his style, his vernacular, and his passion for trucks and trucking. So much so, that I’ve already restored a cabover Freightliner to resemble one he had in the early 80s. And now I’m currently restoring a 1989 Freightliner FLD to exactly replicate one that he bought new in 1990, which brings me closer to the point of this month’s story.
My dad drove a T800 Kenworth company truck for Pirkle Freightlines back in 1988. After several months in that truck, he learned of a small fleet owner based in Abilene, TX named Grady Henderson. Grady owned a dozen or so brand new FLDs and called his company YLJ Inc. (he told me it stood for You Love Jesus). He had these trucks leased onto Pirkle, and dad was eager to make the leap from a company truck into a large owner operator spec’d truck. Grady even flew my dad down to Dallas Freightliner in Irving, TX to pick out a brand-new truck, right off the showroom floor! How exciting!!
The first one he picked was an Electric Blue 1989 FLD with a 60” standup sleeper and all the bells and whistles. He was in that truck for about a year, and then, through a series of some changing circumstances, he got out of that truck, we moved to Amarillo, and he landed himself in a brand new 1990 FLD that was a nearly identical twin to the blue one, except this one was Emerald Green Metallic (my favorite color). Dad jazzed this truck up pretty fancy in no time, adding gold pinstriping, white letters on the tires, chrome doodads, and nearly 200 chicken lights. These are just some of the ways my dad personalized this truck, which Grady Henderson furnished him with.
There were maybe a dozen trucks in the YLJ fleet, leased to Pirkle, until Pirkle closed their doors at Christmastime of 1990. Then, the trucks were leased on with Hunt Transportation out of Omaha NE. All of these FLDs were fully spec’d, and were basically twins to each other, except for the colors. I remember at least two that were green, two blue ones, and a canary yellow one with 6” straight pipes and chrome steel drive wheels. Each driver was allowed to dress up the trucks as they wished, as long as they took care of them and did a good job.
Dad called his truck “Chasin’ Tomorrow” and had that painted across the bug shield on the hood. I remember one of the blue trucks had the name “Rebel Yell” on its bug shield. The guy who drove the green twin to dad’s truck was a friendly younger guy, who stood much shorter than my dad’s tall 6’-6” stature. So, when they’d cross paths, he would holler on the CB, “Hey, big brother!” and dad would reply, “Hey, little brother!” I would sit on the edge of my seat, in awe of the two-truck rolling truck show I was privileged to be riding along in.
Grady Henderson was a generous man. He treated his drivers like they were his own family – he even asked them to call him Papa Grady. In his office, at the yard in Abilene, he had pictures on the wall of his fancy fleet of Freightliners. It is my hope that someone out there may recall this small fleet or, perhaps, you or someone you know may have actually drove one of Grady’s trucks back then. Dad quit driving for YLJ back in 1991, and I saw his green Freightliner roll through North Bend, WA later that year. It is my understanding that Papa Grady passed away in 2010.
I’m hoping that the pictures I’ve submitted here and the brief descriptions of my memories of those trucks, might spark a memory in someone else out there who could share pictures and information about their time with Pirkle or YLJ from the late 80s and early 90s. I realize it’s a long-shot, but the fact is, someone drove that fancy, all lit-up, green Freightliner with “Chasin’ Tomorrow” painted on the nose, after dad got out of it. It also had our names, my siblings and mine, painted on the sleeper jockey-box doors on each side.
Who knows? Maybe the rig still exists out there somewhere. Maybe it’s sitting in the weeds in someone’s field, or maybe it’s been repainted and re-purposed by someone. But if anyone has any helpful information regarding these trucks, I would be forever grateful to either track the green one down, or simply see pictures of the other trucks in the YLJ fleet. I’m doing my best to meticulously restore my FLD to be just like “Chasin’ Tomorrow” was, but if I found the actual truck was still in existence, how epic would that be! If you have information or pictures to share, contact me through the magazine at (559) 338-2703 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.