Many people realize early on that they want to drive a truck in the future, but only some take the extra step of learning how to fix them, as well, to be as self-sufficient as possible. That is the case with Nick Black of NA Trucking out of Canton, NC. Nick knew he would drive a truck but opted to go to school for diesel mechanics before becoming an owner operator so he could do his own wrenchin’ and truckin’ – which, as many of you know, was a very smart move.
Born in Hartford, TN, Nick moved to Candler, NC when he was seven years old, and then lived there until moving to Canton, NC about three years ago. He remembers riding with his dad as a kid and how his dad always had his truck clean and looking good. Back then, his dad drove a cabover, and he remembers one time there was a green and gold cabover coming towards them and the female passenger had her feet up on the dash. Nick is still upset about that to this day, because his dad taught him how to keep a clean truck from an early age, including removing his shoes before getting inside the truck, and NOT putting them up on the dash. One time he forgot to take his shoes off and got a footprint on the doghouse. He vividly remembers hurriedly trying to get that footprint wiped off before his dad saw it.
Nick said he doesn’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t want to drive a truck. He picked up driving more or less on his own (with some obvious help along the way), but had the drive to go those extra steps and drive whenever he could – from moving trucks around in the parking lot, to sneaking them out on the road for a little bit. His first job out of high school was at Trailways Bus Lines, which was a charter bus company. Trailways had purchased a truck to tow buses, and since Nick was the only one to have some kind of background and experience in trucking, he obtained his license when he was 21 to run it.
That same truck he got his license to drive in was also the first truck he bought in 1992 – a 1980 International 4300. That same year he also attended his first truck show, and he had no idea what he was in for when he got there. It was the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY. He went on to work for Spartan Express in 1994 for about a year, then went to work for his good friend Jim Buckner, who owned a tanker hauling outfit. This is where he drove a Peterbilt 359 for the first time, which was a 1986 model with an extended hood. Something you can’t do anymore, Nick drove to the ICC Building in Washington DC in 1999, walked inside, filled out the paperwork, paid them, and walked out with his authority that day.
Nick recalled a story for me that he said was one of his proudest and most memorable moments. At the time, his son Nicholas was about 10 years old, and Nick owned and drove a maroon 1994 Peterbilt 379. They were unloading at East Coast Distributors in Plant City, FL and it was a really busy place with an open dock. At any given time, there would be 10-15 trucks loading there, and each driver had to pull the stickers off of each of their pallets and put it on their sheets. Nick told Nicholas to go ahead and pull the truck out of the dock, which he promptly did. What Nick did not anticipate happening was that everyone on the dock stopped what they were doing and watched this 10-year-old boy hop in the truck, pull it out of the dock, put the load locks in, close the doors, and turn the reefer unit on like he was a seasoned veteran. It was pretty cool hearing this story from Nick because I could actually visualize it happening.
In June 2012, Nick sold his 1994 Peterbilt because he had been trying his hand at being a mechanic full time, and it was now just sitting and collecting dust. He became best friends with one of the drivers who worked there who quickly became part of the family. In December of that same year, this best friend was let go from the company, and the very next day Nick was approached to see if he was interested in buying a 2001 Peterbilt 379. It worked out perfectly, because, after buying the truck, he then created a driving job for his best friend.
The truck was a little rough, but Nick got it back on point again, and then the truck went to work. In June of 2014, his best friend called him, while on the road, and said he just wasn’t feeling good. Nick told him to just deadhead home after making his delivery and go see the doctor. A week later, he told Nick he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, unfortunately, he died the following month. At this point, Nick was ready to get back to trucking again, so he hopped back in the truck and didn’t look back.
As December 2015 rolled around and the e-log phase was heavily coming into play, Nick had no interest in dealing with that, so he sold his 2001 Peterbilt 379 and began looking for a truck model that was dear to his heart – a Peterbilt 359. Nick had been looking on Facebook and eventually found a red 359 with black fenders and black on top. The truck was a 1985 Peterbilt 359 owned by Randy Mills out of London, KY. Nick bought the truck in January 2016 and then began to transform it into what he wanted.
What you see today is a Peterbilt 359 that, as soon as he bought it, he stretched it to a 270” wheelbase, painted it to what you see in the photos, and made the cab and sleeper a Unibilt system. The truck sports a 400 B-Model CAT under the hood, a big 13-speed transmission, 3:70 rears, and a 2007 Peterbilt FlexAir suspension. Nick wanted to make sure to keep the majority of the truck as period correct as possible, including the factory painted 359 sun visor, factory Peterbilt bumper, and factory 5-inch stacks. Other not-so-period-correct additions are the Double JJ brackets and the Hogebuilt quarter fenders. Nick believes he is the third owner of the truck, but he is not totally sure. What he did find out, based on the warranty card, was that the 359 was ordered as a stock “lot truck” by Peterbilt of Knoxville. Today, this clean full-time work truck pulls a 53-foot 2013 Utility 3000R reefer trailer.
In October of this year, Nick was honored with becoming a member of the ITA. The International Truckers of America (ITA) is an exclusive club that was established back in the 70s as a way to bring like-minded truckers together. To this day, members can be seen shining their white “porch lights” brightly going down the road. The ITA hasn’t taken on any new members since the 1980s, but their board members recently accepted a select group of newcomers, which included Nick (ITA #1016).
I spoke with Clifton “Broom Stick” Whitely to get a little background on the ITA and he said the club was started by Charlie “Carolina Roadrunner” Beaver. Back then, he sold memberships for $10 each. They had the “Business Channel” which was a higher frequency channel and all of them ran big radios (most still do) allowing them to talk coast to coast. No matter where you were trucking or what time of the day it was, you could always go up to the business channel and find someone to talk to. Clifton said it was a brotherhood, and you always knew you had seen a pal when you saw that white porch light on the truck. For these guys, trucking was never a job – it was always an adventure.
I also had the pleasure of speaking to Donnie “Hollywood” Austin, who loves driving a truck, and has for many years. He is actually one of the board members from the ITA that was against bringing in new members with a concern the new ones would try to do what they did back in the day or bring negativity to the ITA name. The board voted in favor of the additions over the summer, and Donnie actually stuck his neck out and sponsored Nick. He believed Nick was a great, hard-working guy. Every new member had to have a sponsor to vouch for them and speak on their behalf to the board. Donnie and Nick actually don’t have a history, but after speaking on the phone and seeing the equipment Nick runs, Donnie felt Nick was a good fit.
I also was able to get Donnie’s take on the ITA, and he said all of the good stories were good and the bad stories, well those were pretty good, too! He said it was a different breed of truckers back then – some outfits even offered 48-hour service between the east coast and the west coast. A big group of guys would always run together, and they would often wait on each other. Sometimes, when they would all meet up and get to talking, they would fall behind schedule, but they always delivered their loads on time. Donnie explained how “go time” was a thundering herd of big horsepower and some triple digit trucks – they were on the move, so get out of the way. One thing was for certain, it was like being in the military, and this brotherhood stood by their “no one gets left behind” motto (and still does). If someone broke down, there was always someone who had the tools and the parts to get the truck fixed and rolling. If a truck wasn’t entirely repaired, it would at least get the driver back home to fix it properly.
Nick credits the driver he is today, by the men he looks up to, who taught him a lot. Jim Buckner owned the first 359 Nick ever drove and taught him so much about trucking and wrenching. Nick met Jim when he was getting parts for the first truck he had. Barry Bales worked with Nick at Trailways and was a west coast produce hauler. Barry taught Nick the rights and wrongs of driving, such as being respectful and turning your headlights off when entering a parking lot, which Nick still does to this very day. Barry and Nick also trucked a lot together because it was better as a team effort when loading a bus up to haul it back. Last but not least, Nick’s father, Ted, who instilled in him his love of trucks and trucking. Ted taught him about presentation – of himself and his truck – and to take pride in having a clean truck. Nick quoted his dad, who said, “Anyone can drive a dirty truck.” Although Ted hasn’t driven since 1975, he continues to keep up with trucking and today actively builds street rods.
Today, Nick’s company, based in Canton, NC, runs a total of five trucks, which includes his truck and four lease trucks. All of the trucks run refrigerated units hauling food products, produce, beer, and water, mainly back and forth from the Carolinas to Florida for Ingles Markets, one of Nick’s main customers. One of the lease trucks is actually owned by his son Nicholas – a 1986 Chestnut colored 359 driven by Kyle Wilson. Currently working at MHC Kenworth in Asheville, NC, Nicholas has trucking in his blood, but he appreciates being home right now because he has a one-year-old son. Nick is the proud father of Nicholas and Hannah, and just as proud of being a grandpa to Nicholas’ son Rhett and Hannah’s six-year-old son Gannon.
I asked Nick what advice he would give someone just getting into hauling produce on their own, and he said to be as specialized as you can be and find a niche in the market. The only thing one person or a small company can offer is excellent service, so make sure you get on with someone who appreciates the service only you can provide. I also questioned what kind of advice he would offer someone buying their first truck, and he said you need to know something about trucks, be able to work on your truck, and don’t buy cheap parts. Doing most of your own truck work will help you save money. He also said to not buy a truck because it is cheap, always buy a truck you can resell, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. Buying a truck everyone else wants will make it easier if you need to sell it (Nick has never lost money on a truck he sold).
Special thanks to Nick Black for taking the time so I could photograph his truck back in September, and also for the photo of his truck hooked to his trailer. I was also able to take in some beautiful sights of North Carolina that I hadn’t seen before and, even better, I was able to photograph a cool truck, as well. For those who know the cost savings of doing as much of your own work as you can, wrenchin’ and truckin’ go hand-in-hand. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.