Artists come from different walks of life and never fit a specific mold. The types of art range greatly, but two things that seem to be a standard for an artist is creativity and passion. This is a story about one man who made a career change later in life and, with that, found a job (trucking) which allowed him the creative freedom to bring unique ideas to life in the truck you see today.
I try to write articles about people who have an inspiring story to tell and will be a positive influence within the trucking industry. Philip West (41) of Owatonna, MN didn’t disappoint – in fact, I was very impressed. He has a hard work ethic, belief in strong family ties, is God-fearing, and has a soul far older than his actual age. From trucking to pinstriping to drawing, his talent is much greater than this humble man would lead others to believe.
Gaining a love for art very early on from his mom who is an artist, Philip said his favorite place to be was sitting in her studio watching. He also told me how talented she is, always trying new styles. Her and his father have always encouraged him with his art skills. Pinstriping was something he appreciated since he was young from the car shows he and his dad attended. In 2006, a friend bought him a pinstriping kit, which he still has today. He dabbled with it but wasn’t happy with the results. Once YouTube was introduced, he began spending a lot of time watching how-to videos and watching other pinstripers for tips and inspiration. His first big project was his son’s dresser in 2011, and then his passion just flourished from there.
After going to auto mechanic school right after high school, Philip’s intention was to make a lifelong career out of it. In 1998, he married Theresa and together they have five children, Jacob (19), Luke (16), Micah (14), Noah (11) and Ruth (9). Philip worked for New Ulm Tire for five years, and then ten years as a mechanic at a dealership. New Ulm Tire was started in the 1970s by Theresa’s grandfather, then her dad and uncles took it over, with her uncles still owning it today. The family had settled into Philip’s work schedule as a mechanic, but after around 15 years, he tried something he hadn’t done before.
Philip’s brother-in-law Mike (Theresa’s brother), married into a farming family and with farming, as most know, there is harvest season. The farm needed additional help with hauling the grain carts and wagons, and this is where Philip first experienced driving a truck. He thought it was the coolest thing – as thrilling as the enduro racing and demo derbies he participated in. As time went on, Philip made the choice to obtain his CDL, which he credits to Danny Park, Mike’s father-in-law, for teaching him how to drive and then letting him borrow the truck to take his road test, as well. Once he had his CDL, he tried his hand driving part time for Amerigas, hauling propane for two years, while he was still working full time as a mechanic.
Some people say things happen for a reason, or it is all part of God’s plan, and I believe that may be the case for how Philip and Brian Bulow, owner of Brian Bulow Trucking LLC, met. A mutual friend introduced them at bible study, and in October of 2015, Philip was hired to drive a daycab Kenworth W900, which had been the truck Brian was driving. Brian’s history in trucking goes back to driving for his dad after college, and then he branched off to start his own company in 2001, with the company now residing in Dodge Center, MN. Brian saw much more potential in Philip than Philip realized he had in himself. From the get-go, Brian gave Philip free reign to add and customize the truck to make it his own, as he knew Philip had wanted to personalize it.
Just before coming to work full time with Brian, Philip attended his first large truck show that same year – the Big Iron Classic in Kasson, MN. Fast forward to 2017, and Philip attended the same show, but this time he brought the truck. I was lucky enough to capture a photo of it there, but I didn’t know Philip at the time, nor when I got another photo of it while it was still a daycab at the Big Iron Classic in 2019.
That W900? It is a 1997 model with an N14 Cummins under the hood, a 13-speed, 3:73 rear gears, and a 233” wheelbase that had been shortened prior to Brian purchasing it. The 34” sleeper (which he calls “Narrow Escape”) was a junkyard find that narrowly escaped the shredder. Philip thought it was perfect because of the square look and the similarities to an old Mercury sleeper. They picked up the sleeper in November of 2018, which was bare bones, and it was installed in October of 2019. With the truck, Philip pulls a 2016 MAC frameless 40-foot end dump trailer and hauls aggregate products, ballfield lime, steel, recycled materials, and coal.
What makes this truck so unique? Some may not see or pay attention to the detail and well thought out ideas, but Philip had a purpose for each addition to the truck. The black diamonds on the bumper began as a cover up to maintain its appearance back when Philip had a string of run-ins with deer. They wanted to replace the bumper, but going into winter, and all the salt and snow that goes with it, they wanted to wait until spring. As you can see, the diamonds stuck, and have since become a nice addition to this truck.
Philip designed and hand-painted the company name on the door, which he also made a pattern of, so all the trucks could be done the same (except for the one truck that has the name in vinyl). As mentioned, the sleeper was a junkyard find, and it got a full makeover as soon as it got back to the shop. They stripped it, straightened the structure, changed out the aluminum, and replaced it with stainless steel sheet metal. They couldn’t order polished sheet metal, so Philip self-taught himself how to polish it. All the bends in the sheet metal were done by Will Sanson of Sanson Enterprises in Dodge Center, MN.
The exterior of this truck is eye catching, but the interior is definitely something to behold. Starting with the engine, intricate pinstriping was added to various places. Open the driver’s door and you will immediately see a bunch of old license plates – and these aren’t just any license plates, these are from the collection of plates Philip inherited from his grandfather’s garage. A jack handle was used for the air horns valve, the steering wheel is old connecting rods from a big block Chevy, the steering wheel grip is twisted paracord covered in fiberglass resin, and the dash was jeweled by hand. Philip took all the gauges off, sanded it down to bare metal, and added the swirls with a drill press.
Delicately placed throughout the cab of the truck are several pinstripe designs, including the ones on his CB mic. He wanted a taller shifter, so he used an old rusty pipe. The top is adorned with an antique doorknob that Theresa found for him at an antique shop.
Peer through the crawlspace of the sleeper and you’ll see a Firestone sign. Theresa’s father and uncles (New Ulm Tire) were going to throw the sign away, but Philip snagged it before they did. The full effect of the sleeper can’t be appreciated from the inside – you need to open the sleeper doors and look in from the outside. If you have seen the old pictures of the WWII bomber planes, you’ll notice a similarity to the art on the sleeper doors, which is what inspired Philip to paint them. Another likeness to the bomber planes is the slash marks on the driver’s side sleeper door. Bomber planes often had hand-drawn bombs or other symbols on them to document the number of missions, etc. Philip uses that to tally the number of times he has spent the night sleeping in the truck.
Special thanks from Philip goes to his parents, Tim and Becky West, for always inspiring him and supporting him, his wife for her unwavering love and support in all his endeavors, and to Brian Bulow for an amazing opportunity to not only drive but providing him with a blank canvas (the W900) to work with, along with also encouraging Philip to better his artistic abilities.
Today, Philip can be found sharing his truck photos, inspiring bible verses, his pinstriping, and his commissioned artwork on Instagram (@flannel_philip). I came across his page because of his pinstriping, and anyone who knows how to do it, I definitely admire their skills. As many probably know, pinstriping isn’t something everyone can do – it is a talent and, like photography, the artist’s passion will show in the results. Philip said there has been a handful of pinstripers that have influenced him, but the first one that came to mind is one that goes by Roach, also out of Minnesota, that is known for pinstriping unique and cool rat rods, hot rods, and motorcycles.
When I photographed this truck, I met up with Philip in Eau Claire, WI at the location he was unloading at. I was able to get permission, clad with my hard hat and safety vest, to photograph Philip unloading, which was cool. We managed to catch some vivid fall colors at a nearby park, and even though it was a very dreary day, it made the truck look very nice. Thank you to Philip for his time on making this all come together, allowing me some insight on his history, increasing my love of pinstriping, and for a deeper understanding of what the encouraged creative freedom means to you. As always, to all the truckers out there doing the deal, truck safe.