The old saying “boys and their toys” is fitting for some, but for Don Brookes of El Paso, TX, who loves to collect antique semi-trucks, he thinks “Toys of Men” is a more fitting statement. So much so, it’s on his business card and on the side of most of his trucks. Retired now and 83 years old, Don and his twin brother Ron enjoy going to antique truck shows, taking Don’s trucks to local truck stops to hang out, drink coffee and chat with the drivers, preaching the Gospel to anyone who will listen, and handing out free copies of 10-4 Magazine.
Working at a gas station in the late 1950s in Pomona, CA, Don found a friend in a tanker driver named Butch Modle. Everyone called Butch “Gentle Giant” and he stopped in at the station nearly every day. Over time, Don and Butch hit it off and became good friends. Butch asked Don if he’d like to ride along with him on his day off, and Don thought that sounded like a great idea. Butch wasn’t fast, but he was very cautious and meticulous when it came to driving. He taught Don how to drive, and eventually helped him get his first truck driving job pulling a flatbed.
Back then, Don loved Autocars, and when he got the opportunity to start driving, he took care of the truck like it was his own – keeping it clean, waxing it, and taking pride in it – even though it wasn’t his truck. People would ask him why he did that, and he told them it didn’t matter if he owned it or not. How he took care of the truck was a reflection on him and the company he was working for. He took great pride in what he did and how he did it. I think it would be awesome to bring that back today, and have more drivers with pride in their job, their truck, and themselves.
Don was driving when he was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to transportation and got to drive all over Germany for the U.S. Government. We would like to thank Don and all the veterans, then and now, for their service. When he got out of the Army, he started pulling a dry van, hauling Hills Brothers coffee and Purex soap. At 26 years old, Don changed gears and went to work for Greyhound, driving a bus, because they offered much better benefits.
Talking to Don, I got the distinct impression that he walks to the beat of his own drum. During his career at Greyhound, he was written up several times for not wearing the company pants. He chose to wear “Sta-Prest” pants, made by Levi Strauss & Company, because they looked better and didn’t get wrinkled so easy. Don felt he looked nicer for the customers, but the company did not agree. He also forgot to wear his company hat sometimes when loading and unloading passengers, and got heat for that, too. When I asked him why he didn’t wear it, he said, “I wasn’t used to wearing a hat, and most of the time people were in a hurry to get off the bus, and I just forgot.”
Over the years, Don started to collect old trucks. His collection began with a 1975 Western Star that he has had for nearly 30 years. This faded gold “Star Car” has a V-8 Detroit with a 5×4 transmission. His next truck was a silver Cummins-powered 1975 Peterbilt 352 cabover with gold stripes. It was once owned by one of the Hollywood movie studios. He also has a 1972 Kenworth W900-A powered by a Cummins and a 13-speed. Painted green with a gold stripe, it was once owned by a lumber yard in Thousand Oaks, CA (he bought this rig and a flatbed trailer together).
As he continued to build his collection, the next truck was a white 1979 Peterbilt 352 cabover with gold stripes. Powered by a Detroit V-8 and a 13-speed, this truck was once owned by Sony Studios. Rounding out his little fleet is a red 1972 Kenworth K100 with black trim, powered by a Cummins and a 4×4 transmission. This truck came from Colorado and has a stainless-steel trailer he bought with it.
None of these trucks were ever used to haul loads by Don (except for when he moved to El Paso), they were just “Toys of Men” that he collected, played with, and took to shows. Don liked going to truck shows that were close enough to drive to without too much worry about breaking down. He enjoys going to these shows and seeing all the old trucks that he loved so much and remembering when they were the cool trucks running up and down the highways of his youth.
As a bus driver for many years, he also has a couple of buses, of course. He has a 1986 and a 1987 Eagle that were the buses Trailways ran back in the day before Greyhound bought them out. Don actually preferred driving the Eagle buses to the MCI buses that Greyhound ran. He was also proud of the safety patches on his shirts, which let all his passengers know that they were boarding a bus with a safe driver at the wheel.
Don was also very proud of our country – a country he fought for – so he sewed American flags on his sleeves. This was okay for a while, but it was not really allowed. One day, someone in upper management got involved, so his immediate supervisors could no longer turn their heads anymore. Don was given a stern ultimatum – take the flags off his sleeves or be fired. Remember, he already had the long list of warnings about his dress, regarding his pants and hat, so he went home and took all the patches off his shirts, leaving the strings from where they had been, just hanging there. He went to work that way for a while, and no one said anything.
He eventually decided to put the safety patches back on his shirts, because he was proud of them, but this situation was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After 26 years with Greyhound, he moved on and started driving for Inland Empire Charter Buses in Rancho Cucamonga, CA (they are still in business today). He enjoyed doing the charters, hauling for the military and Amtrac, and the trips taking people to casinos. He totally retired around 2005 and then moved to El Paso, TX with his brother.
One of the most significant things that ever happened in Don’s life occurred many years ago. After being married for ten years, his wife decided to leave him and filed for divorce. The couple had a three-year-old baby boy, and this devastated Don. So much so, one day he decided to end his life. But before he could go through with it, a booming voice came out of nowhere and stopped him – it was the voice of God! Shortly thereafter, Don joined a church, gave his life to Christ, and got baptized. He has heard that voice a few times in his life since then, and it has always stopped him from doing something terrible.
At 83 years old, Don is looking to maybe downsize his little fleet and would be willing to see some of these cool old trucks go to new homes, where they could be used and enjoyed, like he has used and enjoyed them. Over the years, he has kept them clean, and once in a while he will take one to the local truck stop to have coffee, talk to the drivers about trucks and his faith, and witness to whoever will listen (knowing Don he probably witnesses to those who won’t listen, as well). He would like to keep one old truck and one old bus, just so he can still go to truck shows in and around El Paso and Texas.
In his retirement, Don has been happy to have three of his trucks on a CAT Scale card – the Western Star hooked to a tanker trailer, the white Peterbilt COE, and soon the red 1972 Kenworth K100 with the stainless-steel trailer. This series should be out around September (2021). For most truckers, getting one CAT Scale card is awesome, but Don will soon have three.
Don has been a good friend to all of us at 10-4 Magazine, and he enjoys handing out magazines to drivers and encouraging companies to advertise with us. He also regularly sends us ideas about drivers and companies to feature in the magazine, so it only seemed fitting for us to do a story about him and his “Toys of Men” truck collection. Thank you and God bless you, Don Brookes, and keep up the good work!