Along our journey in life, we meet people who leave an indelible impression on us, especially after we get to know them. We sometimes have preconceived notions about these people, particularly if they are young. I recently had that experience with Mason Schwake (25). I first met Mason at the Dirty Business Truck Show in Grand Mound, IA the summer of 2020. It was early during the Covid-19 pandemic, and there were not a lot of public events occurring then, especially trucking shows. Fortunately, there were some truck shows happening in the Midwest that 10-4 Magazine was able to attend – Dirty Business was one of those shows. And while there, I got to meet the future of trucking!
As many of you may know, I’m kind of partial to red trucks, so when I saw Mason’s Viper Red 2021 Peterbilt 389, it got my attention. Mason’s truck was one of many at the Dirty Business Truck Show that really caught my eye. I spoke to Mason during this event and commented on how much I liked his truck. About a year later, in September 2021, I had the opportunity to do a photo shoot of the truck. Mason had his Pete at the No Coast Large Car Truck Show in Britt, IA. After that event, I drove to Tripoli (pronounced Trip-o-la, not Trip-o-lee) to meet with Mason and take these pictures of his Viper Red rig.
As much as I would like to jump right in and tell you all about Mason’s beautiful ride, I think it’s important to tell you more about Mason’s background, his family, and upbringing in Tripoli. It’s a good lead into what trucks, trucking, and farming mean to him. Mason was born December 27, 1996, in Waterloo, IA, about 30 miles south of Tripoli. Mason is one of two children born to Dennis and Cheryl Schwake. His parents have been married for over 30 years. Mason has an older sister, Jena, who lives and works in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.
Raised on a 1,500-acre farm outside of Tripoli, Mason and his father work the farm growing corn and soybeans, which are primary crops found in Iowa and the Midwest. There is a long history to the Schwake farm. It is what’s considered a Centennial Farm, recognized by the Iowa Farm Bureau. His family immigrated from Germany to the United States, and then his great-grandfather homesteaded the original farm in 1910.
During the 19th and early 20th century, the U.S. government allowed families to homestead up to 360 acres of land. Mason’s great-grandfather took advantage of this program and started what is now the Schwake Centennial Farm. Growing up, he and his father Dennis raised cattle and grew grain. But, in the early 2000s, they decided to end the livestock operation and focus on the grain farming. After 100 years operating as a working farm, it was designated as a Centennial Farm in 2010 at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.
So, you may ask the question, what’s this got to do with trucking and Mason? I’m glad you asked! For old folks like me who’ve been around for a long time, the 1970s and 1980s were not a very profitable time for farming. Farming can be very cyclical, heavily influenced by weather conditions and market prices. During these down times and being a smart businessman, Mason’s father Dennis made the decision to diversify and got into trucking, hauling livestock and grain, to supplement his farm income. To diversify further, he became a Dekalb-Asgrow seed dealer, as well. He sold seed corn and soybeans to farmers in the surrounding area. He eventually retired from this successful seed business in 2005 to focus solely on farming and trucking.
Dennis started out in the trucking business driving a Freightliner. Mason recalled sitting in his father’s lap at five years old and hanging on to the large steering wheel of that old Freightliner. He took many trips with his dad, where he developed a love for both trucks and trucking. That was when he decided, along with farming, trucking would play an important role in his future life. But before Mason would begin trucking and owning his own truck, he had to first complete his education and help out a lot on the family farm.
Graduating from high school in 2015, Mason was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and track and field during his high school years. Since he had an interest in agriculture and business, he continued his formal education at Hawkeye Community College, located in Waterloo, right after high school, graduating in 2017 with an Ag-Business Associates Degree. As a hobby, Mason was also a dirt track racer for 10 years, starting at age 12. He primarily raced go-carts, micro-mods, and later in the modified class on dirt tracks around the Midwest. He was successful with some first places and many top five finishes.
While Mason was going to college, he often day-dreamed about being in his own truck and trucking. Like some of us, including me, sitting in a college class was boring – it does not compare to driving race cars, farm equipment, and trucks! It was during these two years at college that Mason realized what his calling was and what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. After graduating from college, Mason began his trucking career at the age of 20, driving his dad’s truck and trailer. He primarily hauled grain within a 100-mile radius of Tripoli. This was the beginning of a long-term and successful working relationship with Figanbaum Trucking, a local company, also based out of Tripoli, IA.
At the age of 21, two major events occurred. First, Mason was now able to haul both intra and interstate. Second, he made the decision in 2018 to buy a new 389 Peterbilt glider from the Harrison truck dealership in Waterloo, IA. Like his current 389 Peterbilt, the 2018 was ordered in Viper Red. Harrison also did the build-out for this truck, installing a 12.7 liter 500-hp Detroit Diesel backed by a 13-speed transmission. The cab of this Pete sat on a 244” chassis and was connected to a 36” sleeper. Mason then began pulling a Timpte grain trailer with his new glider for Figanbaum.
After six months of driving this new Pete, he decided to diversify (like his father) and started pulling tankers, vans, and reefers. To this day, Mason continues pulling tankers and HazMat loads that consist of liquid fertilizer, food grade additives, and acids used in cleaners and sanitizers. His preference is to pull tankers, even though it’s more work pulling, unloading, and cleaning out tankers. He said that reefer and van trailers are easier because you just bump the dock, but it can often take longer to get unloaded with a van or reefer versus tankers when you have to sit and wait for hours for an open dock door.
Mason drove the lower 48 states with his 2018 Pete 389 glider for three years, logging over 400,000 miles on it. Because of the long-distance driving and being out on the road all the time, he decided to sell his 2018 Pete. Wanting to upgrade to a new truck with a bigger bunk that had more storage, he sold the 2018 to a local friend who still drives it to this day.
In 2021, he ordered a new factory emission Pete equipped with a 605-hp X15 Cummins from Cedar Rapids Truck, a certified Peterbilt dealership, located in Cedar Rapids, IA. I asked him about the order process, and he said that Mark Noonan, at the dealership, made it a seamless process. He added that it was ordered as a “plain Jane” Peterbilt.
This new Pete is a Platinum Series model with a complete instrumentation package. The powerful Cummins engine is backed with an 18-speed transmission and 3.25 rear-ends. Because Mason is a big fan of Viper Red, he ordered his 2021 the same color as the 2018. He had the factory paint the 290” wheelbase frame Radiant Fire Effect. The cab and chassis sit on 22.5 low profile Michelin tires mounted on Alcoa aluminum rims. After picking the rig up from the dealership, Mason took the truck to Harrison Truck Center where they painted the side air tanks, fuel tanks, and frame rails in a glossy pearl metallic Radiant Fire Effect. He also had stripes added to the cab and sleeper that match the frame, and then outlined them in thin gold stripes.
After completing the paint work, Mason sent his truck to Silver Customs and Big Rigger Builders to complete the build and customization. For the exterior, many complimentary accessories were added. He installed a 12 Ga. stainless screen grille with eleven vertical KW bars to the front radiator cover, replaced the 389 factory headlights with 379 single squares, and then painted the back of the headlight covers to match the truck. He also replaced the factory visor with a stainless visor from RLK and the stock breathers and straps with 12 Ga. strapless breathers. Three-inch 12 Ga. stainless drop panels were added to the bottom of the cab and sleeper. Behind the sleeper, the frame was dressed up with stainless deck plates, extra lights, and a T-bar from Iowa Customs.
To protect the freshly painted frame, Hogebuilt full tandem fenders were installed by Silver Customs. To give the fenders a clean and sleek look, hidden brackets from I-29 Customs were used. Smooth and polished stainless covers were added to the boxes below the cab, and Mason replaced the factory exhaust with 7” Dynaflex pipes.
Ordering the truck without the stock factory lights and air horns on the roof of the cab, Mason installed seven watermelon lights on the roof, five lights in the front and back of the breathers, and twenty penny lights on the back of the three-inch drop panels, to illuminate the cab and sleeper. All the lights on the cab and sleeper are from United Pacific. To finish the exterior, the factory bumper was replaced with a 20” bumper that tapers to 18 inches and has rolled corners to match the Pete fenders. These updates and upgrades fulfilled Mason’s dream of what he wanted his Pete to look like.
The interior customization was as extensive as the exterior. Mason began by “ripping” out all the door panels, flooring, headliner, and interior panels leading to the sleeper, and then took out the factory seats. He always liked the rosewood dash in his dad’s Freightliner, so he chose to go with that theme. He ordered African Rosewood dash panels and matching teakwood flooring from Rockwood. Silver Customs completed the installation of the woodwork.
Spare Time Fab installed color matched, brown stitched door panels, headliner, and interior sleeper panels that match the Sahara Tan leather seats inside the truck. Other finishing touches to the interior included the installation of a VIP steering wheel covered in leather, dual old school interior fans located near the CB, custom red watermelon dome lights, and a custom chrome sleeve for the 18-speed shifter.
Seeing Mason’s 2021 Peterbilt in person, I was impressed with the level of customization and upgrades he made. Mason’s goals are to continue farming and trucking. When his father Dennis finally retires, he plans to take over the 1,500-acre farm, with his dad’s part-time help. Family is extremely important to Mason, and he has a close relationship with his parents and older sister.
I asked Mason who his mentors and influencers are in his life. Obviously, his dad Dennis and mother Cheryl, along with his sister, Jena. In addition, his friends and trucking buddies, Matt and Alex Strottman. Mason is grateful for the opportunities that Bill and Jim Figanbaum and Deb Strottman, owners of Figanbaum Trucking, have given him. He loves working for them and feels that they treat him like a member of the family. Mason believes he has a home at Figanbaum Trucking.
Being a casual kind of guy, Mason loves wearing his Wrangler jeans, Ariat boots, and t-shirts. He likes watching Netflix movies, and his favorite TV show is Yellowstone. Mason likes all kinds of music, but primarily listens to country and classic rock. Although he likes many artists, his favorite is Luke Combs. He especially likes his song “Doin’ This” and currently uses a line from this song as his motto for his trucking and farming life, which says, “If I wasn’t doin’ this, I would still be doin’ this.” His favorite quote from an older, good friend is, “A lot of people wish for what we have, but we work for what we have.” Mason lives his life by these sage words.
When I began talking with Mason for this article, I knew he was a sharp young businessman who possesses an outgoing personality. At the end of this journey, my respect for him moved up to a whole new level. There were several times during our discussion where I felt like I was talking to someone closer to my age who had much life experience. Mason is an impressive young man in so many ways, and he is the next generation (and future) of farming and trucking. It gives me great comfort in knowing he and several others like him will be leading the United States of America into a bright future. Welcome to the 10-4 Magazine family, Mason!