For the most part, drivers don’t choose their CB handles, they are given to them, and then they just stick. These handles can come by the way a driver handles the truck, a funny situation the driver won’t live down, or even by the custom porch light of a livestock trailer, which happens to be the way this month’s cover feature trucker Dustin Graf (34) of 3K Trucking, Inc. in Bern, KS, got his handle. And whether he is climbing into his Peterbilt 389 to do some trucking, running his solid company, or navigating through life with his family, Dustin is always livin’ on Tulsa time.
Being a classy person with a classy truck is good, but what really makes a truck stand out, along with all the custom details, is the pride of its owner or driver. Dustin believes that every driver that takes pride in their ride is what makes a difference and what ties everything together. Dustin himself has one classy ride, but the pride he has for his Peterbilt shows in his truck and himself and is at the forefront of everything he does.
Born and raised in Onaga, KS, Dustin knew he would get into trucking as far back as he can remember. At about two years old, he was already riding in a cow truck with his dad heading to New Mexico. He is the second generation of truckers in his family, behind his father Kevin, who owns Graf Transportation, Inc. out of Summerfield, KS, but his grandfather did a little trucking, hauling grain and feed, as well.
At 14, after years of closely watching his dad drive, his father Kevin put Dustin behind the wheel for the first time and Dustin just figured it out as he went. During his senior year of high school, Dustin was in the work study program, so as soon as 11:30 AM hit, he was out the building and heading to haul loads with a hopper bottom. In October of 2006, he obtained his CDL, a week after he turned 18. With already some good experience working for another outfit, the day Dustin turned 19, his dad handed him the keys to a 2003 Peterbilt 379, along with one thousand dollars, and said, “Make it last because you won’t get paid again for two weeks.”
As the years clicked away, Dustin continued working for his dad and, in August 2015, Kevin gave his son free rein to order a brand-new truck. Going off his dad’s spec sheets, Dustin went on to order the truck from Clint Moore at Kansas City Peterbilt. Dustin wanted a black cherry truck, but little did he know, there were 26 different paint codes for black cherry. Finally, he just told Clint to pick out the color, with Dustin wanting more of a red tint in the paint. As you can see in the photos, the color pulls more of a purple tint. From there, Dustin’s dad said Dustin needed to figure out what stripes he wanted.
One night while sitting at a washout in Bryans Corner, OK, he was on the phone with his friend Lance who said that everyone had two stripes, so Dustin needed to come up with a three-stripe design. After drawing for about four hours, he drew up the stripes that you see on the truck today. Initially the stripes were supposed to be a buckskin color with candy red trim but that had to change with what shade of black cherry the truck ended up being. Three and a half hours were spent trying to figure out what colors the stripes would be and, finally, a frustrated Dustin just pulled the colors out and said he’d learn to like it. Apparently, it worked, because when Jeremy of Jeremy’s Paint and Body Shop showed Dustin the metal paint test panel, he fell in love with the color.
Even though at that time his dad owned the truck, Dustin dispatched the truck himself, maintained it, and paid for the tags. In April of 2017 Dustin bought a 1984 Peterbilt 359 because he dreamed of owning his own truck. He went out on his own and, unbeknownst to him, his dad parked the 389 because he knew Dustin would eventually be back for it. In the interim, he tried a couple different things, saw what tough times looked like, and hit low points which gave him every reason to throw in the towel, but he had a family to fight for, so he kept working hard to get to where he is today. He started his company, 3K Trucking, which became incorporated on January 1, 2019, sold his 359 in October of 2020, and by the end of that month, Dustin bought the 389 from his dad.
The pictured truck here is a 2017 Peterbilt 389 glider with a Caterpillar C15, 18-speed transmission, 3.36 rears, and a 292” wheelbase. Extras on the truck include 7-inch Lincoln Chrome stacks, a Lincoln Chrome bumper with a 12 Ga. Customs lift system, a Midwest Sheet Metal visor, and York rear fenders. Dustin swears by these fenders, which he has mounted with I-29 Customs fender brackets, because they are made of a heavier gauge aluminum, which makes them really durable. Daryle at Beger Industries built the custom grill on the truck, along with some other items, and all the lights have glass lenses.
The base color of this truck is Black Stone Cherry, with Lavender stripes, that are trimmed in Silver. If you look closely, it isn’t just a stripe pattern, but an overlapping stripe pattern. Jeremy’s Paint and Body Shop in Sterling, KS is not only responsible for the stripes, but also the installation of the cab lights, paint, and installation of the fuel tanks, air tanks and rear fenders. On the steps you will see “Tulsa Time” and, for those who don’t know Dustin, you may wonder how that came about. It started when he was pulling a trailer for Chad Blackwell (May 2013 cover truck) out of Virginia. Chad gave Dustin the chance to have a custom porch light sign on the nose of the trailer. Don Williams is one of Dustin’s favorite artists and he has the song “Livin’ on Tulsa Time” which is how Chad and Dustin came up with “Tulsa Time” almost simultaneously.
Wanting his truck to have an old classical look with a new style twist, Dustin put a Varashield on top of the sleeper. After getting one to put on his 359 but he never did, it sat in the woods by his dad’s house. He’d seen what it looked like on Rory Cook’s 379 (May 2022 feature truck) plus his good friend Justin Zimmerschied has one on his truck, so Dustin decided that he needed to get it installed on his 389. Teaming up with his best friend (who also pulls a trailer for Ryan Fuchser) Jonny Hughes, the two had it installed in about five hours. The Varashield came off a 1978 Peterbilt 359 from California, and back then, you could order either a manual or electric version. Dustin’s happens to be factory electric, and it has the original switch and pitch gauge, too!
The inside of the truck has all Rockwood Products accessories to keep everything uniform, and the ignition doesn’t work with a key, but a custom toggle switch system, instead. Dustin has Bostrom Pro Ride low back seats, a Spare Time Fab twin stick conversion kit, and something you may not see inside
the truck, but you’ll definitely hear – a custom stereo system. It has a Pioneer flip-out touchscreen head unit, (4) 12-inch American Bass subwoofers, (8) 6.5-inch Rockford Fosgate speakers, and (3) American Bass amplifiers that can be found under the bed. One piece that is pretty cool is the custom engraved OBY port cover, made by Cole Stuede, who makes horse bits and spurs.
Through the years, Dustin has had experience pulling hopper bottoms, step decks, refrigerated trailers and tankers, but he always comes back to a cow truck. It is what some might say, in his blood, and his father definitely got him hooked at an early age. He runs east and southeast fairly consistently and pulls a livestock trailer owned by Ryan Fuchser of Flatfoot Trucking in Nickerson, NE.
Currently pulling Ryan’s personal trailer, a 2023 Wilson 51-foot spread axle, Dustin started pulling the trailer part time but ended up coming on full time. He was more than willing to swap trailers since he was low on the seniority list, but Ryan wanted him to have it because he knows how well Dustin takes care of and maintains his equipment. Most livestock trailers are 13’-6” high but his is 13’-10” high. This works out well because he can leave the trailer as-is when he hauls sows to the east and cattle back to the west, versus some who have to adjust the compartments.
Pulling for Ryan has been a great decision because he is very established in the livestock business, and because he dispatches for one of the largest livestock outfits east of the Mississippi, Barbers Livestock out of Lexington, KY. Even with the connections to keep the trucks loaded, Ryan will never ask his drivers to do anything that he isn’t willing to do himself. Dustin said his motto is “take care of the guys that take care of me” and he is the best guy he has ever hauled for, as a person, and what he offers. All the guys truck hard, but at the end of the day, Ryan looks out for them not only with their paychecks, but that they return home safely to their families, as well.
Dustin explained that his favorite childhood memory in trucking was a game he and his dad played while trucking. Dustin would pull out the map (yes, a paper map), pick out a town, and his dad would have to guess where it was. Dustin thinks his dad cheated because he always knew the answer (Dustin was chuckling as he said this).
His favorite memory since he has been driving is hands down getting to watch his truck roll off the assembly line at the Peterbilt plant in Denton, TX. He took advantage of the free tour at the Denton facility and when he went, surprisingly enough, his truck was scheduled to roll off the assembly line that evening (January 9, 2016). By some small miracle, his buddy Tanner, who he brought with him, looked across that plant and said he thought it was Dustin’s truck coming off the line, which it was. This cool experience was documented because one of the employees had Dustin get his phone and took a picture of him standing in front of his truck. Definitely a keepsake moment, for sure!
When speaking about the unique challenges of livestock hauling, Dustin said when the weather is bad, and he has $150-$200K worth of someone else’s livestock in his trailer, their well-being becomes his responsibility. It is his job to make sure each animal reaches their destination safely. “I can’t just stop and wait out bad weather like everybody else when I have live animals on, so you say a little prayer and ask the big man to help guide you through it.” That was part of a conversation we had after he dealt with roads that were so covered in snow, he could only drive off the feel of the road through the steering wheel.
Livestock hauling is not for the faint of heart, and these drivers are definitely a special breed. Livestock haulers have the reputation of being a little arrogant, but I truly believe it is a certain level of confidence that they not only need, but they have earned (there is a reason cattle haulers are sometimes dubbed the last of the cowboys). Time is of the essence in this segment of trucking, so when cattle haulers go trucking, they truck hard, because that is what they are hired to do, and the live animals in their trailer depend on it. Some may say their trucks stink when they roll by, but to the pilots of these combos, most will say it smells like money.
Talking about the balance of work and personal life, Dustin admitted it is very hard to do. Like most who own a truck, Dustin constantly has trucking on his mind, so he works hard to be mentally present when at home, makes sure to spend time with the family, and tries to not just work on his truck when he is off the road. Coming from no affiliation to the trucking industry, his wife Stephanie is learning as she goes on what it means to be a trucker’s wife. It is not only her going through the days Dustin isn’t home, but helping their kids as well, to reassure them that daddy is always coming home. She said Dustin is very dedicated and works hard to make sure their family is taken care of.
Today, Dustin and Stephanie are heading toward their 9-year wedding anniversary this May, and they have three children – a son, Keagan (12), and two daughters, Karcyn (10) and Kaydin (7). Looking back at the build of this 389, with all the thoughts and decisions that went into it, Dustin doesn’t think he’d order a custom truck again.
Special thanks from Dustin to Stephanie and his children for being as understanding as they are of the work he does and why he does it. Stephanie manages and holds down the fort while he is on the road. There are not enough words to express how grateful he is for what she does at home, plus she keeps him on track, is the rock for the family and, when he is at the end of his rope, she is there for him and always has his back. To his father, Kevin, for getting him into the business, and also showing him how to work hard by example.
Also, Dustin wanted to say “thank you” to Mike Solko who has always had his back in all the ups and downs. His unending support has always reminded Dustin why he got into trucking, helps to keep his head straight when he is on the road, and is definitely another rock in his life. Dustin wanted to also make sure to give thanks to those that have helped him in some way or another with his truck, including Wilkins Oklahoma Truck Supply, where he gets all his accessories from, the parts department and custom fab department at 4 State Trucks, J. Ferrell Custom Trucks (who built his custom air ride), and J’Lynn Church of J-Bar-J Western Designs and Hat Co. for the cool hat swag 3K has.
For the photo locations, a big thanks goes out to Dustin’s close friends Andy and Melissa Evans of Rockin E Cattle for helping to make the first location in their pasture a success, even though it was a frigid 22 degrees that morning. Not only this, but the continued friendship and help throughout the years. Another thank you goes to Heinen Bros. Ag for the use of the runway on their property, Kevin and Dave Lueger of Lueger Farms for allowing us to utilize the chute they have, and to Bill Nordhus, owner of the pond property we photographed on.
Everyone has their own niche in the industry. Some run different types of trailers to find what is best suited for them, where others, like Dustin, are born into it and have no doubt what they will haul for the rest of their lives. “Livin’ on Tulsa Time” will always be the Don Williams song, but it will also be a way of life that is not only etched on Dustin Graf’s truck itself, but in his mind, as well. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.