Every family has heirlooms and special items that have been passed down from generation to generation. Maybe it’s your grandfather’s watch, or your grandmother’s pearl necklace, or something else. Typically, these items have a memory or sentimental value attached to them. For me, I have an autographed baseball by Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks from back in the early 1960s that has a story involving my father and my grandfather. But for Marc Jessup, a third generation trucker and owner of Mooresville, Indiana based Jessup Logistics, his heirloom is unlike most. While I have a baseball, Marc Jessup has his grandfather Dale Jessup’s 1955 Kenworth 523C Bullnose.
For many trucking families, there’s always that special attachment to “the truck that started it all” or “the truck that a family member owned” etc. Many of these trucks have been lost to time and are only remembered in old photographs. But there are exceptions, and this old Kenworth here is one of them.
Over the years, I’ve been able to speak with current generation owners who have their dad’s or grandfather’s trucks, but many of those “special trucks” have had to be tracked down and found and then restored later on. Most of the stories you hear when speaking with owners of vintage trucks that have been restored to pristine condition, the kind seen at truck shows nowadays, talk about “bringing back” a tired rig that may not have been operated for years before its restoration. But what makes the Jessup Bullnose unique and special is it has never been truly retired from service and kept in immaculate “ready to go” condition since Dale rebuilt the truck back in the late 1960s.
In 1965 Dale Jessup was on a haul out west. Stopping in at the Kenworth dealership in the Denver area, he spotted a truck on their lot that really caught his attention. It wasn’t one of the new trucks on the lot, but an old truck parked out behind the dealership that caught his eye. Sitting on blocks with parts missing, the sight he saw was this 1955 Kenworth model 523C Bullnose. Inquiring with the dealership about the rig out back, that had been left for parts/scrap, Dale saw life in the once proud Kenworth. After making a deal, Dale purchased the truck for $2,500 and hauled the worn-out Bullnose home to his shop in Camby, Indiana, where the truck went through a complete rebuild and its first restoration, with its initial period-correct powerplant being a NH-220 Cummins.
While Dale had intended to use the Kenworth on his 6,000 acre farm, the truck proved itself and quickly became the pride of the Camby, Indiana based Jessup Trucking fleet. On a hot, humid Saturday morning in May 2018, the day before the 102nd running of the Indy 500, Duncan Putman and I met up with Marc Jessup and his cousin Mike Kale, also a trucker, just south of Indianapolis, at the Jessup Logistics truck shop in Mooresville, Indiana, to do a photo shoot with the elusive Bullnose truck.
Elusive? Well, for this author, yes, as the truck had been elusive to me most of my life. Growing up in the Central Indiana area, I can remember seeing the Jessup Bullnose rolling down the road, or when I was driving my car past the Jessup Trucking shop, seeing the old Bullnose parked there, but I could never nail the truck down to see it up close or get time to photograph it during the 1990s. With the truck ingrained in my memory and not having seen it for nearly 20 years, a few years ago, I decided to do some research and see if I could track down the famous (and elusive) rig.
If you’re wondering why I refer to the Jessup Bullnose as famous, it’s because if you ever speak with an older trucker or someone who’s interested in trucking history, many can remember seeing either the Jessup Bullnose or one of the other beautiful red, white, and black Kenworths of the Jessup fleet out on the highway. Or, if you’ve ever been in the Kenworth dealership located on Holt Road in Indianapolis, when you walk from the sales department into the parts department, there is a nearly life-size photo of the truck wallpapered on the entire wall from floor to ceiling! Not to mention, in the mid-1990s, most surviving/restored Kenworth Bullnoses had been long retired by their owners from any revenue generating service, but the Jessup Bullnose wasn’t just a show piece, it still worked.
During my research around 2017, I tracked down Dale’s grandson Marc Jessup, who started his own trucking company, Jessup Logistics, and is now following in the footsteps of both his father D.C. and grandfather Dale. Upon making a call to Jessup Logistics in the hopes of finding out what happened to the Bullnose, I was a bit surprised when the Jessup Logistics employee I was speaking with told me that it was alive and well and parked in the shop just outside his office!
With the elusive Kenworth now located, Duncan and I arranged a time with Marc to do a photo shoot with the truck. When Duncan and I arrived at the Jessup Logistics shop that May morning to meet up with Marc and Mike, after the shop door was opened, Duncan told me, “You should have seen the smile on your face! It was priceless! It was though you had found the Holy Grail!” As Duncan and I looked over the truck (and myself practically drooling), Marc Jessup went into his office, grabbed the keys, came back out, hopped into the Bullnose, and fired up its big Cummins, pulling it out of the shop into the early morning light. Its red, white, and black paint, polished aluminum wheels, and many stainless accessories all gleamed in the Indiana morning sun. As the truck warmed up, sitting there idling, Duncan and Marc Jessup discussed where to photograph the truck and how it was going to go.
As Duncan began to photograph the famous rig, both Marc and Mike began telling stories about Dale and the truck, along with reciting the history of the Kenworth, and when the truck was built to its current specs. After rebuilding the truck in 1965, Dale ran it and worked it hard. By 1986 it had got pretty tired, even though it had been maintained to the highest standard by Dale’s long-time mechanic, Raymond Sheets. It was time to give the KW an overhaul. Taking the Bullnose out of service, Dale had the NH 220 Cummins removed and, in its place, a Cummins NTA 420 (uprated to 450-hp) was installed. The vintage Kenworth also received the addition of brand-new frame rails with a stretched wheelbase to 212 inches. A Kenworth 36-inch sleeper was also added, which was fitted with a custom diamond tuck upholstery made by Gusco of Salt Lake City, Utah.
In addition to the upgrades already mentioned, custom panels were made to allow better access to the big Cummins under the doghouse to help service the engine. If you’re not familiar with the Kenworth Bullnoses, these cabs were placed on a typical conventional frame and did not tilt. These Bullnose trucks were built during the days of overall length laws and were the forerunner to the modern-day Kenworth K100 series cabovers with tilting cabs.
As Marc was telling Duncan and I stories about the KW and his grandfather, he told us a great tale of when the current Cummins engine was installed. After Dale had rebuilt the truck in 1986, the mechanics at Cummins told him to bring the truck in for a check-up after 5,000 miles. So, a week later, Dale pulled into the Cummins shop in Indianapolis and a mechanic asked him what he needed. When Dale told him that he was there for his 5,000 mile check-up, the mechanic just looked at him in disbelief. In that week, Dale turned nearly 5,000 miles in the Bullnose, running from Indianapolis to Salt Lake City, then on to Boston and back to Indianapolis!
Powered by its current Cummins NTA pushing 450-hp through a Fuller 10-speed transmission to 3.90 rear ends and riding on a 212-inch wheelbase, the vintage Kenworth also has torsion bar suspension and rides on 24.5 aluminum wheels wrapped in low-pro rubber. The famous 1955 Kenworth 523C Bullnose currently has over 4,500,000 miles on its odometer! That is just crazy!!
Sadly, Dale Jessup passed away at the age of 90 on January 17, 2017. Even though he’s gone, his memory lives on in the truck he left to his grandson. Marc even told us that he has left several of his grandfather’s items inside the truck, including one of his ballcaps that he used to wear, which still hangs on a hook in the sleeper of the truck.
While talking with Mike Kale more recently, he told me that when Duncan and I were doing the photo shoot with the Bullnose, both Marc and he were a bit shocked at just how excited Duncan and I were to photograph the truck. For Mike and Marc, the Bullnose has been in the family their entire life and they’re used to being around it, whereas it’s a rare opportunity for folks like Duncan and me to get to spend time with such a unique and classic Kenworth you rarely ever get to see anymore.
Just like his grandfather, Marc’s company, Jessup Logistics, is an all Kenworth fleet, providing refrigerated transportation services to his customers and operating in all 48 states. In addition to starting and owning his own outfit, Marc is a former successful Sprint Car driver who raced in the USAC National Sprint Car Series. Today, Marc resides in Mooresville, Indiana, with his wife Andrea and their son Cole. History and traditions are important, and this family heirloom, which can’t be displayed on the mantle, is very special.