From an early age, Kenny Campos Jr. was always told, “If you are going to do anything, be the best you can be. Always bring the heat!” That lesson has stuck with him his entire life, and today he “brings the heat” as an up-and-coming trucking company owner, a broker, a venue host, a storage facility manager, a husband, and a father. Kenny is a very ambitious man and is always looking for ways to be better and do better. His company, Heet Trucking, LLC out of Dinuba, CA, which got its name from his father’s continuous “Bring the heat!” life lessons, is on the grow, and his unique Freightliner Cascadia recently caught our eye at a truck show in Fresno, CA – yes, that’s right, a Cascadia!!
We have never had a Freightliner Cascadia on our cover, mostly because they are usually not worthy, being primarily plain white fleet trucks and such. However, we are always looking for something different and unique, so when we saw Kenny’s Cascadia sitting there all polished up and laid out on the ground, we had to find out more about the truck and its owner. And, as usual, the people behind the truck did not disappoint. We had a great time getting to know Kenny and his wife Claudia, along with their in-house customizer and friend, Noah Rios of RNR Custom Rigs, who did all the paint and fabrication work on this – dare I say – fabulous Freightliner.
Born and raised in Madera, CA, Kenny Campos Jr. (44) grew up in a trucking family. His father, Kenny Campos Sr., started trucking in 1973 after returning home from Vietnam. Over the years, his dad drove a lot of cabovers, pulling mostly reefers throughout the country, because those were the trucks of choice back then, and Kenny went out with his dad whenever he could. Being an owner operator when he first started out, Kenny’s dad eventually became a company driver at Wallace Transport out of Planada, CA where he spent almost 30 years. Spending the final six or seven years of his career at Gardner Trucking, Kenny’s dad retired in 2015.
Running OTR for most of the years Kenny was a little kid, his dad was not home much. It was not uncommon for him to be out trucking for months at a time. His mom was the “present” adult, so she became a very important part of Kenny’s life. This early connection he had with his mom and somewhat disconnected relationship with his father would later help him to make better choices as a dad when raising his own kids. He wanted to be present, and not spend his life out on the road, away from his family. He fully respected his father and what he was doing for their family, but Kenny wanted to be around to see his children grow up and help shape who they become as adults.
Graduating from high school in 1998, Kenny took a job where his dad worked at Wallace Transport, loading trucks, while attending truck driving school. After earning his CDL, he began driving a 3-axle Freightliner cabover, pulling dry vans, doubles, and flatbeds. He remembers his first trip down to Southern California with nothing but a paper map – he was terrified! About a year later, he got a job at Gardner Trucking, driving out of their small yard in Banta, CA. He drove their plain white (but very clean) trucks for about eight years before getting an opportunity to move into a management position.
Gardner Trucking, based out of Chino, CA, has a rich history out West. We did a feature about their operation back in January 2005 titled “Quiet Giant” that highlighted their unique and innovative business tactics and introduced all the Lanting family members that helped run the company. At that time, the main players were Ron Lanting Sr. and his four sons – Ron Jr., Tom, Brad, and Curt. When Kenny first got hired at Gardner, they only had about 260 trucks and probably triple that number in trailers.
One of the options Gardner offered their customers was the ability to be a dedicated site. At these sites, Gardner would provide companies with an entire, dedicated, transportation staff including an on-site supervisor, drivers, and equipment. Gardner would run and manage the entire operation from the customer’s location. With over 70 dedicated sites, as well as several line hauls and other freight, Gardner Trucking surged to the forefront of the transportation industry in the West. After driving for several years, Kenny was offered one of these on-site supervisor positions, and he took it.
Working with several different customers at locations throughout Central California over the next few years, Kenny really enjoyed the freedom and independence he had. He answered to Tom Lanting directly and learned a lot from him over the years. But being in a remote location and not having a “boss” always looking over his shoulder helped give Kenny his entrepreneurial spirit that later helped him go out on his own and start his company. Kenny’s last few years at Gardner were spent as Operations Manager of a yard they had in Fresno, CA. He loved working at Gardner and would not have left if they were not bought out by a bigger trucking company.
By 2016, Gardner had acquired other companies and built their operation up to about 2,500 trucks and probably over 5,000 trailers. When word got out that Iowa-based CRST was purchasing Gardner Trucking in a monumental acquisition, Kenny no longer had the drive to “bring the heat” like he was taught. He loved the Lanting family and all the friends he made while there, but it was time for him to move on.
In 2017, Kenny cashed out his 401K plan and bought his first truck – an ugly white 2010 Freightliner daycab – and formed Heet Trucking, LLC. Not wanting to put his own name on the truck and wanting to be perceived as a larger operation, he liked the way “Heet” looked over “Heat” so that is what he called the company (which represented his dad’s catch phrase of always bringing the heat and giving 100%).
Right from the start, Kenny knew he did not want to be leased to anyone and wanted to be completely independent, so he started recruiting owner operators. The following year, as he continued to grow, Kenny added a second company truck – a 2015 Freightliner Cascadia (but not the one seen here). Kenny specifically chose Freightliner Cascadia trucks because they were cheap to buy, economical to run, reliable, and parts were affordable and readily available. It was a business decision. His third truck was a used 2017 Peterbilt 579, but he did not own it for very long after someone offered Kenny a sizable amount of money for the truck.
Today, Kenny has five trucks, 21 various types of trailers, and about eight dedicated owner operators. Three years ago, he also started a brokering company called Heet Freight to help his company grow and keep his drivers and owner operators constantly busy. He also moved into his current 3-acre facility just outside of town (Dinuba, CA) a few years ago that was previously a packing house, so there is plenty of space. Enough in fact to have a small, covered storage facility for RVs and boats, and a nice outside area to host events like weddings, birthday parties, and Quinceaneras a few times a month. Like I said, Kenny is a very ambitious and industries young man who is always looking for new and innovative ways to increase his bottom line.
The first truck Kenny decided to “fix up” was his 2015 Peterbilt 386, which was parked alongside his customized Cascadia, when we first met Kenny at the truck show in Fresno, CA earlier this year (2023). His longtime friend Noah Rios, who was working at a local glass manufacturing company, got laid off during the pandemic in 2020. Kenny told him if he went to truck driving school and got his CDL, he would hire him as a driver, and that is what they did.
After driving for Kenny for a while, Noah began tinkering on the trucks, and Kenny quickly realized his talent as a painter and fabricator. Noah did all the customizing to the 386 Peterbilt, including building his own front air ride system from scratch, stretching the frame, adding a sleeper, painting it, and more. After that, Kenny convinced him to start his own company called RNR Custom Rigs, which rents space from Kenny at their yard, and do nothing but build custom air ride systems, paint trucks, and do all sorts of other custom fabrication and accessory installs. When it came time to build the Cascadia seen here, and on our cover and centerfold this month, the job was given to Noah.
The 2015 Freightliner Cascadia was bought in 2022 with relatively low miles (398K). It is powered by a 12.7L Detroit DD13 hooked to a 10-speed transmission. Kenny decided it would probably be around for a while, so he wanted to fix it up like the Peterbilt. He also thought it would be fun to build a customized Cascadia, as you don’t see many of those out on road or at truck shows. Noah built a custom air ride system for this truck, too, and then painted it Peterbilt Metallic Grey, added a red stripe, fabricated a custom deck plate and rear light bar, and shaved all the frame bolts. The chassis was then painted red to match the stripe.
Other embellishments to the rig’s exterior include customized and shortened side fairings to allow the polished aluminum fuel tank to show a bit, HID headlights, extra lighting with glass lenses, Hogebuilt stainless quarter fenders, and four load lights along with the phrase “It’s Just $ Paper” on the back of the sleeper. The single stack vertical exhaust was switched out to a weed burner system underneath. Inside, the truck got a black wood laminate floor, painted dash panels, billet foot pedals, and a polished and painted (red) steering wheel. The stock factory steering wheel was equipped with all kinds of controls that were moved to a custom panel with buttons on the dash, just under the stereo.
When the Cascadia was finished after about three months of being in the shop, Kenny put his longtime driver Robert Ramon in the driver’s seat, and he takes great care of it. Robert is one of Kenny’s original drivers and has been with him almost since the beginning. Pulling curtain vans, flatbeds, reefers, and dry vans, most of Kenny’s trucks haul irrigation supplies, frozen foods, and whatever else Kenny can find. Kenny joked about how this custom Cascadia is giving the Freightliner fleet truck drivers out there some hope that one day their truck might be cool, too! But he loves the fact that these Detroit-powered Freightliner Cascadias run quietly, are efficient and reliable, and affordable to operate.
Future projects include doing a little more work on his Peterbilt 386 (new dual exhaust and a black wood floor), installing a new sound system in the Cascadia, along with extending the deck plate all the way to the back of the truck, and rebuilding a 1984 Freightliner cabover he just bought. Equipped with a strong running 400 Big Cam Cummins, Kenny plans to swap the suspension to a newer style to get it lower, make the wheelbase 250 inches, bag the front, and paint it the same colors as the Cascadia.
Married to his wife Claudia since 2005, the couple has two daughters – Ashley (16) and Samantha (11). Kenny also had two other kids with a previous wife when he was much younger. After his divorce from this first wife, Kenny got custody of both his kids and raised them as a single dad until he met Claudia in 2003.
Kenny’s oldest daughter Ruby is now 29 years old and lives nearby with her own family and kids. Kenny’s son Ethan died in a tragic automobile accident when he was just five years old in 2005, just shortly after he and Claudia got married. Working at a law firm for over 20 years, Claudia left her job in 2020 to help Kenny with the trucking businesses. Today, she runs the entire office, with help from a young nephew named Christian, as well.
Always looking to better himself, Kenny would like to add a few more trucks, but only a few. Like many of us, Kenny was taught that having seven to ten trucks is the sweet spot, regarding maximum profitability and minimum time commitment, so that is Kenny’s goal. Having lots of different types of trailers, company trucks, and a mix of dedicated and occasional owner operators (and his own brokerage) gives Kenny lots of options and keeps things diverse. He would love to semi-retire one day in the near future but finds it really hard to imagine ever completely stopping. He has a great team around him and takes good care of them and wants to keep doing it as long as he can.
From day one, Kenny Campos was taught to be a worker. He was taught and trained to always give 100% and learned a lot about how to run a business and how to treat people from Tom Lanting and others at Gardner Trucking. They also taught him how to be independent and gave him that entrepreneurial spirit he continues to build on today, allowing him to effectively “bring the heat” each and every day to everything he does. And that is rare these days.