Generational businesses sometimes don’t witness how the founders started the companies, and oftentimes the grit, struggle, determination, and failures go unnoticed. But those who have built a thriving business from the ground up understand the importance of work ethic and the unwillingness to fail no matter what obstacles present themselves. Sometimes all we need is to be provided with an opportunity which allows us to chase the dreams we have. This is the story of Mike Solko (44), the business foundation he created, those who have been there for him through it all, and his 2008 Peterbilt 389 pictured here.
Living in Larned, KS, Mike is a man you would call “self-made” in that there were no handouts, no freebies, and no easy street – just sweat, a solid work ethic, and fierce determination. He was born in Overland, KS and, behind his grandpa Benny and uncle, he and his brother Joey are technically the third generation of trucking in their family. As far back as he can remember, Mike was interested in trucks. As a kid, his grandpa was the driving force (literally) behind learning the ins and outs of trucking, including riding along and also learning on his grandpa’s farm.
As time went on, Mike’s goal was to either focus on pro sports or trucking, but after obtaining his CDL at age 20 and starting to haul hay locally, Mike made his decision. Not long after that, he was offered a job hauling cattle for Ward feed yard, but then a bad wreck had him in the ICU and home for six months. After recovering from the wreck, Mike got an offer from his good friend, Henry Snodgrass, who wanted him to take over his trucking business because he wanted to go back to farming. Mike bought a truck and trailer and didn’t know how he was going to do it, but he started hauling fuel and hasn’t looked back since.
In 2005, he got his own authority as Mike Solko, Inc. He had always wanted to do something with his brother Joey and, as a start to that, about seven years ago, Mike changed the company name to Solko Brothers LLC. Around two to three years ago, Joey was brought in as a business partner. The dynamic between him and Joey just works, and between them, no job is too big. Mike said he wouldn’t be where he is without Joey, plus the fact that they work very well together, and he couldn’t or wouldn’t ask for anyone better to work with.
Shortly before Mike and his wife Christie were married in September of 2022, they were scouting the internet, on the lookout for a truck, and came across a white Peterbilt 389 that sparked their interest so much that they purchased the truck sight unseen in June 2022. Their friend Dustin Graf (our February 2023 cover trucker) said he could get an RGN and go pick it up for them. Mike could also trust Dustin to look the truck over and make sure it was good to go. Dustin went to load the truck, but it was too long. Dustin had to remove the stacks on his truck, load it on the RGN instead, and pull his home on the trailer with Mike’s new 389 (combo pictured). I guess it passed the test!
Powered by an ISX Cummins, the pictured Peterbilt 389 has 3.36 rears, an 18-speed transmission, and a sleek factory 315-inch wheelbase. The truck sports a 379 hood conversion kit, vintage 359 dual square headlights, a Valley Chrome bumper, 7-inch Lincoln Chrome stacks, Talladega double hump fiberglass fenders, and custom wood floors. For the most part, the truck can be seen hooked to a 2007 Heil tanker or their new 2024 Polar Diamond Edition liquid fertilizer tanker. The truck has been dubbed “Bad Habit” because Mike just can’t seem to stop buying or fixing stuff on it.
Shoutouts for work on the truck goes to Mike at Murph’s Truck Repair in Great Bend, KS for being a mechanical genius, Jason and Brooke Linden of Linden Body Shop out of Lyons, KS for the body and paint work, Wilkins Truck Chrome out of Tonkawa, OK for all the parts and chrome, and to Double N Polishing out of Hutchinson, KS and Midwest Polishing out of Salina, KS respectively for the great polishing work on all the company equipment.
There is always a reason why a truck just sticks around, whether sentimental or otherwise, and this truck is no different. Mike had thought about selling it at one point, but his wife Christie said “nope” to that idea. Mike had always liked white, and it is pretty special because most, if not all, of the additions or changes were Christie’s ideas, so she was a big part of how the truck got to where it is today. Mike will admittedly say that it has been a nightmare at times, but the truck is finally about where they want it, and he is happy to be driving it full time. The end goal is to keep the truck simple and classy (a less-is-more approach), but he would like to change the frame paint at some point, freshen up the white paint sooner than later, and update the inside with some additional interior work.
As a strong, God fearing woman, Mike’s wife Christie is definitely a force to be reckoned with. She has been a hair stylist for 20 years, and on December 1, 2022, her salon, Studio 418, was relocated to its current location in Larned, KS. For Mike, Christie is the glue that holds everything together when he is (or is not) home. Her dedication and love for God and family is second to none. She is the visionary behind the painted visor and blank panels on the truck, because Mike isn’t big on “painting everything” on a truck. He said, “I can go on and on about her but there will never be enough words to say how much I love her and how grateful I am for this woman. She is the air I breathe and my rock.”
According to Mike, his favorite trucking memory so far is having the opportunity to run with his son Rylee, which is hard to beat at this point. A bittersweet memory for Mike was when he hauled a load of fuel from McPherson, KS to Grinnell, KS, unloading at the exact same spot his grandpa did in one of his cabovers when Mike was just a kid riding along with him. Mike’s grandpa, Benny “Gentle Ben” Muehlenkamp, was more like a father to Mike than a grandfather, and Mike measured everything he did by what his grandpa did (or how he would have done it).
Grandpa taught Mike many things, like to always keep the truck clean, but he was also just a good human being. Not only did he have a successful trucking company, but he was a good farmer, too. Plainly stated, he was Mike’s superhero. His grandparents had a marriage dynamic and trucking family that worked, as it had to, back in the day. Grandma took care of everything on the home front, and on the weekends, it was typical for her to pack the kids in the car on a Saturday or Sunday and meet Mike’s grandpa at the truck stop to bring him what he needed for the week because he couldn’t get home. Back then communication was scarce, with no cell phones, and being a trucker definitely wasn’t as glorified or easy as it is today.
In the trucking industry, it is most father’s dream to have their sons follow in their footsteps. Mike stated it is an awesome feeling that brings tears to his eyes with the amount of pride he has that not only his son Rylee drives, but his son Peyton drives for another company, as well. Without asking for it, Mike is often given positive feedback about the boys and their driving abilities by others.
Today, Mike and Christie have a combined family totaling ten children: Rylee (25), Zak (24), Peyton (21), Braden (20), Easton (19), Cade (18), Drew (15), Coye (13), Blakelynn (6), and Creed (4). Solko Brothers LLC currently has four owner operators, which includes Mike and Joey, and there are three company owned trucks. Two of the company trucks are driven by Mike’s son Rylee and their driver Bryan, with the third truck being a spare, or utilized when they have part time help. The future goals for the company are to increase the number of owner operators and add about 15 more trailers. They would like to have enough work and equipment for all the kids to be able to come into the company and drive, should they want to.
Special thanks from Mike to Christie for being the best wife and partner in all aspects of life, to his grandpa (rest in peace) for teaching him, guiding him, and believing in him, his brother Joey for being the best brother and business partner he could ask for, to Joey’s wife Chasitty for her amazing work at the company, which includes taking care of all the guys and being the grease to the wheels of everything. With Mike’s biological father not really being around, Barney DeClue became the father Mike never had – and the very definition of what a father should be. Barney filled in by always being there for Mike, with wisdom, and becoming a great hunting partner, much like a real father would do.
Some of the trucks I photograph I haven’t spotted myself – they come to me as a recommendation from someone else. If what I’m told about the owner and the truck piques my interest, I will observe and wait. Mike is one of those recommendations, made by Dustin Graf, that he made to me after we spoke about others who he thought may have a great story to tell. The real benefit I received out of meeting Mike and Christie in person is seeing a solid couple that is full of mutual faith, love, respect, and admiration. They are the type of couple you want to be friends with and who you look up to, inspiring hope for your own life and relationships.
For anyone that knows me or what my planning entails with photographing trucks for articles, they know that I like to have locations set up before my arrival. As of late, it has been “fly by the seat of my pants” and finding locations once I get to my destination. This was no different, but what was funny is that I had asked Mike to come up with some ideas, one being finding an old barn. Scouting around on the morning of the day I would be taking the pictures, we came up with not one but three barns. Big thanks to Matt Finger (gray barn), Steve and Kim Gevara (red barns), and Clint Barger of Barger Ranch (White barn and outbuildings), for giving us the opportunity to utilize their properties.
Thank you to Mike and Christie for opening up your home, your life, and for the opportunity to tell your story. The best strangers you meet today can lead to great friends tomorrow. I am grateful for the chance yet again to document the life of someone as they chase their dreams, which allows me to continue to chase mine, too. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.