Opportunities present themselves all the time, but the door to opportunity is not always open for long. We’ve seen and heard the excuses including what doesn’t appear to be the right time, something looks better at that moment, or being too busy. This is a story about Chris Prins (33), his father Tom Prins (62), and his grandfather (Tom’s dad) Wilbur Prins (85) of Reading, MN, and their desire to find a photographer willing to come out to Minnesota to capture photos of three generations in trucking with their trucks. This was a moment in time that would go on to become precious moments and memories that won’t soon be forgotten by their entire family – or me.
What is pretty cool about this family is the fact that they are four generations strong in the trucking industry, beginning with William Prins, who started WM Prins Trucking out of Rushmore, MN, in 1936. He and his wife had owned a filling station and convenience store in a German community. William’s son Wilbur (Chris’ grandfather), who was born in 1938, had to learn English when he started school because the family spoke German. He started driving in the 8th grade and continued driving, without a license mind you, for quite a while. There was one time he and William were pulled over with Wilbur in the driver’s seat. William told the officer that Wilbur eats off his plate, so he’ll work for his food – the officer let them go.
Married in 1958, Wilbur and his wife Carol would go on to start a Purina feed store in town, then went into farming and, in the early 70s, they bought a 1968 GMC and a 40-foot livestock trailer. Wilbur hauled livestock while farming, and also hauled for his brothers, Leroy and Gary, for a while. At some point during his driving career, Wilbur started Prins Trucking.
Tom (Wilbur’s son and Chris’ dad) started hauling cattle at 15 years old because he was too young to run the combine. He learned to drive from his father and his uncle Gary, who he rode with a lot. And while Uncle Gary napped, Tom would get in some miles driving on the interstate. Tom worked for a local grain elevator until 1988, then he went to drive for his uncles. Tom and his wife Tammy were married on March 20, 1982, and in 1996, Tom got his own authority for his trucking company, Prins Farm and Trucking.
Attending college for three years after high school, Chris studied two years in law enforcement and one year in agriculture production. Right out of high school and while still going to college, he went to work nights at a factory and stayed there for over ten years. In 2010, he had the opportunity to work with his grandfather Wilbur, and the two went in together to rent 240 acres of land. Chris and his wife Ashley were married on July 29, 2017. When Chris bought his truck, it was plated for farm use for about a month, then he hauled for Leroy Prins Trucking for about six months, until getting his own authority as C.W. Prins Trucking LLC.
On August 17, 1990, Wilbur Prins purchased the pictured 1971 Peterbilt 359 from Kenworth in Sioux Falls, SD for $9,500. It has a 350 Cummins, a 13-speed, 3.55 rears, and a 265-inch wheelbase. The orange 2000 Pete 379, which Tom Prins purchased in 2005, had 160K miles on it. It has a Caterpillar 3406E, a 13-speed, 3.55 rears, and a 265-inch wheelbase. It sports WTI double hump fenders, 8-inch stacks, and a Lincoln Chrome bumper. Chris Prins (Wilbur’s grandson and Tom’s son) bought his 2000 Peterbilt 379 on September 26, 2022. His truck has a CAT 2WS, a 265-inch wheelbase, an 18-speed, and 3.70 rears. However, since I photographed the trucks, his truck has seen some changes including 3.36 rears, a stretched frame (to 290-inches), a custom deck plate, an Iowa Customs 20-inch rear bumper, and I-29 Customs rear fenders.
I asked Chris who taught him how to drive and he said, “Between dad and grandpa, they have taught me everything in life. They have taught me everything I know about farming, taking care of the land, trucking, and taking care of your equipment so it will take care of you. If there was a person that was harder on me than myself, it was grandpa, and now that I can look back, I can see why. All he wanted to do was to teach me how to be successful in life.” In all this, Wilbur taught Chris to be honorable, respectful, humble, and to maintain his integrity.
In 2022, Wilbur was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and through the fall harvest of 2022, he was still driving his truck. Chris had always wanted to get photos of himself, Tom, and Wilbur, along with their trucks, and with Wilbur’s diagnosis, it quickly became a priority. But Chris wasn’t sure how to go about getting these photos done.
Last year (2023), Chris, Tom, and a family friend of theirs made a trip to MATS (Mid-America Trucking Show) in Louisville, KY at the end of March and began looking for someone that could possibly take the pictures they wanted. Not knowing what to do or how to do it, they saw a guy taking pictures that looked like he knew what he was doing, so the trio approached him. That person was indeed a professional truck photographer, friend, and a regular contributor for 10-4 Magazine, Frank Strohmyer. After an explanation from Chris, Frank directed them to the 10-4 Magazine booth, where they spoke with Shannon Linss. Knowing I had just moved back to Wisconsin and wasn’t too far from where the Prins family resides, Shannon sent me Chris’ phone number and the rest, as they say, is history.
I had already scheduled to shoot a couple trucks in Minnesota, so it made sense to work their three into the same weekend. I’ll be honest, I was concerned I would make it in time, because Chris said his grandpa was having good and bad days and the clock seemed to have been ticking regarding how much time Wilbur had left. I went to see the Prins family on Saturday, July 8, 2023, and I immediately felt welcomed like I was in the presence of friends.
The time I spent with this family was filled with a range of emotions including smiles, laughter, and tears. As I said previously about Wilbur having good days and bad days, this day was definitely a good one. I witnessed three generations in the trucking industry, with their trucks, all in one place. Just a few weeks later, on July 31, 2023, Wilbur was admitted into hospice, and it is with a heavy heart that he passed away one day shy of a month after I went to do the photography. The one thing I will carry with me is how vividly I can see his smile in my mind, and with that joy on his face, you couldn’t help but smile.
Today, Wilbur’s 359 isn’t going anywhere and will continue to probably come out for farm use during fall harvest. Chris owns a 2009 stainless steel Timpte, Tom owns a 2024 50-foot tri-axle Timpte trailer, both haul grain and feed, and both are dispatched by Leroy Prins Trucking. Chris and Ashley have a three-year-old daughter named Miranda who is adored by Tom and Tammy. Wilbur would’ve been 86 last month, and he and Carol would’ve been celebrating their 66th wedding anniversary this month.
Tom recalled one of the phrases his father used a lot: “If you’re broke, put your keys on the wall.” Meaning that you should stay at home and not go out and spend any unnecessary money. Another one he and Chris both mentioned was it is always cheaper to “do it right the first time” – a sentiment many in trucking adhere to. Tom said that at his father’s funeral, what he heard most commonly was that his dad always had a smile and a good one-line joke.
Thank you from Chris and Tom to Levi Ebeling of Levi Ebeling Polishing and Ceramics, and Jacob Runge of Jake’s Polishing and Detailing, for coming together in getting the trucks shined up after Chris was done detailing them.
I am truly honored that I was given this opportunity to meet some amazing people, and also the ability to document the moments and memories that were made that day within the Prins family. Thank you to everyone who was present for your time, kindness, and the privilege to tell some of your story. Remember, time waits for no one, so hold your loved ones a little longer and overuse “I love you.” As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.