I love meeting truck drivers who live the Largecar Lifestyle. What does that mean? It’s simple: truckers who live and breathe trucks and the freedom of the open road. These drivers have diesel running through their veins, pride in their ride, and happiness is rollin’ from town to town and state to state. True truckers are born, not made, and it seems as though these men and women are becoming a rare commodity in this day and age. From my perspective, the younger generations just don’t have the interest in trucks and trucking like so many of us did when we were growing up. But there are exceptions.
Hailing from Campbellsport, WI, 31-year-old trucker Jonathon Ovanin is one of these exceptions. Born and raised in a trucking family, Jonathon will tell you he’s been riding in trucks from the time he was in diapers, and he’s not kidding (his dad Chris Pilant will back that up). As a child, anytime Jonathon had a chance to head out on the highway with his dad, he would. Summer and winter vacations growing up were spent riding with his dad in his International 9670 cabover on hauls from Wisconsin to Florida and the east coast and back. “I remember many nights sleeping across the doghouse of that old International,” Jonathon said fondly as he was telling me about his childhood. While school taught him reading, writing and math, “Being in the truck with my dad taught me life lessons along with how to drive a truck and how to repair and wrench on a rig,” said Jonathon. After his dad sold that old International cabover, he went to work driving a truck for Brian Dreher, and this opened up an opportunity for Jonathon, as well.
Around 12 years old, Jonathon began helping Brian Dreher in his shop. His first job was washing trucks, and that eventually turned into helping grease them and helping repair them when needed. At 18 years old, Jonathon got his CDL and began driving an old Mack dump truck for a local construction company. While he enjoyed driving that old Mack, his heart wasn’t in it. Not long after that, Brian Dreher asked him what he wanted to do for a living. Jonathon’s answer was quick and simple: “I want to be a truck driver!”
With that previous statement made in mind, and already knowing this young man’s work ethic, Brian was prepared to bring Jonathon on-board and make him part of the Brian Dreher Trucking family. At 19, Brian had intended to have Jonathon running within the state of Wisconsin for him, but a devastating shop fire – that included destroying one of Brian’s show trucks, a cool 1998 Freightliner Classic XL named “Sho Anuff Pink” – put that on hold. While this catastrophe was a setback, two years later, after turning 21, Jonathon began driving over-the-road for Brian.
“I finally got my shot,” Jonathon told me, as he fondly remembered his first truck, a Kenworth T2000. “I was pulling a reefer and ran that truck for a couple years, and then Brian upgraded me to a newer truck, and I finally got a big hood Kenworth W900L.” While Jonathon loved that sweet W900L, and he ran that truck for a couple of years, little did Jonathon know, but he was soon going to get the keys to his dream truck, an award-winning 2000 Peterbilt 379 named “Top Shelf” from Brian (the truck featured here). And when I say “award-winning” this Peterbilt truly is.
Earning top honors as one of the best trucks in the country in 2010 at the Shell Rotella Super Rigs competition, this truck was also the featured rig for the month of February in the 2011 Shell Rotella Super Rigs calendar. As a little boy, Jonathon remembers when Brian ordered Top Shelf. “I fell in love with this Peterbilt the first time I saw it,” as Jonathon explained with excitement in his voice. “I was seven years old when Brian purchased it in 2000, and any chance I had to be around this truck, whether helping Brian wash it, clean it, or polish it, I was right there.”
Painted in a beautiful two-tone purple paint scheme and sporting a 310” wheelbase, riding on a Pete low air-leaf suspension, Top Shelf is all largecar from front to back. Under the hood, a Cummins Signature 600 mated to an Eaton-Fuller 18-speed pushes power to 3.36 geared rear ends, and its polished Alcoa 22.5 aluminum rims are wrapped in tall rubber. Pulling a matching 2018 stainless steel Utility refrigerated trailer with a sliding 10’-2” spread, “I can get heavy with my loads at times, and the truck will get up and run when I need it to,” said Jonathon as he laughed a bit as he told me about the rig’s driveline.
Not only does Top Shelf have a big wheelbase and impressive running gear, but the truck is also completely customized everywhere you look. With WTI fenders over the steers, drive axles, and trailer axles, Double JJ headlights and brackets, a 20” Texas bumper, stainless drop visor, 8” exhaust, dual 150-gallon polished fuel tanks, and no lack of chicken lights adorning this rig, it will light up the night, too! Featuring eight lights up on the cab roof, another eight on the top of the 70” sleeper, and another eight on the back, along with stainless panels with lights under the cab and sleeper from Panelite, then more 4” lights mounted in a stainless panel at the rear of the Pete, Top Shelf looks as good glowing at night as it does shining in the sunlight during the day. One of the most “fun items” on the truck is one you can’t see. As we all know, a lot of trucks have train horns stashed away somewhere underneath their cabs, but Top Shelf doesn’t have train horns, it has a train whistle.
As impressive as the exterior of this truck is, the Pete’s interior is just as nice. Equipped with a Peterbilt gray American Class interior with hardwood floors and Bostrom Wide Ride seats, the cab also features wood accessories from Eagle Interior Accents, a dashboard fully dressed out in custom gauges, switches, and other miscellaneous parts from Rockwood Products, and several other cool custom goodies.
One of the most unique and cool accessories mounted on this truck isn’t the lights or the chrome, but rather three polished beer kegs mounted to the deck plate of Top Shelf behind the sleeper! “Yeah, I get a lot of truckers who think that’s cool,” said Jonathon. “From time to time I get someone who will holler at me on the radio and tell me that they saw an orange Peterbilt with a beer keg mounted behind the sleeper on the deck plate.” As Jonathon started laughing and continuing with, “Yeah, I tell them that guy copied me!” Little do those other truckers know, but the orange truck they are referring to is Brian Dreher’s 2016 Peterbilt model 389 show truck named “$$$” (which was featured on our cover back in September 2019).
At 24 years old, only two drivers, Brian Dreher and now Jonathon, have operated this truck. When Jonathon was given the keys to Top Shelf, it had 1.5 million miles on it and now it currently has just over 2.2 million on its odometer. In order to keep an older truck like this rollin’ and movin’ down the highway in pristine mechanical condition, you either have to have a big wallet to afford the repair bills from time to time or you have to be a skilled mechanic with the knowledge and ability to turn those wrenches and make the repairs yourself. With that said, Jonathon told me a story of the time he changed the radiator on Top Shelf on an exit ramp off Interstate 76 in Ohio in the middle of winter.
Reliving the experience, Jonathon said, “It was a couple of years ago, in January 2021. I had loaded in Appleton, Wisconsin, and was going to Cisco Foods in Philly. I was headed down the hill near Akron, Ohio, and turned the engine brake on. About the same time, the engine fan also kicked on and I heard a loud noise that wasn’t normal. Then, steam began rolling out from the hood, the dashboard lit up, and the engine shut-down warning came on.” Pulling off the interstate and parking on the exit ramp, Jonathon was shocked when he opened the hood and found chunks of the radiator fan missing and a big hole in the radiator.
Continuing on with the story, with Jonathon’s boss Brian Dreher running not far behind, Brian pulled off at that exit to see what they needed to do. Not interested in sitting there and waiting on a repair truck, or even worse a tow truck, Brian told Jonathon, “If I can get you a radiator from Peterbilt, can you get it repaired?” In classic Jonathon style, he said, “I’ll have the old one out before the Peterbilt guy delivers the new one.” While Jonathon sat there for nearly four hours, from the time he broke down at 3:00 PM, he was rolling by 7:30 PM, and most of that time was spent waiting for Peterbilt to deliver the new radiator!
Not one to let others work on his beloved Top Shelf Peterbilt, Jonathon carries a lot of tools in the truck with him, including a Milwaukee impact gun, so he can even change his own tires. Telling me, “I had an older truck driver approach me at a truck stop a while ago and he was shocked to see me changing my own tire. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw a driver doing this!” An old soul, for the most part, Jonathon lives and breathes his truck and loves old iron in general. He’s currently restoring a classic 1971 Ford F250 4×4 pickup truck, and his dream is to someday buy and restore a cool classic Needle Nose Peterbilt model 351. A big fan of the movie Smokey and the Bandit, he knows all the lines and has even visited some of the filming locations.
When I asked Jonathon what he loves about trucking, and in particular his ride, his response said it best: “It’s the Largecar Lifestyle. It’s fun, it’s cool, and I get to drive a truck that not only gets compliments, but that many truckers remember and recognize.” Even though the younger generations may not fall in love with big trucks like many of us did, Jonathon is one exception, and he (and others like him) will keep the Largecar Lifestyle alive for years to come!