COVER FEATURE - MAY 2010
LEGENDARY TRUCKER & HIS UNIQUE MACK
By Daniel J. Linss - Editor
For over 35 years, legendary trucker Joe Mustang and his one-and-only Mack owned the road. If you ever saw a “silver streak” go flying past you while out on the interstate, most likely it was Joe, making up for lost time. Joe Mustang and his unique truck were inseparable for most of his driving career, and Joe’s flatbed trailer has spent its entire life hooked to the Mack. It is not uncommon to find an old trucker who’s been driving for 30 or 40 years, but to find one that drove the same truck for 35 years and pulled the same trailer for 30, now that is rare.
Joe, with the help of his trusty steed (which was actually a Bulldog), ran from coast to coast and border to border, hauling all kinds of freight. Known to dodge a scale or two here and there, Joe was a bit of a renegade – a real trucker’s trucker. Joe and his truck were certainly ahead of their time. Many of the things that Joe did to his truck back in the 1960s and 1970s were unheard of back then – even today, his truck still turns heads wherever it goes, only now it is Dan Thomas, the truck’s current owner, not Joe Mustang, that gets to enjoy all the attention.
Born in 1915, Joe “Mustang” Glasco got his start in Pennsylvania, driving an early 1930s Diamond T with an integral sleeper. Making $10 a week, he hauled roofing material, canned goods, potatoes, and anything else he could find into Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York. In 1946, Joe moved to Los Angeles and got a job driving for Consolidated Freightways. After that, he drove for Coast Line, Santa Fe Transport and PMT (Pacific Motor Trucking).
It was in 1959 that Joe Mustang bought his one-and-only rig, a 1957 H63 Mack, from a trucker that had it on lease with Belyea Truck Company. Belyea was a company that prided itself on moving loads that were deemed to be impossible by others. Originally, the tractor was a two-axle rig with a Mack 205 hp Thermodyne, triplex transmissions, and a double reduction rear-end – the truck was geared to top out at 75 mph. Back then, the truck was painted in the Belyea colors of gray and black, but Joe quickly changed it to metallic silver with black trim.
For a while, Joe kept the Mack with Belyea, making $0.24 per mile, with an additional $.06 for each driver. In 1964, Joe purchased a new 40’ flatbed made by Brown Mfg. Company. After Belyea, Joe trip-leased to outfits that specialized in flatbed loads (hauling flatbed commodities was what Joe liked best). Paxton Truck Lines, Senna Trucking, Johnnie Teresi, Progressive Transportation, S & H Truck Lines, BBD Trucking, Contractors Cargo, and Doudell Trucking all had their names on Joe’s door at one time or another. Throughout his career, Joe and his Mack ran into every state in the continental U.S. and Canada, pulling for carriers like ETMF (East Texas Motor Freight), ABF, Landstar, Ranger and Inway.
When asked why he chose to purchase a Mack, Joe’s answer was quite simple: availability of dealers. Back in the 1950s, Mack was one of the only truck makers that had a nationwide network of dealers. Except for one dealership in Minnesota, Kenworth, as well as Peterbilt and Freightliner, only had dealers as far east as the state of Colorado. For a guy like Joe who ran all over the country, this simply was unacceptable. But Joe was always resourceful.
Back at home, neatly wrapped in paper and marked on shelves in his garage, Joe always kept at least one replacement part for just about anything he’d ever need to fix on his truck. If he broke down out on the road, he could call home and have the part he needed sent to where he was parked. From engine components and parts to light bulbs and spare bolts, Joe had them all and he knew exactly where to find them.
Over the years, Joe took the old H-Model through many changes, both subtle and obvious, during their careers together. Many of the updates Joe made to his Mack were done to accommodate the ever-changing rules of the day, and to maximize his payloads. During the first makeover, Joe extended the steel frame to give the truck a 212” wheelbase and then added a tag axle. The well-worn Mack Thermodyne engine was replaced with a Cat 1673, while the Mack triplex transmissions and Mack rear-end remained. A few years later, Joe stretched the wheelbase out even further to 224” and then repowered the truck again with a Cat 1674.
Joe was quite content with his new setup, but the trucking game was always changing and it took new equipment to keep up. With only forty feet of deck space on his trailer, Joe began to lose out on loads. The new trucks were also lighter and had higher horsepower, which got them to their destinations quicker. Not wanting to buy new equipment, Joe decided to do a third major makeover on the H-Model. Joe had kept his eye on what the new trucks were running and began gathering the necessary items to perform the work. For example, while in Michigan picking up a load of machinery from the auctioning of the Diamond REO plant, Joe spotted a stack of nice aluminum frame rails, so he struck up a deal on a set and then hauled them home.
By now it was the mid-1970s and Joe, who had a garage full of components, went to work on the truck’s third rebuild. First, he cut the steel frame rails at the transmission mounts and slid them into the new aluminum rails, which had been cut to give the rig a 264” wheelbase. Next, he added a Western air-ride suspension and R-170 rear-end. The front axle and steering was replaced with a Mack SuperLiner unit attached to a Kenworth three-leaf spring. Joe then made all of his own crossmounts and attached them to the rails using rivets. The engine was replaced with a massive Cat 1693 PCTA (cranking out 525 horses at the flywheel), and then backed with a Fuller 10-speed transmission. This larger engine required Joe to add a larger, modified radiator, as well as a unique air clutch system.
Since the H-Model was already dismantled, Joe decided to customize the interior and make some exterior modifications as well. Joe added two Peterbilt fuel tanks and a Peterbilt bumper, modified to his liking, tons of custom diamond plate panels, and a one-of-a-kind 8” weed-burner exhaust, taken off a turbo prop airplane engine, which sticks out from the side of the truck just behind the right front tire. He built the pipe strong enough to stand on, and anytime a DOT inspector asked him about it, Joe would just say that it was a step. He also reskinned the back of the sleeper with a piece of diamond plate, and anytime he was asked about his “headache rack” he just said that it was OEM. Old Joe must have been quite the salesman to get away with that!
Inside the cab, Joe installed WWII vintage aircraft gauges, using high-quality aviation-grade Teflon-coated wiring, and made a shifter modified from a P-38 fighter plane’s stick. At night the cab is a glow of red from aviation map lights he installed. Even the shift tower was custom-built by Joe. The interior is by no means luxurious, but it does look both functional and cool.
Some other interesting items this truck has includes classic five-hand-hole aluminum wheels on the front, and Alcoa’s first generation of tubeless aluminum wheels on the back (and on the trailer) which have a unique ribbed design for added strength. His newly updated engine had a different air intake system, so the two big, round air cleaners, mounted underneath the back of the sleeper, were no longer necessary. But, not wanting to get rid of them because he liked the way they looked, Joe converted one of them into an extra oil reserve tank, and used the other to cover his Luberfiner. Joe found inspiration for the silver grab handles mounted on the truck while sitting in a handicapped bathroom stall one day. He looked at the brushed silver handrails that were mounted on the wall around the stall and realized that they would be perfect for his rig. Joe immediately contacted the company that made the rails and bought a few sets.
Joe was a simple guy, and his truck had a simple look. He always kept it, and himself, looking good. Joe was known for always wearing black western attire including black boots, a black hat and a black belt with a big buckle. Joe’s Mack has very little bright chrome – most of the aluminum is not polished or painted silver. The extra-long length of his wheelbase allowed him to begin specializing in odd shaped and sized loads without upgrading his trailer. Unlike most trucks, Joe’s Mack has no engine brake, but that was never a problem for this veteran trucker.
After this third and final rebuild, Joe drove the truck with this configuration until he retired in 1994. Not wanting to sell it, Joe continued to maintain the rig, but as he got older it got harder and harder. This is where Dan Thomas comes in. Dan had met Joe years before at a truck stop in Oregon, and really liked the old H-Model Mack. Growing up in Pennsylvania, Dan’s truck-driving father had one just like it. Twenty years later, with the help of Stan Holtzman, Dan was able to locate Joe and the H-Model Mack. For years, Dan tried to buy the now-retired truck from Joe, but he just wasn’t ready to let it go. In 2002, Dan was finally able to strike a deal with Joe to buy the truck. By then, Joe was 86 years old, and he just couldn’t take care of it anymore.
The day Dan came to get the truck was a sad day for Joe Mustang. It took the two men several hours to review all of the unique features of the H-Model. Joe paid special attention to the maintenance needs of his trusty old friend and instructed Dan about all of them. When it was finally time to leave, Joe decided to ride along with Dan for a while to make sure he could handle the truck before turning him loose. It took Dan some time to get used to the air clutch, but by the time they reached the outskirts of Los Angeles, he was ready to roll. They said their good-byes, and then Joe climbed out of the truck for what could be the last time. As he drove away, Dan saw tears in Joe’s eyes as he watched him pull out onto the highway. It was the end of the road for Joe and his love affair with the old H-Model Mack.
As Dan drove home, he became aware of the amazing craftsmanship and balance that Joe had put into the truck. The power from the deep-throated 1693 was awesome, as it boomed through the weed-burner, and the shifting was so smooth. Driving towards his home in Medford, Oregon, Dan realized how quiet the rattle-free cab was as he silently pondered Joe’s last words, “You got one hell of a deal!” Dan did make one promise to Joe – he promised that he would not change a thing on the truck while Joe was still alive. And after eight years, he has held up that promise (even though the truck really needs to have some work done to it).
Since purchasing the old Mack, Dan has had the pleasure of taking it to several truck shows and out on many pleasure rides. And no matter where he goes, people still call out to Joe on the CB when they see the truck. Joe Mustang and his Mack were well-known and held in high regard by many. Most people say that Joe was a true truck-driving gentleman. But some just remember the truck because, as one man told Dan, “I only saw the truck running down the road and I could never pass it or catch up.” Dan has heard numerous tales from truckers who tried to keep up with Joe or pass him without success.
Dan is no stranger to old Mack trucks. As stated before, his father was a steel hauler in Pennsylvania who had an H-Model just like Joe’s. Dan loved going out on the road with his dad. Later, his father upgraded to a larger G-Model Mack. When Dan was nine years old, his mom and dad got a divorce and then his father moved to Oregon. When Dan was 16, he traveled to Oregon to visit his dad and never went back. He finished high school and then became a painter. Wanting to incorporate trucks into his business, he began looking for larger industrial jobs. He would bid on the largest, dirtiest, furthest away jobs just to have an excuse to go trucking.
Today, Dan is the president of a successful company called F.D. Thomas. Based in Medford, Oregon, the company, which he started in 1979, specializes in industrial coating and painting. He also has a Specialty Construction Division located in Seattle, WA and a Sealant Waterproofing Division in Sacramento, CA. The three divisions do all sorts of specialty work throughout the country for some of the largest corporations in the world. When we went to see Dan at his Medford office, we were surprised at how many trucks – some restored, some not – he had.
Parked in and around a nice metal shop behind his offices we found Dan’s 1953 LT Mack, hooked to a polished 1955 Trailmobile trailer, a 1955 W-Model Mack cabover, a 1937 Mack Jr. pickup, and a 1955 LTH Mack log truck (which he just acquired and is not planning to restore). Other than the log truck, the other three are all rare, pristine trucks that have been restored to their original condition (no modifications) – and all three of them are painted Mack Green. Dan says that there were only 200 of the W-Models made, and that there might be only a dozen of the Mack pickups still in existence today, as they only made them for one year. Behind this large metal building was an even larger bone yard filled with all sorts of rusted relics, but mostly Macks. Dan is currently restoring a 1950 Peterbilt, among other things, and would love to someday update the Mustang Mack a bit to make it more appealing to the younger generation.
We would like to thank a few people for helping us to finally get the photographs of Joe’s legendary Mack. First of all, thanks go out to Dan Thomas for spending an entire day with us as we drove all around Southern Oregon looking for the best locations (while dodging raindrops), and to his friend and helper, retired mechanic Roger Smith, for actually getting the truck to those locations (which included a steel bridge in Days Creek, Oregon, and Green Diamond Sand Products in Riddle, Oregon). We’d also like to thank Lawrence “Spud” Gibbons for helping us to find those locations, and his friend Cody Stafford for escorting us into the green sand plant facility after hours to take our pictures.
Joe Mustang, who is currently 94 years old, spends most of his time with his daughter in Hawaii, and a few other tropical locations he likes to visit. Joe was a Teamster throughout his entire trucking career, so he has a comfortable retirement plan. Yes, it is rare to find a trucker who owned and drove the same truck for over 40 years, but it is getting even harder to find a trucker as real as Joe Mustang – he, like his truck, is a rare breed, indeed. So, the next time you see this silver streak whiz by you on the highway, think of Joe, but wave “hello” to Dan.