Art on Wheels

| June 05, 2009

Marcel Pontbriand and his wife Valerie had never been to a major truck beauty show before they rolled their 20-year-old Peterbilt and dry van into Overdrive’s Pride & Polish competition at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.

The couple wasn’t sure what to expect. Theirs was one of some 71 custom rigs that screamed for attention, and many were veteran winners of the show truck scene.

But in the end, it was neither an old-school regular among the circuit nor an upstart rat-rod that captured both Best of Show Working Combo and People’s Choice. It was what Pontbriand calls his “Little Train of happiness,” an eclectic mix of old-school features, wooden sculptures and detailed murals of a style typically not seen on show trucks.

The Canadian from Beloeil, Quebec, has a fleet of 20 rigs in his Owner Operator Systems fleet. But the Midnight Blue Peterbilt 379 pulling a muraled 1992 48-ft. Stoughton van is his baby.

Pontbriand’s Peterbilt is both a rolling diary of his life and his tribute to the trucking/transportation industry that has put bread on his family’s table for 35 years. Now 49, he started driving trucks on Canada’s ice roads at 14, following his father, who also was a truck driver.
Pontbriand spent thousands of hours hand-painting the murals, sculpting the wood carvings, customizing the cab and sleeper, and keeping his rig in top shape.

Each item on his truck has a special meaning, too. For example, the wooden train carving spanning the trailer’s flaps is made from a piece of wood he found while delivering a load in Virginia; the pistols used as the trailer door handles are from Tombstone, Arizona; and the railroad spikes on the trailer’s sides, which he had chromed, were found alongside a spur in California.

“I dreamt of having my own truck since I was a little boy,” says the soft-spoken Canadian. “Trucks are my life and my living. This is my way of honoring both, and it [the customizing] will continue to evolve until I breathe no more.”

Best of Show Working Bobtail went to Homer Schultz III’s 1993 Peterbilt 379 tow truck. No small wonder, as it looked more like the perfect model inside and out than a savior of broken-down highway rigs.

Dale Blevins’ 1942 Autocar, Big Bad John, took Best Limited Mileage Bobtail. It was literally brought back from a rust heap in 2007 and meticulously restored by the Truck Rods gang at Peterbilt of Joplin. Restoration included sliding a 2003 Peterbilt chassis under it, adding a drop-suspension from a car hauler, and hand-fabricating components to replicate unavailable parts to retain the Autocar heritage.

While Blevins’ Autocar catches attention because of its simplicity and old-school styling, Paul Stanchio’s combo car hauler, Hot Wheels, turns heads with its flames and brilliant orange paint scheme. The Peterbilt and Cottrell Car Carrier, both 2009 models, took Best Limited Mileage Combo.

Pride & Polish handed out a new tribute, the Take Pride In Your Ride award. It was created in memory of Jacob R. Eilen, a young owner-operator and avid truck beauty show competitor who died late last year. The plaque was presented to Todd and Beth Roccopriore of Portland, Conn., whose close friend, Charlie Shefcyk, died just three days before the show.

Shefcyk was the driving force behind the build of Chopped 93, the couple’s immaculate Peterbilt 379 extended hood and 2009 Mac dump trailer. Todd Roccopriore says Shefcyk’s last words were a request to promise him they’d make the Louisville Pride & Polish. That request was honored in grand fashion when the entry won a half-dozen awards.

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