Priceless Rides

| April 07, 2005

Shelly Brinker polishes the Brinkers’ 2000 Freightliner before a show.

What’s it take to create a winning show truck?

“Time and money,” Shelly Brinker says as she rubs polish on the muraled, pearlized fender of her 2000 Freightliner Classic XL. “And more money.”

Brinker and her husband, Bob, an owner-operator who logs 130,000 miles a year over the road, are preparing their rig for a truck beauty show with hopes of taking home a trophy and maybe a little cash for their efforts. Even if they win, the prize money won’t make a dent in the $30,000 the couple has invested customizing their truck.

“The chrome, the inside stuff, the fenders, the stainless bumpers – it all adds up,” Bob says. “I drove for 20 years before I did anything like this. We waited for our kids to be grown, so we didn’t have to deprive them of anything.”

The Brinkers are part of an elite group of owner-operators and small trucking company owners who spend time and money lavishly on their trucks. Each year, hundreds of truck owners enter shows across the country, compete for trophies, calendar shots, money and the adoration of children and fellow truckers. They buy chrome and stainless steel in bulk, polish their wheels weekly and even turn the heads of four-wheelers. They spend their vacations working on asphalt parking lots and their extra dollars on chicken lights, infinity mirrors, LEDs and cleaning solutions.

For many owners who are trying to eke a living out of trucking, seeing all that chrome sparkling on the highway makes them wonder, “Is it all worth it?” Show truckers sure think so.

Harvey and Karen Zander say the money they’ve spent during the last 10 months adding murals, chrome and interior accoutrements to their new International Eagle would buy a really nice sports utility vehicle.

“Some people might say it’s a waste of money,” Harvey says. “But it’s an image thing. We’re proud of what we do, and our truck says that. We don’t have a boat. We don’t have a cabin. Our vacations are usually spent in the truck. We’ve got no kids at home. So we take our money and throw it into something we love.”

Says Karen, “If you were looking at it purely as a business, you’d buy stock trucks rigged solely for fuel efficiency.”

For California trucker and heavy-equipment operator Bill Pierce, building a show truck fulfilled a lifelong dream. “I’ve always wanted to have a truck I could work and show at the same time,” Pierce says. “I had an idea of what I wanted to build and what it should look like.”

Pierce rebuilt a 1986 Peterbilt daycab he found five years ago and took it to a body shop to be repainted and rechromed. “Then I began showing it,” Pierce says. He figures he’s got at least a thousand hours invested in it, which includes time spent taking it apart and rebuilding it and the 20 hours a week he spends polishing, waxing and maintaining it.

Time is one thing, but Pierce has also spent nearly $30,000 for paint, chrome and stainless. Still, he says, all that time and money has paid off. Pierce’s truck was the May pinup in the Shell Rotella SuperRigs 20th Anniversary Calendar for 2003. He also took first place in the Classic Division at the SuperRigs beauty show last summer. Those accolades say a lot for a truck that runs off road every day, hauling a backhoe through mud, gravel and dirt.

“Oh, yeah, it’s worth it,” Pierce says. “The shows are awesome. The people you meet are awesome

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