Tex Mex: Combinations sizzle in Texas sun

| May 10, 2002

The searing San Antonio sun was just setting behind Buzz and Carol Sweeden’s 2001 Kenworth W900L and matching tanker trailer. The combination vehicle was parked on a low water bridge, standing in a few inches of water. The truck looked like it was floating on the water.

It was the perfect setting for a calendar shot, and photographers were buzzing around ready to capture the rig for the 2002 Rotella SuperRigs Calendar. That’s when the truck began to head down the river.

The Sweedens, who were in San Antonio with more than 60 other truckers competing in the Shell Rotella SuperRigs Truck Beauty Show and for 13 coveted spots in the calendar, climbed back in the cab and pulled the big rig out of the river. Buzz Sweeden scraped enough slippery algae off the low water bridge to safely put the truck back in the river, giving Shell’s photographers a calendar-quality shot, and the Sweedens a moment of fame – all in the quest to be a pinup.

Every year, truckers with working show trucks flock to Shell’s Rotella SuperRigs competition for the $10,000 in prizes and the chance to get in the calendar. Not all calendar trucks place in the competition, and not all winners make it into the calendar. The contest, sponsored by Shell Rotella T heavy-duty multigrade motor oil, has three classes: tractor, tractor/trailer combination and classic. The top trucks receive cash and prizes, and are judged on exterior appearance, design, detail and workmanship.

But the buzz the week leading up to the show is always about the calendar.

That’s what drew trucker Curtis Christians and his friend, Ty Glauser. Although the two had to frantically wash hundreds of miles of dirt, bugs and road off their 2000 Peterbilt 379, the sleek black and red Pete made the calendar. Photographers and a pack of assistants shot photos of the truck at San Antonio’s Amtrak station. Christians’ chrome-covered reefer was angled gracefully in front the mission-style building, and the early morning Texas light underscored its orange flames and retro styling.

For Christians, an owner-operator from Rock Port, Mo., it was his second show. The truck is leased to Bar Tran Co. and is used to haul popcorn and produce. Christians, whose father is leased to the same company, says he has wanted a show-quality truck ever since he began driving at 18. For the past few years, he’s bought and stockpiled fenders and custom parts. “I’ve been packing away parts for a year and a half,” he says. “I’d buy a little bit here and there. I had a lot of help along the way.”

The competition is a favorite among many truckers because only working trucks that operate in interstate or intrastate commerce are eligible. The trucks are expected to have mileage levels consistent with their age. Christians’ Pete, for example, has 320,000 miles on it. It also placed fifth in the tractor-trailer division. Combinations dominated the mid-May competition.

First place overall for the competition went to Vladimir Bilik Jr., who drives a black 2001 Peterbilt 379 with orange highlights. Billik, who was also photographed for the calendar, says in addition to more than 168,000 miles, he’s added a lot of small chrome details since he bought the truck in July of 2000.

“I love coming to these competitions just to meet the other truckers,” he says. “Everyone here competes for different reasons, but we all have a lot in common.”

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