Alchemy on wheels
An owner-operator unleashes his creative powers by transforming his truck’s brand and building a brokerage business from scratch.
Jerry Jones remembers as a child watching big trucks haul loads on his grandparents’ farm and thinking that one day he would be the guy behind the wheel. “I rode in trucks with my dad,” says Jones, an El Dorado Springs, Mo., resident. “Every chance I got, well, I’d be driving the truck.”
At 16, Jones began driving hay trucks and gravel trucks around his grandparents’ farm and other local spreads. “Back then you grew up doing it,” Jones says. “There were no schools for trucking.” By age 17, Jones was driving a tractor-trailer for a grain elevator company. He hauled grain to places no more than 100 miles away.
“When I was younger, I cared more about driving a bigger truck than earning a bigger paycheck,” Jones says.
He loves trucks so much so that he’s kept every one he’s bought. “I have five trucks, but only run one,” he says of his 2003 Peterbilt 379 with a 550-hp Caterpillar. However, his 1973 Kenworth was his first truck, and he still favors that brand. “You kind of like what you grow up with.”
His preference is so strong that Jones remodeled his Peterbilt after the 1980 Kenworth W900 Limited Edition Gold Nugget that he owns. By ordering his Peterbilt with certain spec’s, such as a solid chestnut paint scheme and extended hood, Jones made the transformation easier.
Soon he took what he refers to as Petey to the Joplin Peterbilt Body shop to match the paint scheme with that of the Gold Nugget’s. Jones then took the Peterbilt to Truck Interiors of Seatac, Wash., to add the Kenworth button-tuck upholstery.
With a onetime stab at the beauty show circuit, he entered his Gold Nugget replica, a $25,000 project, in the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2003 and won 2nd place for interior cab only and 3rd place for bobtail new truck.
Jones’s trucking career took off as a 21-year-old, soon after he returned from Korea, where he served as a military driver.
He worked for Hofer Inc., in his hometown of El Dorado Springs, hauling feed, fertilizer and grain. At 23 and eager to run his own business, Jones bought the new 1973 Kenworth and leased to Hofer for a year. He pulled a hopper bottom grain trailer for the company but had bigger plans.
“I always had a dream in my eye for the big reefer trucks,” Jones says of the then new 1975 reefer trailer he bought one year later. “I looked for my niche, something the mainstream wasn’t doing, and then I specialized in it.”
He advises other truck drivers to do the same. “Establish good contacts and relationships as you go down the road,” Jones adds.
For 35 years Jones has used that formula pulling reefers. In recent years, he has hauled frozen meat to the Mexican border and returned with produce, having changed from coast-to-coast hauls to regional ones a few years ago.
While his passion for driving has remained the same, he continues to run the Jones Truck Brokers brokerage he started in 1999. The business mirrors his regional hauls, taking frozen meat to the border and returning with produce. Excluding profits from his brokerage, Jones’ driving earned him a $100,000 net income last year. His wife, Eleanor Jones, runs their business office.
Cory Stuefen, manager of Joplin Peterbilt Body Shop, says that “Jerry is very thorough and old-school and that’s what I like. I don’t think you can find a more honest person around.”
Jim LeFaive, Cherry Growers Logistics manager and one of Jones’ customers, calls him a “hard worker, dedicated to his job. He’s on time every time.”
A longtime love of tinkering has helped Jones save money. Ten years ago he came up with the idea for a device that cools the truck cab from the reefer unit, even with the truck turned off at night for eight to 10 hours.
When diesel spiked at $4.70 a gallon in 2008, he put his plan into action with the help of mechanic Mike Hoffman.
“On trips back and forth to South Texas Valley, I save 50 gallons a week and that’s on short trips,” Jones says of the device he calls the Gizmo.
While inventing is a hobby, driving is Jones’ “cup of tea,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed the thrill of what’s over the next hill.”
Sept. 15, 1950: Born in Nevada, Mo.
1967: Drove first tractor-trailer
1970: Drafted into U.S. Army and served in Korea
1973: Bought first truck, a 1973 Kenworth, and leased to Hofer Inc.
1975: Bought first reefer trailer
1989: Became company driver for Consolidated Freightways
1989: Married Eleanor Kennon
1993: Awarded five-year safety award from Consolidated Freightways
1994: Returned to reefer hauling
1999: Started brokerage business
2009: Created “Gizmo” device to help cool truck cab
HIS 1989 HARLEY-DAVIDSON Springer Softtail powered Jones and his wife, Eleanor, to the Grand Canyon one summer, over bumpy cattle guards and through an Indian reservation. “We rode it all over Kansas City, Mo.,” Eleanor says. Their trips included one that went on old Route 66.
JONES’ 2003 PETERBILT 379, which he modified to look like a 1980 Kenworth Gold Nugget, made it into the 2004 Shell Rotella SuperRigs calendar. The truck was photographed at an old mill in Magnolia, Ohio, at daylight.
WATCH Jerry Jones at OverdriveOnline.com
DO YOU KNOW an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Lucinda Coulter, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail email@example.com. n.