Entering third decade in business, De-Elegant Model Truck Fleet goes the extra mile in perfecting rig replicas
In summer 2007 at the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, Iowa small fleet owner Mike Aschenbrenner met Chicago-based Kuenn McClinton, who spent an hour and a half photographing the interiors and exteriors of the Aschenbrenner fleet’s flagship 1997 custom Peterbilt 379, ARI big bunk and step deck. But the photographer wasn’t just any magazine shooter or garden-variety custom truck enthusiast. In 2006, his De-Elegant Model Truck Fleet company (de-elegantmodeltrucks.com) celebrated two decades in business building incredibly accurate, to-scale models of big rigs for their proud owners.
What started as “a hobby,” McClinton says, De-Elegant’s founder, is now a family business that got its start in part via the pages of Truckers News’ sister magazine Overdrive.
McClinton was born in Chicago but spent most of his childhood in rural Alabama, where he gained an uncommon interest in the culture and equipment of long-haul owner-operators. Back in Chicago in the early 1980s, he went to engineering school and afterward became a city cop for a short period, in the process taking advantage of his time on the highway to build a budding association with vanguard big-bunk sleeper manufacturer Double Eagle Industries in Shipshewana, Ind.
Since the early 1970s, when he was still in Roanoke, Ala., McClinton had “pestered,” by his estimation, Double Eagle founder Ray Miller for pictures of trucks and sleepers from which he would work. “Mr. Miller was very gracious,” McClinton says, though at that time Miller “had no idea who this little kid from Alabama was.”
Miller remembers many phone calls from McClinton and describes him as a young man uncommonly curious about the specifics of certain Double Eagle customers’ rigs – and their jobs, too. “I remember so well asking myself, ‘I wonder if this young man’s curiosity is shared by his dad, or how else would it be that the young man would be allowed to get on the phone for such frequent and lengthy conversations with me?'” Miller says. “After all, it would seem someone would have to be getting concerned when they see his phone bill.”
The intrigue continued as Miller and company began to hear stories from their customers about being pulled over by a young Chicago police officer on the highways into and out of the city. “The customer would begin by telling me how they were so upset and maybe wondering why in the heck they were even being pulled over in the first place,” Miller says, “only to have this young cop simply ask them if he could see the inside of their truck and sleeper.”
Miller would later learn, of course, that this young officer and the young man on the phone were one and the same.
By the early 1980s McClinton had also been on the phone with Overdrive founder Mike Parkhurst a few times asking if he’d consider featuring his work before an editor there told him, “‘If I send you a picture of a truck and you build it, I’ll put it in the magazine’,” McClinton says. The editor made good on his promise, and after the model (of a semifamous ’70s Southern Pride Peterbilt 359 with a 60-inch Double Eagle sleeper) was done, the magazine attracted the attention of Miller, to whom McClinton made a gift of several prototypes.
“Frankly,” Miller says, “if I had anything to do with helping this young man develop his direction and character, later meeting and getting to know him as I now do has certainly been my reward. I simply could not thank Kuenn enough for [his models], as I will cherish them always.”
McClinton was Double Eagle’s guest at the 1986 Mid-America Trucking Show, and in subsequent years he’s participated in the show with his own booth, a growing customer base and ever-growing pride in his custom-model work.
The rest, as they say, is history. In 2006, De-Elegant celebrated two decades in business.
CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE?
Compare the level of detail in the De-Elegant model (right) and the real Mike Aschenbrenner Peterbilt 379. At the 2008 Mid-America Trucking Show, Iowa small fleet owner Aschenbrenner picked up the $2,600 model of his company’s flagship show truck, and this year at Mid-America it no doubt helped him walk away with third place in Interior, Custom Aftermarket Sleeper, in the Pride & Polish competition. The model was part of his combo display.
In the De-Elegant process, builders make a master piece, then build an epoxy mold off of that, into which they pour liquid polyurethane plastic to build the base. “On average,” says company founder Kuenn McClinton, “a tractor-trailer combination will start at $2,000” and, depending on the level of detail in the interior, “can go up to as much as $10,000.” De-Elegant will do scaled-back versions of their scaled replicas and exterior-only versions as well, for lesser cost.
In what will be De-Elegant’s “biggest project” yet, McClinton says, they’re in the build-out phase on a 1/8-scale Kenworth W900L with Studio sleeper that will measure almost 10 feet in length for a private collector’s museum.
FRENCHMAN’S DREAM – by Lucinda Coulter
Hobbyist Christian Chapson, of Vierzon, France, became smitten with American trucks as a 12-year-old when his brother bought him a book that featured various 1960s models. Nearly 32 years later, he has made 125 models of Peterbilts, Internationals, Macks and many others on a 1/24 scale, a ratio that hobbyists say demands precision.
The wide plate, chrome steel bumper and chrome grilles of American trucks, Chapson says, “give the trucks a threatening, aggressive” look, one so powerful that it makes “me want to fall to the ground.” Chapson says that the nearly 6-month process of building a truck helps him relax from his daily work making safety harnesses. For many years, he has traced pictures from trucking magazines that specialize in old models. He designs patterns from plastic, cuts aluminum pieces on a lathe, and uses only pre-built pieces from kits for interior pieces, such as steering wheels, and tires. More than a respite from daily work, Chapson’s avocation is fueled by a collectors’ passion: While he builds and sells European models, the American truck replicas go onto shelves in his house. He’s building a cabinet to display the big rigs properly – in his dining room, he says.
See his trucks and admirers’ comments at myspace.com/417191125.