Owner of classic W9 specializes in survival: ‘I refuse to lose’

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Updated Jan 13, 2018
Independent John Jaikes of Pennsylvania has won show truck awards with his 1999 Kenworth W900L.Independent John Jaikes of Pennsylvania has won show truck awards with his 1999 Kenworth W900L.

John Jaikes is clearly a hard-working independent and a proud show truck exhibitor. What’s not so obvious is that he’s a survivor — of repeat bouts with cancer and a wreck with a possibly suicidal four-wheeler.

I rode with Jaikes as he passed through Alabama hauling McCormick spices out of Dallas to Cisco Food Service, in Jacksonville, Fla. He runs independently as Precision Transportation, based in Nanticoke, Pa., pulling a 2005 Utility reefer with his 1999 Kenworth W900L. It’s powered by a Caterpillar with a Bully Dog unit that bumps the horsepower to 600.

Jaikes, 49, like other independents, enjoys handling his own schedules and business with “no one telling you what to do,” he says. “When you’re leased to people, you’re basically a glorified company driver.”

As recently as last year, “I used to have six trucks,” he says. Managing a six-truck fleet was complicated enough, and when rates began dropping, it didn’t work financially. “I’m down to two now,” with the one remaining driver running dedicated from Pennsylvania to California, then back to Pennsylvania or New York.

Jaikes was diagnosed with testicular cancer Jan. 24, 2008. Later it was discovered in his lung and breast. All have been treated and are in remission. There are indications that lung cancer could develop again, but he says he’s prepared to battle whatever comes next.

“It’s the strongest fight I’ve had to do,” he says. “You learn to live with it and adapt to it.”

One adaptation is eating healthy and avoiding anything with Vitamin K because of interaction with his medication that would lead to him bleeding to death.

“I refuse to lose. That’s my motto,” he says. “As long as you’re winning, you’re living.”

Jaikes has outlasted cancer battles over more than eight years, but another memorable incident of survival happened in a flash, at 1:10 p.m. July 21, 2013. Driving his Kenworth on two-lane Route 422 in western Pennsylvania, he noticed an oncoming pickup truck moving erratically.

“You do what you are trained to do if something is coming into your lane,” he recalls. “You grip the steering wheel and maintain your lane.”

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The head-on collision heavily damaged the Kenworth. Jaikes suffered serious arm, knee and head injuries. The pickup driver had an arm and leg amputated. The driver claimed to have fallen asleep, but police, Jaikes and witnesses believed it was a suicide attempt.

Jaikes had the Kenworth restored and resumed exhibiting it at show truck competitions, which he’d begun in 2006. He’s received many trophies in his truck’s class and for lights.

Jaikes says “98 percent of the time customers are impressed with the truck.” Others don’t care. “All they worry about is their freight getting there and being on time.”