Love the smell of hay in the morning? Scenes from the A.J. Soza Memorial Truck Show

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Updated Jun 27, 2022
California doubles hay hauler's rolling into a parking lot
The second-annual A.J. Soza Memorial Truck Show kicked off in California this morning with a light first-day schedule -- the show is dedicated to the memory of small fleet owner C.G. Soza's son and a benefit for a dyslexia-focused foundation that bears his name.

The A.J. Soza Memorial Truck Show's second edition got under way today, Friday, June 24, at the fairgrounds in Merced, California. The Central Valley location stood in high relief at the early point in the day shown above, when these hay-hauling doubles rolled in with a livestock hauler between them. 

Principal show founder C.G. Soza, owner of the small car-haul fleet that bears his name and shown directing the operator to a spot in the rows of rigs lining up to show through Sunday this weekend, recalled his childhood growing up in the region. "That certain smell about the Central Valley in the morning here in California, it always brings me back to my childhood days," he said, growing up surrounded by agriculture. "It's sort of a hay smell," much like the one we were basking in by Soza's own 2016 Kenworth W9 on the lot as the rigs crept by this morning. 

Soza's custom KW, hooked here to the 2020 Cottrell car-haul trailer he's paired with it, painted to match.Soza's custom KW, hooked here to the 2020 Cottrell car-haul trailer he's paired with it, painted to match.

Day 1 for the show is primarily for the participants to get parked up -- a driver's dinner at 5 pm is followed by, when darkness falls, lights for whoever wants to participate. Saturday the judging starts and activities really heat up.Day 1 for the show is primarily for the participants to get parked up -- a driver's dinner at 5 pm is followed by, when darkness falls, lights for whoever wants to participate. Saturday the judging starts and activities really heat up.

It's hard to take a picture of a smell, no doubt, but there's plenty more I can give you today based on just several hours at the show so far. I'm here through Saturday. (There will be a lot more to come in the following weeks, no doubt, so stay tuned.) 

Owner-operator Erik Vaillette, based north of of the area in Redding and leased to small fleet owner Steve Wilbur's Commodity Transport small fleet pulling a flatbed, was among the first I caught a glimpse of on the way in, staged outside the main lot for detail work. 

Erik Vaillette's recently built 2022 custom W900 gets detailed by Amaro's wash and detailVaillette's recently built 2022 custom W900 was getting a full detail job from Amaros Wash and Detail, based in the area and on hand and available to owner-operators coming into the event.

Vaillette named the rig after his sadly recently passed grandmother, Gwendolyn, known for her signature red high heels. Among family members of his, she was always the one with the most keen interest in just 'how that Kenworth is coming along,' as he noted. The build was conducted with an array of partners, among them 12ga. Customs for bright parts and more and JDT out of Central Point, Oregon. Regular readers may remember JDT as Overdrive's inaugural Small Fleet Champ in 2020.Vaillette named the rig after his sadly recently passed grandmother, Gwendolyn, known for her signature red high heels. Among family members of his, she was always the one with the most keen interest in just "how that Kenworth is coming along," as he noted. The build was conducted with an array of partners, among them 12ga. Customs for bright parts and more and JDT out of Central Point, Oregon. Regular readers may remember JDT as Overdrive's inaugural Small Fleet Champ in 2020.

Truck-show royalty were on hand with not just two famous tractors on display. Ray and Suzanne Rodriguez of Salinas-based Lil Ray's Transport brought along three antique custom cars in their collection, a pair of Impalas (Suzanne's 1959 convertible you see on the right here, and a 1964 that belongs to their son) as well as Ray's 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline.Truck-show royalty were on hand with not just two famous tractors on display. Ray and Suzanne Rodriguez of Salinas-based Lil Ray's Transport brought along three antique custom cars in their collection, a pair of Impalas (Suzanne's 1959 convertible you see on the right here, and a 1964 that belongs to their son) as well as Ray's 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline.

Lil Ray's Transport's underworld-themed Wicked 2015 Peterbilt 389The Fleetline and the 1959 convertible Impala sit on the Western 48-foot step deck that's part of the "Wicked" 2015 389/step deck combo pair, which longtime regular readers will remember for its National Championship in Overdrive's then series of Pride & Polish events.

The 1964 impala sits on a spread-axle 53-foot Fontaine flatbed that's part of the custom combo Hardway, powered by a 1988 Peterbilt 379 (for sale, Rodriguez said).The 1964 impala sits on a spread-axle 53-foot Fontaine flatbed that's part of the custom combo Hardway, powered by a 1988 Peterbilt 379 (for sale, Rodriguez said).

The 1988 is powered a fully mechanical Caterpillar engine, reserved for show these days.The 1988 is powered a fully mechanical Caterpillar engine, reserved for show these days.

If you make it out to the show, look for me and say hi. Otherwise, here's hoping it's a great weekend, whether at home or on the road. 

Oh, a-and one more thing. 

Despite all that the state of California has thrown at trucking over the years, the truck-show scene is strong. Vaillette recently wrapped up his Frenchy's Truck Jamboree with collaborators in Red Bluff -- with nearly 300 entries -- late last month. And the Rodriguez family is likewise promoting the show on the flyer in the picture below, put on by the car club they're members of. This year, for the first time, it will feature custom Class 8s as well.

In 2019, the last time the event was held -- COVID intervened -- there were 700 cars that participated. You can bet three years on participation will be high, kicking off late next month. 

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