Greg Murray had been a truck driver for more than 40 years and had a fondness for iconic, square-hood Peterbilts. Founder and operator of two-truck Murray Trucking, based in Hillrose, Colorado, Greg flew with his son, Cody, to Las Vegas about four years ago to pick up a 1974 Peterbilt 359 with plans to plans to fix it up and get it back on the road.
Legally blind, Cody runs the shop and serves as mechanic for his family's company, and he looked forward to the project that awaited him and his dad.
"We took it down The Strip in Vegas," Cody recalled. "That was pretty fun. Rattled the Jakes right down The Strip."
The trip down Sin City's main drag would prove to be one of the truck's highlights on the trip home as it suffered two mechanical failures -- one in Arizona and another in New Mexico -- that saw the Pete dragged back to Colorado on a hook. Yet despite the rough trip home, and the unexpected nearly 400 mile ride on a wrecker, Cody said the plan was always to get the truck back to road-ready. It was too cool not to.
"They had a lot of really cool things on it. The passenger step was a wet kit ... a custom wet kit tank built in the passenger step. It had that extra-wide headache rack. It had all the bells and whistles for a '74; had the air-conditioning on the roof; had power steering; just everything you could have ordered when they bought that truck, they ordered it all. My dad really loved that."
The Murrays worked on the truck off and on for a couple years but when Greg was diagnosed with liver cancer this February "his diagnosis changed our plans," Cody recalled. "Once he got the news, he'd seen somebody else's pontoon Peterbilt boat and he was like, 'That's what we need to do.' We had this old pontoon boat sitting around for, I don't know, five or six years -- probably longer than the truck -- and we always wanted to do something. We talked about building like a party barge with a bar going down the middle and stuff. We just never got around to it."
Time wasn't on the Murrays' side. The doctors' prognosis for Greg was grim; just a couple months.
"We kicked it into high gear and started stripping the truck down and selling parts off it to fund the boat," Cody said, noting the 359 took a considerable power downgrade; its 400 Big Cam Cummins sold and replaced with a 1982 75-horse Johnson outboard. "That cab doesn't weigh nearly as much as what people think it does."
Greg would help work on the boat when his was physically able but there was no shortage of people willing to pitch in, including Greg's wife of 35 years, Dedra, and a huge network of family, friends, associates and neighbors. Cody even drafted his two sons, "Smoosh," 10, and "Rooster," 7, to keep the father/son project on track.
"We put our whole heart and soul into it for him," Cody said.
Greg passed away on Memorial Day at the age of 59, never having gotten to christen his 24-foot, 10 person Pete'toon. Cody plans on launching the USS PT 359 on its maiden voyage June 24 for Greg's memorial.
It wouldn't be an old Pete without some customization
The previous owners may have loaded down that nearly 50-year-old Pete with options, but now that it was destined for the water the Murrays knew it needed some personal touches.
"We got a bunch of stickers made for it. One says 'In loving memory' for him and some other stickers: 10-4, Breaker 1-9... old CB lingo and stuff," Cody said. "A plan we've got; we're going to take old weed burners and put them in the stack -- like a kit where you could push a button at nighttime or something. Push a button and shoot flames out of the stacks. The coolest thing about it is that it's a truck and it's a boat. There's so many options; so much we could do to it."
A set of train horns are discreetly mounted beneath the fenders.
"You've got to be able to blow the horns on an old Peterbilt," Cody said.
There's already plans to add a propane grill (a propane tank fits perfectly inside the air breathers, Cody said) and to customize the hood so it slides forward for storage.
The pod lights, a distinct feature on classic Petes, Cody said, are being repurposed into port and starboard navigation lights.
The Peterbilt 359 is one of those iconic trucks that, when you see it rolling down the highway, you know what it is. That's a feeling boaters on the Prewitt Reservoir in Colorado will soon have to get used to.