Kevin Cimmiyotti's 1966 Peterbilt 281, the winner of Overdrive's Pride & Polish Antique category this year, claims a vibrant and historic piece of trucking's story, and possibly even inspired the first factory-made two-tone Petes ever off the line at the Oakland factory.
Cimmiyotti, the rig's second owner, lovingly restored and updated the 281, mostly over thirteen weekends driving an hour and back from his friend's shop in southern California.
"On about the ninth weekend, my wife said, 'Are you sure you don't have a girlfriend over there?'" he said.
And the reply: "Yes, she's big and red."
Not only has Cimmiyotti kept up the Pete's physical operation and appearance, he's also acutely aware of the half-century-plus in the rear view. To talk to him is to get an oral history of how Peterbilt became the beloved brand it is today, long before the 359, 379, and 389 were even a twinkle in trucking's eye.
"There's kind of a cool history with it," he said. "The owner, after he bought it, was pulling bottom dumps for Bay Area construction companies in the late 1960s, early 70s."
At that time, the truckers leased trailers from construction companies. That original owner, Vic Landrum, sought to buy his own trailer and improve his take on the hauls, but he quickly got "blackballed" by the construction companies.
So Landrum did what any capable driver with a capable truck might do. He took his talents and equipment elsewhere, specifically three hours north to move lumber in Redding, California. There, with a two-tone orange and white paint scheme and a flat lumber trailer in tow, Landrum might have unknowingly become something of a trendsetter.
"He had that two-tone orange color scheme on it, and guys kept walking into the Peterbilt dealer saying they want the two-tone paint like Vic Landrum," said Cimmiyotti. "Well, Vic tells me one day two guys from Peterbilt corporate HQ came to visit him and took a whole bunch of pictures. And that's how Peterbilt came about putting a two-tone paint job on at the factory."
Cimmiyotti is no stranger to trucking's tall tales -- he well knows some Peterbilt historians might dispute the story -- but he said he still trusts the 281's former owner. The current owner shows the truck at the American Trucking Historical Society's shows, too, so he's got plenty of chances to get that fact-checked.
As far as the truck itself goes, it came with two axles from the factory and was officially retired in 2004 when Landrum put it up for sale. Today, it has a Cummins Big Cam 1 engine, a 15 speed against-the-dash trans, 23160 rear-ended with tag axle sitting on a '97 Pete air leaf.
Contemporary-ish touches don't stop there -- it's got power steering, air-conditioning, tilt wheel, Bluetooth radio and a refurbished, repainted 1992 110-inch Double Eagle sleeper.
That spacious bunk features running water, a cassette toilet, microwave and PowerTech 8,000 kW generator.
"It took me 13 Saturdays to stretch the frame to 276 inches," he said. "It rides better than my pickup. I have had the truck 19 years and it’s been a labor of love."
That love, most of all, is felt when Cimmiyotti closes the door and turns the key. "That's my happy place, that's my relaxation," he said.
He said that some antique truck owners suffer from "original-itis," or the nonstop desire to re-create, perfectly to the detail, period-correct equipment.
But Cimmiyotti actually drives this thing to about six shows a year, and values his comfort more than a time-capsule effect.
"The cab is very small and the windows are tinted dark. That's my world," he said. "I had to take the armrest off the passenger seat and get it as tight against the door as I could to make room to walk between the seats and get into the sleeper," he said. "I built this thing for comfort. It's totally insulated and comfortable in the cab."
Though the truck rides better than a four-wheeler, Cimmiyotti only takes it to shows. Now retired from trucking, he works in truck parts sales for International.
Outside, when Cimmiyotti looks at the award-winning rig, he's brought back to another happy place, this one in his memory.
"Where I grew up in Southern Minnesota, my grandma lived right down the street from the Hormel factory," he said. "When I was young, we'd go to grandma's every Sunday for dinner -- that's just what you did back then."
That ride filled him with excitement, not just because he got to play with his cousins at grandma's house, but "I couldn't wait to drive by Hormel packing and see who is backed into the dock. There was always a narrow nose Peterbilt backed in on Sunday. I always wondered where he was headed."
Now, when Cimmiyotti sees a narrow-nose Pete, he knows exactly where it's going and what it's doing, even if his wife sometimes questions it.