by Jim Park
What do you get when you cross a real fondness for sharp looking trucks, a little time on your hands, and a partner who understands show-truck syndrome? Jeff Fortune's smart-looking 1997 Peterbilt, that's what.
Jeff has been steadily adding to the appeal of his truck over the past three years, and swears he's not finished with it yet. He's had his share of setbacks along the way, but when we caught up to him at this year's Performance With Pride event in Brandon, Man., he and the truck were in fine form.
At 28, Jeff has been running over the road since 1994. He cut his trucking teeth on the farm some years earlier, then spent some time in the oil patch. After slightly more than a year on the road, he ponied up the dough and became an owner-operator. That was six-and-a-half years ago. He's still going strong, and now has a string of show victories to his credit. He's really a pretty modest guy, who readily admits that he just gets a thrill out of driving a nice looking truck.
"It's a real rush when a bunch of people pile out of a tour bus just to take pictures of the truck," says the Strathclair, Man., resident. "And of course I always stop and let the tourists take their pictures and ask their questions."
Before he got all that black-polish residue under his fingernails, he would have been the first one to call the truck show buffs a bit nuts for going to all that trouble just for a trophy, but he's there now, too. And in a big way. Most of the fun, he says, is prepping the truck prior to a show.
"Let's face it, " he offers, "you get some pretty strange looks from the other drivers if they see you lettering your tires in a truckstop. And it's worse when they see you applying the Armour-All to the rubber. But when everyone else is doing it a few hours before the judges come around, it's all part of the drill."
On the outside of the truck, he has just applied a fresh coat of coarse metallic-silver Imron, trimmed up with a darkish shade of red that really sets the silver off neatly. All the metal, including the frame, the seat frames and just about everything else visible to the judges is trimmed in red. He's got plans for the engine, including swapping out some of the green parts for some polished chrome and red trim, but that's on the back burner.
Jeff has wrapped both fuel tanks in stainless steel, and the step boxes too. There's a stainless-steel deck plate running from the back of the cab to the end of the frame. He's switched out the standard Pete grille, and replaced it with a 359-style grille. He's running a set of 8-in. stovepipe exhaust stacks, and he's got the obligatory single, round 8-in. headlights, plus the dropped visor and the train whistle as well.
There's 12 ft of red neon strip lighting under the cab and sleeper, and even more inside. His electrician father, Murray, gets most of the credit for the electrical work on the truck.
Inside, you'll find a polished hardwood floor, lots of hardwood trim on the dash, and in the sleeper as well. And as far as the driving environment goes, it's got to be a great place to be on those starry prairie nights. The red neon gives the cab a beautiful glow, while the Pioneer 12-pack CD changer, Orion amplifier, and two 12-in. sub-woofers keep the tuneage happening at a very satisfying volume.
"All this just for a few truck show trophies?" we asked. "Darned right," was all he said.
Jeff's crew includes his father plus Florence, his father's friend, and the future Mrs. Fortune, Shawna. The pair is to be married next August, and Jeff assured us that she's as big a fan of the truck show thing as he is.
"Getting ready for a show is a real load of work," he says. "But having a crew like this sure makes it a lot of fun."
And now for the rest of the story...
Mere hours after leaving Brandon in June, following his victory at Performance With Pride, he clipped two deer within 20 minutes of each other, out on the Minnesota prairie. Believe it or not, he has nailed 16 of the varmints in the past three years. Then he dropped a valve out of the engine, which obligingly split into pieces and took the oil pan apart, covering the truck with oil. He flipped the wrecked engine out, replacing it with a 500-hp Series 60 that he calls his Hot Rod Detroit.
Providing the deer stay out of his way for a while, and the future Mrs. Fortune doesn't mind, we can look forward to seeing Jeff and his ride at lots more shows in the future.