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Kenworth

Her Younger Days

by Jim Park
Untitled Document

I thought Harold Gray was trying to talk me out of buying his truck, says Jeff Young, the current and likely final owner of this eye-catching 1986 Peterbilt 359. When the two were discussing the deal, Jeff says Harold walked him around and pointed out every little problem with it, like an oil drip here, a bit of peeling paint there.

"What he seemed to have forgotten was the truck had a million-four on it, and had been painted six years earlier," Jeff says. "I couldn't see what he was worried about."

Jeff paid $33,000 for the truck in December 2000, and has run it nearly 400,000 miles since, mostly on heavy haul. Jeff is the third owner. Terry McBride had the truck first, running team to California for four years before Harold bought it to haul potatoes from PEI to Newcastle, N.B. Harold ran it for 10 years before deciding to part with it. It's now got more than 2 million miles on it, and it's still going strong.

This truck is one of those mechanical marvels that just won't quit. It, and all its parts, must have been built on a Tuesday when all the production workers were in good moods - its service record almost defies reason.

The truck has a 3406B four-and-a-quarter Cat that's been in-framed twice and is still running on its second set of injectors. Originally, there was a 15-over mated to the Cat, but Jeff switched that out for an Eaton Fuller 18-speed for the heavy-haul work he does. He tightened up the axle spread from a 60-in. to a 52-in., rebuilding the front diff in the process. He's running 3-7-0 gears on tall rubber, and says he's never driven a better truck.

The Vari-shield on the roof still works, as does the original A/C compressor. The freon was charged, not refilled, for the first time back in '97, and hasn't been touched since. While he has it aligned regularly, Jeff says tires always wear down just as flat and even as the kitchen table. He's had a couple of sets on there since he's owned it, and they've all done really well.

Equally remarkable, the crown gear in the rear differential has never been touched. Jeff says he's going to open the pot up this winter and have a look at it, guessing it's just a matter of time 'til something goes wrong.

"You're doing well to get 800,000 miles out of a rear end," says Jeff. "I'm well beyond good luck now."

Jeff, now 44, has been around trucks since he was 16. He began driving at 19, and has been fixing and tinkering with them all that time. He seems pretty capable with a wrench, but he's not about to call himself a mechanic. He'll wade into most jobs with confidence, including doing his own brake and suspension work - not that he's had to do much of it on this truck. He's even done his own spring hangers, which normally takes a lift and a hydraulic press.

Amazingly, the steering kingpins and the wheel bearings have never been touched. The seals were changed once when Harold had the brakes done, but Jeff hasn't changed a seal since.

Despite having changed the fifth-wheel and the shocks, the truck still has the original starter and the original clutch.

The secret to a long and happy relationship with a truck, Jeff says, is to keep on top of the small stuff, "never let it get away from you."

"I grease it every week, no matter if I've done 1500 miles or 3500. And I change the oil at 10,000 miles without fail," he says. "And I run it hard all the time."

He works more or less independently, but often contracts with Mills Heavy Haul out of Goodwood, N.S. for flat and step-deck work.

"They'll haul anything that'll fit onto a flatdeck, and a lot of stuff that doesn't," says Jeff. And that makes for some interesting assignments.

He recently completed a job hauling parts of a 500-ton crane from Halifax to Murdochville, Que. for a job installing wind turbines. It was oversize and heavy, but the vintage Pete put many of the newer trucks to shame on some of the big grades in eastern Quebec.

Aside from the collector appeal, which isn't lost on Jeff, he makes a pretty good case for running an 18-year-old truck. "It was 14 when I bought it, and it has paid for itself a few times over," he chuckles. "With fuel at 80 cents a litre, and shop time at 90 bucks an hour, I couldn't afford to run a new truck. And when you're sitting on the side of the road with a bad sensor in your new truck, I'll be rolling right on by, pulling as strong as the day she was built."