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‘Farming’ their trucks out

By Staff | Jun 19, 2009

EMPLOYEE BLAIR UNDERWOOD drills holes in a truck cab preparing to apply a "plug" after the cab's sleeper unit was removed.

As the number of acres farmers are managing has grown over the past two decades, so has the logistics of moving more grain to storage or markets during harvest.

Over the past decades, few active farms get by without a semi tractor and trailer for moving high volumes of grain to ethanol plants, elevators or storage on their own farms.

Tom Bilstad, of Somers, was in a similar situation in 2001. He looked around outside Iowa for a quality truck cab to purchase, but wasn’t satisfied with what he was finding.

“I knew the body man at Decker (Trucking, of Fort Dodge),” Bilstad said, “and he told us about what they were doing. They were just getting started.”

He eventually purchased one of Decker Trucking’s converted cabs that year Lakewood Truck Sales. The cab has been in regular service hauling grain and water. In 2006, when he sold an older truck, Bilstad went back to Lakewood Truck Sales to get another.

The facility's paint shop can perform a virtually endless variety of custom paint designs for those who purchase the truck cabs.

“They (Decker) have all of the records of the trucks since they were new,” Bilstad said. “They are in top condition when they come out of there.”

Lakewood Truck Sales, in Fort Dodge, is a subsidiary of Decker Trucking. Since early 2000, Lakewood has overhauled over 100 units from Decker Trucking’s decommissioned fleet, converting these units into day cabs, primarily for farm-related uses, whether hauling grain, livestock or equipment.

Basically, explained Malaki Bulton, fleet equipment director for Decker Trucking, the tractors’ 52-inch sleepers are removed, and a corresponding 52 inches are cut out of the truck’s wheel base so that the unit can maneuver better around a farmyard.

“Most of these units are four to five years old,” Bulton said, “and have about 500,000 miles.”The engines have reached only half of their life,” he said, adding that complete maintenance records are available for each unit.

Bulton said that prospective customers have a variety of truck cabs to choose from including makes, models and transmissions.

Joe Fell, Decker Trucking's senior vice president, looks over the lot of cabs that either have been converted or are waiting their turn.

“What makes us unique,” said Joe Fell, Decker Trucking’s senior vice president, “is that most trucking companies have (maintenance and repair) shops. But we have a dedicated body shop.”

That gives Lakewood Truck Sales and Decker Trucking the flexibility to start with the core day cab, then customize painting and decals and designs according to the tastes and needs of the customer.

“There’s no limit to what they can do,” Fell said of the body shop crew.

Ag producer Bilstad said that “when we first saw the truck (in 2001) it was just off the road and we weren’t very impressed. After two months, they called us back in and they really made a nice truck out of it.”

According to Bulton, the turn-around time has been drastically reduced since those early days. He said that if a farmer orders a converted day cab that is not in the company’s inventory, the core vehicle would be ready in a week. It will then be ready for customizing, which could take upward to two more weeks.

Fell said the quality of Decker Trucking’s tractor cabs is preserved because the company stresses safety for all vehicles it sends out onto the open road.

“It pays off,” Fell said. “We are a profitable company in one of the worst economies we’ve seen because we pay attention to preventative maintenance.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453; or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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