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hot-rodded shortie version of a Peterbilt

Indicators Point to Customized Big Rig Growth

John Gunnell has been writing about classic cars since 1972. He is also the owner of Gunner’s Great Garage in Manawa, Wis. He owns 11 cars and seven motorcycles.

*See images in the photo gallery below

Customized big rigs are really catching on all over the country. From accessorizing a Freightliner with bolt-on chrome bits to making a hot-rodded shortie version of a Peterbilt, shops that are equipped to work on and dress up semi tractors are cashing in profits from this growing trend.

Today, Homer’s Towing & Service of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has outgrown its humble beginnings at a Spur gas station in the 1960s. Homer Schultz still does towing of course, but his shop can alter the wheelbase of a tractor and totally customize its interior.

Homer’s very successful new chrome shop can supply dozens of bright, shiny items to accent the beauty of a truck cab. The company recently used its new Hot Rod Wrecker rig to showcase the capabilities of the chrome shop while at a recent truck show in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Hot Rod Wrecker is a  quick-swap model decked out as a show truck. It was on the cover of 10-4 magazine years ago when it was first put together.

“It took us 4-1/2 years to build,” Homer Schultz Jr. said. “We cut the frame on it about once a year to decide whether we wanted it longer or shorter. We pushed it in and out of the shop. We covered it with a tarp. We finally put it together for the Louisville show.”

Homer Towing & Service’s drive into new market niches is supported by its staff of 25 to 30 employees, including mechanics and truck wash operators. The company is one of many serving the custom big rigs consumer base and generating profits.

“We have found over the years that a lot of people who are successful in our business don’t rely totally on towing,” Schultz Jr. said. “So we have had to change and grow the business in a different directions about every eight years.”

The last few World of Wheels shows in Milwaukee have allocated the entire rear section of the exhibit hall to customized big rigs. Two years ago there was an entire row of tricked out semis parked front-to-rear across the back of the building. Last year, the custom truck display grew to two solid rows, there were probably 40 big rigs.

In June, the American Truck Historical Society (www.aths.org) convention filled the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines with over 1,350 trucks—most of them big rigs. In addition to classic combinations from the 1930s up, the show attracted a number of hot rod-themed semi tractors that had the short wheelbase look and were lowered to the ground. Naturally, the exteriors and interiors were dressed up with all types of custom accessories from LEF lighting to chrome stacks to murals and other graphics.

Working on big rigs will require a physically large shop, and probably a few big sockets and other tools. Otherwise, bolting a part to a semi is much like bolting one to a sports car. As one owner of a customized big rig tow truck once said, “It’s not a truck to me, it’s my Corvette. And what I mean by that is that I built this truck to drive around in on Sunday afternoons, to take to car shows and to roll into the burger stand and get lots of looks. I built it to have fun!”