Middle Of Nowhere

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When you think of Nebraska, you probably think of cornfields, farms, small-town USA and a seemingly never-ending stretch of I-80 (and you’d be mostly right).  However, sprinkled throughout this Midwest state are plenty of large rides that call Nebraska home and, with their shops typically located on the outskirts of towns, you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when there.  That’s exactly how it looked when I arrived at the shop of Koliha Trucking LLC to meet up with co-owner Dave Koliha to photograph his hard-working Peterbilt 389.

Koliha Trucking falls into a Clarkson, NE mailing address, but what you see from their shop is rolling hills and farmland as far as the eye can see.  The trucking company got a later start than most because the family, for the most part, was always about crop farming.  Dave (32) and his brother Bryan (36) are third generation crop farmers following their grandfather and father.  The trucking company was started by Dave’s father Dan in 1981.

Thinking that farming was what Dave was going to do, things changed when his brother Bryan started trucking full time in 2004 after a one-year attempt at going to school to be a mechanic.  Bryan had the bug and knew he was wasting his time with school when he wanted to be behind the wheel.  I guess you could say that Dave followed suit, although his mom said he was going to school first to get a degree in something he could fall back on, if necessary.  Dave didn’t want to, but in the end, his mom prevailed, so he went to auto body school.

Always having Fridays off, as soon as school ended on Thursdays, Dave had a load waiting for him to haul.  In 2009, at age 20, Dave came on board trucking full time and, as one might say, the rest is history.  However, the auto body schooling wasn’t a total loss because many times over Dave has been able to apply the skills he learned to work on their trucks.  The trucking company became an “LLC” in 2012 when Bryan and Dave bought into the operation.

The featured truck is a 2018 Peterbilt 389 that has come a long way since it was originally ordered as a glider from the Denton factory.  The colors were to be silver with the turquoise frame, and Dave was invited to the factory to witness the build.  Before going down to the factory, Dave contacted Jim Higgins of 12 Ga. Customs to have him draw up a stripe design.  Jim, of course, didn’t disappoint, and nailed the design on the first attempt – Dave fell in love with it right off the bat.  But the stripe design against the silver of the cab just didn’t look right, so Jim put the mock-up against a Slate gray truck and Dave loved it even more.  So, just two weeks shy of the build date and going down to the factory in January 2017 to watch it, Dave changed the base color to Slate gray.

Heading down to the factory for the cool experience of seeing his truck built, Dave was disappointed to see when they brought the cab down it was an Ultra cab for a standup, when it should have been a Unibilt for a flat top.  The truck order was rejected and then reordered and, after finally being built on April 7, 2017 (without Dave there), it was shipped out to Nebraska.  Both the engine and transmission installation, along with the stripes, were done by Ben Pavelka Trucking out of Hastings, NE.  Dave took delivery of the truck and hit the road for the first time with it on July 4, 2017.

2017 was definitely a memorable year for Dave and his now wife, Mersadi (Sadi).  Dave said it was a really cool experience to go to the Denton facility to see the first truck being built, even though it didn’t go quite as planned.  Once Dave was finally on the road with the truck, he had the opportunity to meet someone out in Colorado and that chance encounter secured an invitation to the invite-only Denton Truck Show in Denton, TX in October 2017.  For Dave, this was not only a time of Peterbilt fun, meeting new people and seeing new trucks, but Dave also took a knee and proposed to Sadi at this event.  Fast forward a year later and, on September 15, 2018, the two were married at The Barn event center in Clarkson, NE.

The finished truck and what you see today boasts a CAT 6NZ, an 18-speed transmission, 3.25 rears, and a 280” wheelbase.  But that’s not all!  Plenty of custom items have been added to this truck giving it a classy, custom look, without being gaudy.  12 Ga. Customs had plenty to do with this truck including the visor, lift bumper, cab and sleeper panels, fuel tank straps, air tank straps, strapless breathers, taillight panel, and much more.  The fenders are by Shift Products, lights and accessories from Graybill Chrome out of Rockport, MO, 8-inch Dynaflex stacks, boxes and pedals covered by Roadsknz, and ceiling and door paint by Tuffy at Tuffy’s Custom Woods out of Denton, NE.  Front hub oilers and OBD covers are from Lifetime Nut Covers, and most of the interior chrome is from Rockwood Products and United Pacific.  The vinyl-wrapped dash panels were done by Dave, along with all the rest of the “pretties” that were added to the rig.

Today, the company runs a total of 14 trucks along with a few owner operators.  The trucks mostly haul cattle feed in dry vans and auger trailers, along with assisting in the crop farming of their 1,600 acres, when needed, with hopper bottoms.  The trucks also run livestock trailers to haul cattle or feeder calves.  The normal trucking area for Koliha Trucking is all over Nebraska, as well as the surrounding states.  In the winter, you will find the trucks hauling a lot of seed corn.  Dave mostly pulls a 2020 CEI Pacer auger trailer, hauling protein carrier pelleted cattle feed.

Dan, Dave and Bryan work to capacity in the company, with Dan (60) farming full-time and trucking when that is slow.  Bryan drives full time and, at the same time, is the operations manager, dispatching trucks throughout the day.  Dave drives full time and wrenches and works on outside trucks, doing a little bit of painting, installing accessories and lights.  Dave said he basically adds “all the pretties” to trucks.

Residing in Howells, NE, Dave and Sadi have their fur babies (dogs and cats), and Dave isn’t the only one who works hard, as Sadi works full time as the assistant manager at the local Buckle store, which sells designer jeans and fashion clothing.  New news as of around five months ago, Dave and Sadi are expecting their first child in June, and it was found out in February they will be welcoming a little girl to the family.

I asked Dave on what advice he would give someone who was looking to build their own truck and he said (in a more colorful phrase than this), “Don’t cut corners!”  He added, “It is a time-consuming and pricey adventure, but doing everything up front and at the same time is the way to go, otherwise it is just an on-going process that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.”  Then again, most people who custom build or restore a truck always have ideas of changes they want to make to it, so a truck is always evolving.  Dave is completely satisfied with his, and will just keep everything looking great, as usual.  Dave also mentioned if someone is looking to start their own trucking company, to make sure you get a good foot in the door, with a good company, and have dedicated work.

Special thanks from Dave to Ben Pavelka, Jim Higgins from 12 Ga. Customs, Steve from Roadsknz, Sherry Volker from Graybill Chrome, and Nicky from Lifetime Nut Covers for all the final touches to help make this truck look like it does.  Also, thanks to Bryan, Dan and Sadi for their support, help, and understanding during the entire build process.  Most importantly, as a whole, Dave wanted to thank all the great drivers they have, because without them and their working hard mentalities, the company wouldn’t be where it is today.

I saw Dave’s truck for the first time in 2017, but only in pictures.  There was something classy about the truck, and I had always hoped to get the chance to see it in person and to get some photos.  Fast forward to May of last year, it was suggested that someone needs to photograph the truck, so I happily took on the task of contacting Dave to see what we could work out.  We originally had it scheduled for late summer, but cancellations of shows, etc. last year changed that up a bit.  I decided to pack a lot of driving into about nine days in the beginning of October (2020), which included Georgia to Wisconsin, down to Oklahoma, up to Kansas, then to Koliha Trucking in eastern Nebraska.

It was a whirlwind of a week, with fingers crossed, that weather would be good for the shoot.  That Saturday morning, when I started photographing, it was a little gloomy, but the clouds broke, and it turned out to be a beautiful day.  I photographed the truck at four different locations by itself, and then we ended the day back at the shop, out in the cornfield, to get a fleet shot.  It was a cool sight to see the entire fleet lined up in that cornfield!  We planned for the trucks to be in a straight line, but somehow a natural arc occurred, which looked even better than we had envisioned, so we went for it.

All was going well until Dave mentioned that it wasn’t very windy (you should never say things like that).  We all laughed at around 3:30 PM when it got so windy, with dust being kicked up everywhere, that photographing the truck’s interior outside was not possible, so we headed inside the shop to finish.  With the wind came a much cooler temperature, and Sunday morning, when I woke up to get ready to leave, there was snow on the ground.  Those who know me know I am not a fan of snow and, to top it off, I forgot to repack my ice scraper since moving down to Georgia (where I never need it anymore).

Thank you to the property owners for allowing us to photograph the truck at The Barn event center in Clarkson, NE.  This dark brown barn with a green metal roof looks modern, but there is a little bit of history behind it.  The barn was originally built in 1917 and then relocated to Clarkson, NE in 2013 where it was rebuilt from the ground up to be what it is today.  I always love seeing old barns restored or salvaged.  This venue took about two years to complete and has some original remains of the old barn inside.  Most know I love to photograph a truck by a barn, but this one was even more special, because it was the setting for Dave and Sadi’s wedding just two years prior to my visit.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have met Dave and Sadi, as well as everyone else at the company, and appreciate the chance I had to photograph the truck.  It is truly a pleasure to write articles about people who are humble and proudly work hard for everything they have.  It is an honor by all involved to have photographed this truck, and we are all very proud to see her earn a spot as the April 2021 cover feature.

Koliha Trucking isn’t really in the middle of nowhere by way of a map, but when driving down the gravel road leading to their shop, one can easily forget how far the closest town is.  I loved the chance to see a part of Nebraska I had never seen and, truthfully, this is my favorite part of the state, so far.  As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.

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