Keeping It Real

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A man can be known for the things he does and does not do.  Descriptions of what a man is like can be said, but what is most important, is how he made someone feel.  This is the story of Eric Gibbons, owner of EMH Transportation out of South Salt Lake, UT – a man who is inspiring, motivating, and a leader who learned by following that strives consistently at keeping it real.

Eric grew up as the up and coming third generation of truckers in his family.  His grandfather, who passed away when Eric was six months old, drove a six-wheel flatbed hauling block for Buehner Block.  Since he was little, he knew, without a doubt, he would get into trucking.  There were five times he tried to quit trucking, but it is his calling, so he hasn’t looked back since.  His first time behind the wheel of a truck was when he was eight years old and drove a cabover from the front of a customer’s yard to the back in Los Angeles.  Eric’s dad, Leland “Hoss” Gibbons, was always teaching Eric, and Eric would ride with him whenever he had the chance.

When Eric was 14, he was riding with his dad and they pulled into Summit, UT to get fuel.  At the time, his dad was pulling doubles (two 48-foot dry vans) with a 1982 Peterbilt with a 400 Cummins and a 13-speed.  It was around 2:00 AM, and when they finished fueling, his dad walked to the passenger side and said he needed a nap, so it was up to Eric to finish the last 90 miles or so of the trip to their delivery location in Richfield, UT.  At one point during the trip, Eric hit the rumble strips, and his dad popped his head up briefly and said, “Get your a** back on the road kid,” then went back to sleep.

Fortunate to not only have been taught by his father, Eric was also taught by his uncle Ed “Bummer” Gibbons, as well.  When Eric was around 16 years old, he went on a trip in Ed’s 1988 Peterbilt fitted with a 425 CAT, twin sticks, engine brake, and a retarder.  They got to the top of Mountain Pass and Ed told Eric he was going to drive down without using the Jake or retarder.  This was an educational moment, as his uncle wanted him to learn the way he and Eric’s father did.  He learned, and they came to the bottom doing about 65 mph.

Around 1994, Eric started working in a warehouse for a furniture company and in 1995 he obtained his CDL to start driving for them.  In 1996, he left that company to start working for his dad, hauling furniture to Los Angeles.  In 1996, Eric’s Uncle Ed ordered a brand-new black cherry Peterbilt 379 for $92,000 and the truck came in as a 1997 model.  His uncle started hauling refrigerated commodities from Utah to Maine, then for a short bit pulled a step deck, and ended up hauling liquid asphalt with the truck.  The liquid asphalt is what Ed hauled from then on throughout his trucking years.  This was one of his uncle’s trucks that Eric was able to go with his uncle on a trip when it was nearly new and had the opportunity to drive it.

A couple years into driving for his dad, in 1998, Eric’s dad Hoss purchased a 1995 Peterbilt 379 from his Uncle Ed and gave it to Eric, along with a checkbook for an account with a balance of $5,000.  Hoss told Eric that he was either going to make it or he would fail.  Eric said he owes everything to his dad for the opportunity he gave him to get started on his own.

EMH wasn’t always EMH.  The company was founded as BMH Transportation when Eric got his authority in 2001.  Through a divorce, the company was put on hold for about a year and the authority was re-established as EMH (Eric, Makenzie, Hunt’r) Transportation LLC in 2005.

Around 2010, Hoss had started driving for Eric and ended up retiring in 2018, but that only lasted about five months.  Hoss wanted to come back to work but wanted a truck with a Signature 600 Cummins in it.  So, Eric hunted down a truck with that engine and purchased a 2000 Kenworth W900 in December of 2018.  The truck was originally owned by Lucas Oil Racing and pulled one of their NASCAR trailers for a few years.  They ran the truck up until March of 2019 then shut it down for eight months to get a restoration completed.  Hoss didn’t get to see any of the process of this restoration until Eric presented the truck to him on December 15, 2019, for his 75th birthday.  The truck was painted to match two of Hoss’ loves – his green 1958 Chevy Bel Air and a 1999 Ford which was two-tone tan and burnt orange.  Eric had stolen the ashtray from the Bel Air so they could match the paint properly.  Today, Hoss is a full-time fill-in guy without any dedicated runs because he’ll head out to wherever Eric needs him to go.

In 2019, Eric lost his uncle Ed and there was an estate sale following his passing.  Eric knew there was one thing he for sure wanted from that estate sale and in December of 2019, he came home with that previously mentioned black cherry 1997 Peterbilt 379.

This Peterbilt 379 began a transformation in February of 2020 and the outcome of that transformation was nothing short of amazing.  The restoration was completed in September of 2020.  The truck you see now is a 1997 model with a Caterpillar 1LW modified to a 1MM, an 18-speed, 3.25 gear ratio, and a 309-inch wheelbase.  The colors are Radiant Fire Effect, Canyon Blue Effect, and Bright Silver Effect, all brought together with a modified 80s factory stripe pattern known as a “swoosh” scheme.  This scheme had been a favorite of Eric’s since he was a kid, and it was usually found on flattop trucks but rarely ones with a stand-up sleeper.  So, when I mentioned “modified” before, it was to accommodate the stand-up sleeper.

The truck has been completely reskinned to repair all the fiberglass.  D&A Truck Equipment and Trailer Repair out of Salt Lake City stretched the frame from the original 265-inch wheelbase to 309-inches.  It has doubled frame rails, and a lift axle was added.  The rear fenders are from I-29 Chrome Shop in Iowa, the visor is from 12 Ga. Customs, the bumper is from Valley Chrome, and the 7-inch Vendetta stacks are from 4 State Trucks.  4 State also installed a Pete 359 dash, made the steps, tank fairings, fuel tank straps, and deck plate with storage.  The truck originally had a 63-inch stand-up sleeper, but a flat roof was put on the cab and then they modified the sleeper to fit.  The paint work was done by Jared, Marco, Brad and Nick from KWS’s body shop.  Roadsknz provided the air cleaner and fuel tank wraps, along with the duck hood ornament.

The interior has digital gauges and Eric installed a Kolay rubber floor himself to match his dash.  Sound Warehouse out of Salt Lake City is responsible for the stereo.  The interior is completely sound deadening.  Justin and Chris from Strom’s Custom Repair built the motor, transmission, rear-ends, and installed the air ride.  Ken from Kenteck Upholstery out of West Jordan worked with Eric to match the upholstery with the interior.  The two men came up with gray ostrich skin and Ken took care of it, adding diamond tuck with red stitching.

Today, the truck can be found pulling either a 2018 Fontaine Revolution with a Verduyn (Gary, IN) Eagle tarp system or a 2016 Wilson 53-foot spread-axle livestock trailer.  The truck wouldn’t have come together as it did without the help of Jason at Vriens Truck Parts in Salt Lake City helping to locate the hard-to-find parts, as well as Travis Ott from Jackson Peterbilt Group.  Ty at Rockstar Auto Detailing is responsible for the washing and prepping of the truck for truck shows and other events.  Mike and Oswaldo at the Salt Lake Truck Wash always washes the truck and does all the polishing.  With all the individuals and companies who’ve had a hand in making his truck what it is today, the project would not have gone the way it did without the help of those close to Eric, including his nephew Preston Dye, Kelly Savage, and Eric’s dad.  Along with those listed before, a big shoutout goes to the entire crew at EMH Transportation for everyone doing their jobs so Eric had the time to make this truck restoration a reality.

Growing up in similar situations, Eric and Preston got close because Preston is a lot like Eric, so they just naturally gravitated towards each other.  Preston was always on the road with his grandpa when he was little and even dressed up as a truck driver for Halloween one year.  Preston came on board full time with EMH in June of 2020, and currently runs a 2022 Peterbilt 389 hauling cattle with one of Mascaro’s livestock trailers.

EMH Transportation LLC currently runs mostly the 11 western states and, occasionally, all 48 states.  The company has six office personnel, three warehouse employees, 18 company drivers, and five owner operators.  EMH runs conestogas, livestock trailers, flatbeds, van trailers, and refrigerated trailers.  They haul a lot of hazmat and recycled materials, as well as fireworks, steel, building materials, livestock, food commodities, and nursery stock.  Eric said the future plans for the company included expanding the number of owner operators and growing to a company fleet of 25 trucks.  He said there never was a plan to get into warehousing, but the quick and efficient customer service this provides made it an easy decision.  The company brings in products from other areas and their warehouse is a distribution hub to give their customers same day or next day service.  Time and money management has the company doing their own miscellaneous repairs in-house, but they outsource the major work to KWS, Jackson Peterbilt Group, and Strom’s Custom Repair, all of which are located in Salt Lake City, UT.

I spoke with Eric regarding what advice he would give to someone looking to buy their own truck and start their own company.  He said first and foremost, don’t give up on you.  You must have a strong will because this industry can and will be tough.  Eric also said to put every dime back into your company for at least the first two years.  One must be smart with their money, maintain a budget, and keep money in the bank for repairs.  Having that money set aside is the difference between success and failure.

For most involved in the trucking industry there are people they look up to who have inspired, motivated, taught, and mentored, and this is no different for Eric.  Without hesitation, when I asked him who the most inspiring and/or motivating people in the industry were to him, he said his father and Jeff England.  Jeff England of Pride Transport out of Salt Lake City, UT is very humble and down-to-earth.  Eric remembered the first time he met Jeff when he was around thirteen years old at the truck show in Las Vegas.  Jeff has always remembered Eric from that day on, which proved to Eric the kind of quality man and business owner Jeff is.  The other man, Eric’s father, simply stated, is the one who believed in Eric and provided him with an opportunity that set him on a course for the rest of his life.

Everyone who drives has trucking memories, whether they are good or bad.  Eric has a couple fond memories that came to mind when I had asked him.  The first was in December of 2019 when he took his oldest grandson Knoxx with him to go trucking for the first time.  Knoxx was almost 5 years old, and they were hauling cattle from Delta, UT to Texas.  The two were accompanied by Bret Nailer and his son Liam.  Eric said Knoxx had a blast, but Eric did too!  Another memory was when he and his buddy Bryan were coming across I-80 in Wyoming heading from Nebraska to Utah.  The two hadn’t seen each other in over a year and they were in some crappy winter driving conditions together.  For some, they were doing excessive speeds for the conditions, but for seasoned drivers, it wasn’t excessive.  They both took the left lane and were yelled at over the CB radio by the uncomfortable drivers in the right lane, who were being extra cautious, and didn’t like that they were getting passed.

I am grateful to have met Eric and witness not only for myself, but through the eyes of others, what a quality man he is.  The inspiration, motivation, and support he provides evokes emotion of appreciation.  I thought it would be nice to reach out to a few people to get their descriptions of the man in this article.

I spoke with Sunne Wallace, coordinator of The Great Salt Lake Truck Show, and asked if she could give me her thoughts.  Sunne said Eric’s excitement, especially bringing his truck to the 2021 show, was contagious.  She said he is such an unassuming guy and the support he has not only brought to the show but has given to the show has been amazing.  She spoke about last year definitely being Eric’s year at the show with the win of Competitor’s Choice, which included $3,000.  Without hesitation, Eric handed it right back to be donated to the Kidney Kamp.  Sunne also mentioned that Eric is such a good guy and reminds her of her dad, Jeff England, because he is quiet, humble, hard-working, loves trucks, and has the same level of pride for his trucks.

Des Perkins, Jr. is an owner operator for EMH Transportation who I met last year while photographing EMH trucks for the company’s 2022 calendar.  As an owner operator, I wanted to hear his thoughts on what it was like working with Eric.  Des said there isn’t another person him or his father (Des Perkins, Sr) would drive for but Eric or themselves.  He recalled, when his dad was driving for Eric, that Eric had a 1999 Kenworth W900 custom built with a CAT C16 for his dad for the service he provided.  That same truck, which has been repainted since then, was purchased by Des’s dad, who is now an owner operator for EMH also.  Eric also helped Des take a note out for his truck, a 2014 Peterbilt 389 with a CAT 3406E, which he is making his last payment on this month.  Eric doesn’t rule with an iron fist but empowers his people to do good and work hard.  Des said, “Eric is a successful person who breeds successful people,” and he wouldn’t have had the same opportunities without Eric.

Last, but certainly not least, I spoke with Eric’s wife Valerie (Val).  I believe it is important to hear her thoughts since she is not only married to Eric, but is directly involved with the company, as well.  Val gave heartfelt and truthful statements that encompass what makes up Eric.  She said, “When he makes decisions, he does so with an outward mindset taking into close consideration the impact those decisions will have on everyone involved.  He’s not afraid to jump in and do what it takes to get the job done, and he wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything he himself hasn’t already done or wouldn’t do.”  She explained that “no” is not in his vocabulary, as he lives his life as a positive and can-do type of man.  Not only is Eric a devoted, caring, and enthusiastic husband, but boss and business owner, as well.

The opportunities and successes Eric has had have been extended to employees so that they could start their own business and become owner operators with EMH.  Another statement by Val about Eric was that the phrase “Buddy” flows freely with the people he interacts with, and it takes on more meaning to him than just a name to call someone.  “He feels blessed to have the people he has in his life and never ceases to make new connections every day.  The continuous cycle of care and love he offers so freely is felt and known by all around him.  There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do that’s asked of him,” said Val.  Lastly, Val told me, “I know in my heart the love that Eric and I have for one another, our families, our employees, and our customers is what makes EMH the great place it is today.”

Today, 47-year-old Eric is not only a father of two, Makenzie (28) and Hunt’r (23), but he is also a grandfather to his daughter’s four kids.  He was a grandfather to three boys, but he welcomed his first granddaughter in February.  Eric and Val, who were married on May 28, 2011, reside in Holladay, UT along with their fur babies, their two dogs, Zip and Aspen.  Val runs the over-the-road dispatch and compliance while Eric remains a Jack of all trades, so-to-speak, dubbed “the filler guy” that does whatever needs to be done.  When not trucking, Eric enjoys spending time with his grandchildren, relaxing at the cabin he and Val own in Wyoming, and spending time outdoors whenever possible.

Special thanks from Eric to his wife Val to start with.  It isn’t easy being a wife to someone in the trucking industry with the lack of “us” time, but she is 100% all in.  She has done an excellent job facilitating what needs to get done and continues to make their time together special.  She is very important to Eric and life would not be the same without her, along with the love and support she gives.  Thanks to Bryan Prescott, one of his longtime friends and trucking buddies.  To his Uncle Ed, father, and Uncle Joe Gibbons for not only having integrity but ingraining the virtue into Eric through action and philosophy of the trait since birth.  He was taught to have integrity with himself and to everyone he meets.  When you give your word, it is the only God-given thing you can genuinely offer from your heart and soul.  That being said, it is like the old-fashioned phrase, “My word is my bond.”

I first met Eric briefly at the 2019 Great Salt Lake Truck Show, but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2021 when the pictured 379 caught my attention on Facebook, prompting me to ask my famous question, “Whose truck is that?”  From there, I realized that I had met Eric before.  I managed to get a hold of him, and we had a conversation about his trucking history and the history of the truck.  There was never a doubt in my mind that he deserved to have an article written about him.  We scheduled the right time to photograph the truck and photos of the truck were taken in surrounding areas of Salt Lake City, including around Provo Canyon.  Weather couldn’t have been better, and I was very happy with the outcome of the photos.

Thank you to Eric and Val for your time, your kindness, and most importantly, your friendship.  People can say they are “keeping it real” but it is through actions and being genuine that someone is able to carry out those words.  According to Eric, these words, backed by integrity, live within EMH Transportation, and in each member of the company.  As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.

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