Who Else Has One?

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Not very many owner operators out there have a laid-out, stretched-out, slammed-down, show-worthy aerodynamic Kenworth T680 with a completely custom interior and upside-down stacks.  But that is exactly what Tom Fedie (AKA Big T) of Eau Claire, WI owns and drives every day.  Leased to his friends at K&D Transport out of Spring Valley, WI, Tom (57) has always kind of been a “black sheep” in his biological family, but he now feels like he found a family and a home at K&D where he can be himself – and where he intends (and hopes) to stay for a long time.

Recently, while in the shop one day with Adam Johnson of K&D, the two were shaking their heads about some of the more “pricey” items they have had built for their trucks.  Adam said, “I can’t believe how much I spent on that one little part,” and Tom replied, “Yea, but who else has one?”  It eventually became a running joke in the shop, and after some time, Tom realized the saying applied to his truck, too.  So, he had the phrase added to the back of his headache rack.  Since then, it has become one of the monikers he lives by, along with “U Can’t Take It With You” which is on the back of his visor.

Born in Rochester, MN, Tom and his family moved to Durand, WI shortly after Tom was born.  The oldest of six kids, Tom has four sisters and a younger brother.  Growing up, Tom’s dad Dan taught him about working on lawn mowers and snowmobiles and such, and his mom was an excellent cook – for the most part.  She cooked everything great, except for hamburgers and hash browns (they called the hamburgers “dry black disks” and the hash browns “hash blacks”).  Sadly, Tom’s mother Marla passed away from cancer in 1996.  A few years later, his dad got remarried to a woman named Sue, who is still Tom’s stepmother today.

Along with working in the family business, Tom’s dad bought a 117-acre hobby farm in the 1970s in a beautiful area just outside Durand, WI that overlooked the Chippewa River.  Over the years, he subdivided the parcel into residential lots to sell and even built a few spec homes.  One of Tom’s first jobs as a kid was to mow the vacant lots that were for sale in their subdivision.  This was a side hustle for Tom’s dad, as he was also heavy involved in the family business – Bauer Built Tire & Service.  Being from the west, I had never heard of this company before, but upon further discussions with Tom and doing a little research, I realized they have a strong presence in the upper Midwest.

Founded as an oil delivery service in 1944 in Durand, WI, Bauer Built has steadily developed into a top provider of commercial, fleet, and retail tires and mechanical services.  Serving their local communities for more than 75 years and still following the mission and values of their founder, G.F. “Sam” Bauer (Tom’s grandfather on his mother’s side), Bauer Built currently employs more than 600 people across nine Midwest and Great Plain states in 35 tire and service centers, a wholesale division, six Michelin retread plants, and two rim and wheel reconditioning plants.

After 32 years leading the growth of the business, Sam Bauer sold most of his interest in Bauer Built to his sons and sons-in-law in 1976.  Tom’s dad was part of this overall corporate succession.  Sam retired from full-time duty in 1980 and passed away 14 years later, after 50 years of service and dedication.  Today, under second- and third-generation leadership, the company has continued to expand through the acquisition of additional tire centers and retread facilities across the Midwest, and currently operates locations spread out between South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, and Illinois.

Back in those days, Tom’s dad was in charge of the retread shop, and everyone there knew little Tommy.  He loved walking through the plant and saying hello to everyone.  Once he got old enough, Tom went to work in the family business, working in one of the tire centers.  After high school, Tom went through a 2-year technical college program for management, then came back and began working in the garage, helping to maintain the fleet.  Eventually, with help from his uncle Butch, Tom started driving, delivering oil and gas to farms, then graduated to a big rig pulling a tanker, delivering fuel to stations and farms that bought in bulk.  Tom credits longtime Bauer Built driver Merle Hermundson with teaching him how to drive a truck.

Continuing to drive a truck, Tom began delivering tires to their Midwest locations and picking up loads from various manufacturers.  At that time, he drove a 1983 International 9670, then later switched to a 1988 International conventional (one of their first sloped-hood aero offerings).  In the late 1980s, Tom was given the opportunity to manage two of their oil changing locations, and he took it.  He also got married in 1988 and went on to have three kids (all grown now) – Josh (39), Stefanie (34), and Henry (29).  Unfortunately, they divorced in 2000.

In 1998, Tom decided to leave the family business.  He was burned out doing what he was doing, and to advance in the company he would have needed to move to a big city, which was something he wasn’t willing to do.  Going to work for a technology company, Tom also did some part time work with his father, who had purchased a run-down marina on Lake Pepin in Wisconsin.  His dad invested a lot of time and money at this marina, fixing it up and updating it, and Tom helped him whenever he could.

In 2000, Tom got a new job at Andersen Windows in Menomonie, WI and stayed there for ten years, working his way into management, until he was let go in 2010 (mostly due to the ongoing recession happening in the country at that time).  Still helping his dad at the marina, Tom decided to buy a CAT-powered 2005 KW T2000 and began hauling cattle for a friend.  This truck was burgundy in color and had a giant “cow catcher” on the front of it.  Hauling animals from two sale barns in Wisconsin (Barron and Altoona) to a packing plant in Milwaukee, Tom did this run five days a week, and also did some direct hauling from farms to meat packing plants in Green Bay on the weekends.

Meeting Adam Johnson at some motorcycle charity events, he and Tom struck up a friendship.  Adam, whose parents are Karen and Dwight Johnson, the owners of K&D Transport, had been bugging Tom to come and work with them at K&D for quite some time.  After hauling cattle for four years, the packing house in Milwaukee closed in 2014.  So, needing more steady work, Tom took a job at K&D, which is based in Spring Valley, WI.  Still running his Kenworth T2000, Tom leased a trailer from another driver, Roger Wiff, for just over one year, then decided to buy his own, purchasing a new 2015 aluminum Wilson flatbed, which he still pulls today.

In 2016, Tom bought a 2003 Peterbilt 379.  Painted a maroon color, the truck had a 309-inch wheelbase and was powered with a 600 ISX Cummins, hooked to a 13-speed, and 3.55 rears.  After adding cream stripes and a drom platform on the back (for hauling specialized loads), Tom put the Peterbilt to work at K&D, pulling his Wilson flatbed.  Running Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, with an occasional trip to Michigan or Ohio, Tom hauls building materials and steel coils for K&D Transport.

Driving that 2003 Peterbilt until ordering the 2020 Kenworth T680 seen on these pages here and on the cover and centerfold this month, Big T spec’d it out in late 2018 and then took delivery in February of 2019.  Ordered in Bright Silver with a 288-inch wheelbase and a Viper red chassis, the truck is powered by a 565-hp X15 Cummins, hooked to a 13-speed, and 3.08 rears.  Tom requested that the truck not be delivered until April of 2019, but when it came in early in February, they made him take it.  He also had ordered it with a back window, which Kenworth later claimed couldn’t be done, so Tom’s relationship with this KW was rocky at the start.  Thankfully, with help from Adam and his new shop, Johnson Hill Customs, it got better.

After taking delivery of the Kenworth, some customizing was done by Johnson Hill Customs, like adding the back window, fabricating and then installing a custom platform topped with polished diamond plate and making custom steps so Tom could get up on that platform.  A slew of other accessories were added at this time including side boxes, a visor, and a headache rack, but most of these items were later replaced and upgraded with better stuff.  In the beginning, Tom also added black vinyl stripes with Viper red outlines, which it still has.  In preparation for the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY in March of 2022, the truck was completely gone through and improved, getting it to that next level of cool and custom, where it is today.

There were a few things they did in the beginning that were not changed later – the air ride on the front and the exhaust, to name a few.  The Hovde air ride on the front is made by a guy in northern Minnesota and was then installed by the crew at Johnson Hill Customs.  Although the rig has a factory weed-burner exhaust system underneath, Tom wanted dummy pipes up the sides, so he installed a set of 7-inch Lincoln Chrome stacks with bull-hauler turnouts, then mounted them upside-down, creating unique elbows at the bottom with the turned-out ends.  It was such an ingenious idea, he even stumped the guys at Lincoln, who saw the truck and asked, “Whose pipes and elbows are these?”

Shutting the truck down for a few weeks in early 2022, Tom went to work on the truck, prepping it for the MATS show in March.  All the side boxes, the headache rack, and rear bumper were replaced with new products from Brunner Fabrication, the visor was swapped out with a new one from 12 Ga. Customs, painted Shift single hump rear fenders were mounted, and tons of clear glass watermelon LEDs were added, including three on the deck plate under the fifth wheel.  Most of these lights are underneath the truck or hidden, and all of them feature a unique spiderweb pattern in the glass.  Johnson Hill Customs also made custom polished aluminum steps for the sides, fitted with step plates from Roadsknz, and then frenched-in all the air and electrical connections at the back of the frame.

The biggest thing Tom wanted to get done before the MATS show was the truck’s interior.  And boy did he go big!  Turning to Zack Anibas of Wissota Collision and Customs in Cadott, WI for help, all of the textured plastic interior pieces were sanded smooth and painted red.  This was a huge job.  Then, Ezra Graumann of EAG Custom Upholstery & Embroidery in Medford, WI did an amazing job of covering the low back seats, with “Big T” embroidered in them, along with the door panels, walls in the sleeper, and the ceiling pieces, all in black leather with red stitching in a smooth diamond pattern.  Johnson Hill Customs made and painted an aluminum floor in the cab, and a custom short shifter from SH Tube was installed, topped with a custom KW knob from Lee Forney at Old School Customs.

As mentioned previously, the back of the visor has a vinyl graphic that says “U Can’t Take It With You” that also features drawings of gold bars and rolls of cash.  All of the overhead lights inside were replaced with glass watermelon lights that can be switched from white to red.  The stereo features (8) 6.5-inch round Rockford Fosgate speakers, plus (2) 4×6 speakers, (2) 12-inch sub-woofers hidden under the bed, (2) Rockford Fosgate amps, and a Pioneer in-dash head unit with a large touch screen.  Tom likes all kinds of music, so you never know what tunes he might be cranking.  He even likes to listen to old crooners like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, because they remind him of driving with his grandpa in his Cadillac when he was a kid.

With three full time mechanics, Johnson Hill Customs, which was originally started just to work on K&D trucks and their owner operator’s rigs, now does work for other customers and is open to the public.  The business has really taken off, and if Tom and Adam’s cool trucks are any indication of what they can do, you might want to consider having them customize your truck, too.  As you can see, Tom’s truck is top notch, and Adam has a bunch of really nice stuff, too.  Johnson Hill Customs is also a distributor for Brunner Fabrication, RoadWorks, PDI, Hogebuilt, Lincoln Chrome, and SH Tube, and now offer full lines of all these products for both sale and installation.  A future project for Tom’s truck is painting his engine silver with black accents.

Working 5-6 days a week, typically doing 2 or 3 turnarounds, Saturday is Big Ts time to relax and unwind.  He enjoys hanging out with friends, having a few cold beverages, and riding Harleys.  He has owned several bikes over the years, and currently has two – a 2016 Road Glide with a turbo and a 1998 Fat Boy, which he owned years ago and just recently bought back.  Since getting divorced in 2000, Tom has only had one serious relationship, but it did last a long time.  Trucking eventually came between Tom and that girlfriend, as it often does, causing them to part and go their separate ways after almost ten years.

K&D Transport has been family owned since 1946 and currently has four dedicated owner operators and seven company trucks.  Ran by Karen and Dwight (K&D) Johnson, who still handle most of the day-to-day operations and dispatching, along with help from their son Adam, their primary focus is specialized flatbed and step deck freight in the Midwest.  Tom loves working with these folks, and jokes about how he is head of their SHD – Sloped Hood Division!  He even had hats made that say that.  Truth be told, Tom’s Kenworth T680 is the ONLY aero truck in K&Ds fictitious and imaginary SHD.

Always focusing on the positive, Tom said, “You can’t dwell on the negative.”  He also added, “Any day you can look up, get up!”  All of Tom’s kids live nearby, so he is able to visit with them often.  His son Josh, who works at a tech company, and wife Courtney recently gave Tom his first granddaughter.  Her name is Sloane.  His daughter Stefanie owns her own salon, and his son Henry works for Hope Gospel Mission, an organization that provides life-changing solutions to persons facing hunger and homelessness.  Tom wanted to thank his parents, everyone at K&D and Johnson Hill Customs, including Dwight, Karen and Adam Johnson, for all their help and support over the past eight years, his uncle Butch for getting him started in trucking, and Merle Hermundson for teaching him how to drive a truck.

Looking to drive a few more years, until he’s maybe 65 years old, Tom would like to eventually put a driver in his truck and go into the office to dispatch for K&D.  Right now, he still loves to drive, and isn’t ready to give it up.  Some days Tom wishes he would have stayed at the family business, but he really enjoys trucking and being independent.  His grandma lived to be 103 years old, and when she died, she had more than 100 grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren.  Tom jokes that he was grandchild number one in the family, and for a few short years, he got all the attention.

We first saw Tom’s slick ride at the AMCAN Truckfest in Union Grove, WI back in June of 2020.  Our man Eric Hill was at that event taking pictures and submitted one of Tom’s KW, which certainly caught our eye.  Something about this truck really struck us.  Asking Eric about it, he had nothing but good things to say about Tom and everyone at K&D.  One thing the truck was lacking was a custom interior – back then, it was pretty much just stock.  However, we still tried to set up a photo shoot later that year, but it just didn’t come together.  We saw this truck again in Wildwood, FL in April 2021, but again, we weren’t able to get any pictures.  And maybe that was a good thing, because when we saw it at MATS in 2022, this thing was the full package.  Now, we were able to get it done.  Thanks to Eric Hill for turning us onto it originally and keeping it alive by always reminding us about it.

When Big T does something, he likes to do it right, and he never skimps.  Evidence of that would be this truck (and his motorcycles).  He went all-in on this baby, and the results really show it.  Aero trucks like this Kenworth T680 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Tom Fedie doesn’t really care.  In fact, if you asked him why he built this unique sloped-hood rig, he’d probably say, “Because I like it, and who else has one?”  And he’d be right!

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