Most cattle haulers have an air of confidence about them, and it can be seen in not only the presentation of what they drive, but also by the man or woman that step out of that truck. Cattle drives still exist today, but the transport to town has changed a bit from how it was back in the old west days. Today we hear names thrown around like cattle pot, fat girl taxi, bull hauler, bull rack, or cow truck. Whatever you know these trucks or trailers as, just like 37-year-old Rory Cook’s 379 with a Merritt trailer, they haul cattle and hold a place in this industry like no other.
Fourth generation livestock hauler Rory Cook of St. Joseph, MO has many years of guidance that has been passed down to him from the three generations that came before. His great-grandfather was a local cattle hauler at a time when over-the-road cattle hauling wasn’t even a thing yet. Then, along came Lloyd “Buster” Cook, Rory’s grandfather, and he went on the road to see the country. Those trucking stories Buster told had always stuck with Rory, and even though his father Rex “Smiley” Cook was more of a local and regional driver, Rory was aiming to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps to see the United States.
Trucking, as most probably know, is hard – it’s hard on a driver and hard on the family the driver sees in the rearview mirror when he or she is leaving out. Rory’s dad knew the lifestyle and did all he could to prevent Rory from making a career out of trucking. Even though Rex didn’t want this lifestyle for his son, Rory still rode along in the truck with him more times than not. Rory grew up on a farm raising cattle and hauling cattle in the King City, MO area.
With fond memories that date back to his teenage years, Rory remembers when his grandfather “Buster” would come home off the road, sit down with a glass of sweet tea, and tell Rory stories of trucking back in the 50s. At that time, his granddad drove a gas truck with a 26-foot trailer and a bench seat. Before he headed out, Rory’s grandma would always pack him three jugs of water, a box of cigars, and a couple bologna sandwiches to get him on his way.
In the back of his mind, hauling cattle was what Rory always wanted to do. After high school, at 18 years old, Rory joined the Marine Corps and completed a four-year commitment. While on leave during his first year in, he started dating Heather, who later became his wife. His dad, still against him getting into trucking, wouldn’t teach him, so Rory, at 22 years old, went to work at Prime, Inc. in Springfield, MO to get his CDL.
During those first six months of driving for Prime, Rory made a lot of contacts and, after those first six months, went to drive a Peterbilt hauling livestock for Jeff Walters, father of one of Rory’s high school best friends. Driving for someone was not the goal Rory set out to do, because he knew he wanted to own his own truck one day, but this was a good place to start. Fast forward two years and he bought his first truck from Jeff Walters and started his company, Lazy R Trucking LLC. Rory pulled one of Jeff’s trailers for about a year, and then he bought his own.
A couple years after Rory and Heather were married on July 13, 2013, Rory sold his truck at age 30 and became a driver for a friend. This was a great opportunity and something he did for about four and a half years, but then he got to the point that he wanted to own a truck again. In 2019, at 34 years old, Rory found a truck in Missouri that he had been looking for – a light blue 2003 Peterbilt 379 (pictured). Upon purchase, Rory did a few things to it to make it more his style and then went trucking.
In June of 2021, Rory made the decision to shut the truck down and restore it. Though plenty had a hand in the truck you see today, much of the work was performed by Rory himself, as he wanted to be a big part of the process. Rory started the initial process by tearing out the interior and then spent a week tearing down the rest of the truck. Once the paint work was done, Rory was back at the truck, spending 14-16 hours a day, putting the truck back together. The truck was back together and dialed in on August 15, 2021. Behind the ideas for this restoration was a desire to pay tribute to the guys that ran in the 80s and 90s, the same ones he looked up to.
The truck is, as previously stated, a 2003 Peterbilt 379 with a Caterpillar C15, an 18-speed transmission, 3.36 gear ratio, and a 300-inch wheelbase. The truck has several custom parts including Shift Products half fenders, a Lincoln Chrome bumper, an RLK Services visor and rear stainless light panel, and 6-inch Dynaflex stacks. One of the most notable features is a classic Varashield up on the roof. The Varashield was actually by his friend’s house, laying in the weeds, and although it had shown its wear with holes and cracks, it was completely reskinned and brought back to life. The interior was done by EZ Pete Interiors out of Le Mars, IA, who did a great job, including matching the color nicely.
The paint work was completed by Simerly Collision and Restoration out of King City, MO. The original color, which Rory dubbed North Carolina Tar Heels blue, was incorporated into the “Michigan Wave” paint scheme, as well as the frame of the truck. The base color of the truck is bright white, and the peach isn’t a specific name, just what they came up with after mixing and mixing to reach the desired color. Rory got the idea of this retro paint scheme from his friend James Curtis, whose father had this same scheme on his trucks out of Michigan, back in the day.
After I photographed the truck, the engine was completely overhauled, inside and out (thanks to Rory for the included picture). All the grunt work and painting Rory did himself, but he couldn’t have completed the job without the expertise of Jeremiah Ming, who came down to help. Kurt Loeffelholz was gracious enough to provide his shop for the work, as well as miscellaneous materials, and the forklift to lift the head off the motor. Thanks also goes to Josh Renner with Enhanced Power Products out of Kentucky for being so full of knowledge and willing to help with questions and advice. This truck was put on the dyno but, without revealing the final numbers, Rory said the truck can definitely move down the road.
Shoutouts for help with the entire restoration process go to Gavin Moore, who did not hesitate to come up for the weekend to help Rory prep the truck before I arrived, Brandon Simerly, Tim at EZ Pete Interiors, and Nick at Deluxe Truck Stop in St. Joseph, MO, who washed the truck and hand-dried it the day of the photo shoot.
Rory believes there is an appearance to maintain, not only with your truck, but also with yourself. He was taught at an early age that it means something to show up where you load or unload looking presentable. To Rory, this means having your hat on right, a button-down shirt tucked in, nice jeans, and boots. He has seen firsthand buyers send drivers away for not dressing the part because they showed up wearing ratty clothes or a t-shirt and shorts.
Everyone in the industry has stories to tell, whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. Some of these stories are, in fact, life lessons not to be ignored. Rory told me a story about coming out of Reno, NV, loaded to the gills, and the truck he was driving at the time had a big grille guard on the front of it. As he was driving down the road, he saw eyes up ahead. Rory figured it was a deer, and with a load of livestock in the trailer, slamming on the brakes was not an option. As he approached, he squared the truck up to avoid any unnecessary damage to the truck or livestock, but it wasn’t a deer, it was a steer – and not one, but 14 of them! The truck ended up drifting into the ditch, hitting the embankment, and went off the ground, but he and the livestock came out alive. It was a big turning point for Rory, realizing he was not invincible.
Today, Rory and Heather have three sons and a daughter, Crighton (15), Riley (13), Skyler (6) and Wrenly (4), and they all reside in St. Joseph, MO. He hauls cattle full time from the Midwest to the Southeast, however there are slow times throughout the year. He wishes it wasn’t the case, but when there are slow times, the pay decreases as well, and he isn’t willing to haul for cheap. The spring run of hauling cattle is very busy up until about July, then it is crazy busy all the way to Christmas. During the slow season, Rory is hooked to a refrigerated trailer, but during the busy season, you’ll find him pulling a 2021 Merritt livestock trailer.
I asked Rory what advice he would give to someone looking to buy their own truck and he said, “Be prepared before you make that purchase. Have at least a 20% down payment, at least enough running money for three weeks of fuel, and enough money for your insurance and tags. The more you can do on your own, the better off you will be. Don’t drain your account and continue replenishing and growing that running money to get yourself ahead.”
Talking about the pros and cons of hauling cattle, Rory said, “I have met some of the best people in the South and Southeast. The people you come across and the freedom that comes with it is unsurpassed. The DOT doesn’t give livestock haulers much grief because of what we haul, which is nice. On the downside, which many can’t get used to, is the long hours, sleepless nights, and the miles you must put in.” Regardless, he stated there is nothing else he would rather do than haul cattle.
Special thanks from Rory to his wife Heather for being a partner in both business and in life, for her love, and for her support. She does an amazing job handling everything at home when he is out on the road. And thanks to his dad for taking him riding in the truck when he was younger and for the support he gives today. Thanks also to Rory’s granddad, Lloyd “Buster” Cook, for being one of his biggest influences in the industry, hauling livestock until he couldn’t anymore, and who unfortunately passed away in April of 2021. Thanks to the following great friends for their support and for pushing Rory to do better (and for always being there for him): Gavin Moore, Lewis Lyle, Dalen Miller, Mark Gearig, James Curtis, Lance Volker, and Clay Peuser. Lastly, thanks to all his close family and other friendships for their continued help and support over the years.
I met Rory’s truck before meeting Rory, as he was sleeping at the stockyards in Oak Park, GA. Oddly, I didn’t see this truck when I lived in Missouri. It took almost two years and a move to Georgia for me to see the truck – in Georgia. I was impressed with the look of the truck and the classiness of this 379 (it was still solid blue then). After a short time, I found out who the owner was and managed to have a couple conversations about him and the truck and knew they would be great candidates for an article. However, I kind of went into this blind, as Rory said he was repainting the truck and I really didn’t know what to expect. With social media working the way it does, I was able to see pictures of the finished truck posted up prior to my trip to Missouri, and I was not disappointed.
I usually try to set aside a whole day to photograph a truck just so there is no rush, however this time was a little different, as I was making my way towards home from Utah. I’m grateful Mother Nature didn’t have other plans, or this may not have gone as smoothly as it did. We photographed at a city property across from the Deluxe Truck Stop, then in downtown St. Joseph, and finished at The Barn at Schwinn Produce Farm in Leavenworth, KS.
Thank you to Rory for the great conversations and all your hard work in completing this amazing restoration in time. This stripe pattern has become one of my favorites, and I have found several other cattle haulers who sport this pattern, as well. Each division has their own uniqueness in the trucking industry, but cattle haulers are a breed of their own, and they are definitely like no other. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.