Never Settle!

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When building a truck, you should never settle for less than you want or deserve.  And the same is true if you are building trucks – you should never settle for “good enough” because your customers deserve more than that.  For this reason, Tyler Van Der Zwaag (29) of Van Der Zwaag Customs in Hull, IA made “Never Settle” his company’s motto when designing their website… and it stuck!  Having built many cool trucks for his customers over the past few years, Tyler has also built a few for himself, including this everyday work truck featured here (and on our cover and centerfold this month), which is piloted by Trevor Coufal, a driver for Tyler’s other company, Van Der Zwaag Trucking.

Going back three generations in the Van Der Zwaag heritage, trucking has been a family affair since Tyler’s grandfather Gerrit and his great-uncle Jake bought two trucks and started running under the name Van Der Zwaag Bros. back in 1960 to support their farming operation.  At first, they used the trucks to haul their own commodities (mostly corn), but shortly thereafter they switched to hauling livestock.  From there, they never looked back.  Driving lots of cabover Freightliner truck and trailer combinations back in the old days, they later switched to Peterbilt conventionals pulling livestock trailers.

In 2000, Tyler’s dad Cal and his cousin bought Gerrit out and took over the company.  In 2003, Cal and his cousin parted ways.  Tyler’s dad has run the operation ever since.  Sometime after Cal took over the operation, the company peaked at seven or eight trucks, fifteen livestock trailers, and seven or eight owner operators.  Today, Tyler’s dad, operating as Van Der Zwaag Enterprises, has just two trucks, five trailers, and four owner operators.

Continuing to drive after selling off the company, Tyler’s grandfather bought his own truck and trailer and began hauling grain locally.  Unfortunately, he was in a terrible automobile accident a few years ago and almost died.  After about a year in the hospital and a convalescent home recovering, he went back to taking care of the farm, but he could no longer drive trucks.  And at 86 years old, maybe it was time for Gerrit to hang up his keys, anyway.  These days, he still comes into Tyler’s shop each and every day for his morning coffee and conversation.

Growing up with livestock trucks all around him, it was no question what Tyler wanted to do in life – be a trucker!  Tyler was only two weeks old when he took his first ride in a truck with his dad.  He loved riding with his dad, and he did it whenever he could.  During high school, Tyler started working in his dad’s shop and doing some local driving.  At 18 he got his CDL, and away he went – sort of.  He can still remember his very first trip, doing a load, out on the road by himself.  Hauling a load of pigs with a 1991 Peterbilt 362 cabover, there was ice everywhere, and the wind was blowing so hard Tyler watched it blow a truck over.  But he made it.

Driving that Peterbilt cabover for about six months, he later moved into a used 1999 flattop Peterbilt that looked nearly new.  It was perfect, and Tyler loved it.  When growing up, Tyler’s dad owned nothing but Peterbilt 379s and 389s, so Tyler is kind of a Peterbilt guy, too.  After Tyler graduated from high school, he went to college to study diesel mechanics, and continued to drive on the side.  The first year was lame, because all they learned about was cars, but the second year was fun, because it was all about the trucks.  Turning 21 around the time he graduated, Tyler immediately hit the road, running OTR for his dad, traveling all over the United States – it was his dream finally come true!  Unfortunately, that dream only lasted about five months.

Throughout his entire life, Tyler always had a funny “twitch” that would act up every once in a while.  When he was younger, it didn’t happen very often (a couple times a month), but as he got older, the incidents increased.  When it happened, he would sometimes get a noticeable twitch in his arm or stumble over his own feet when walking.  People used to make fun of him for being clumsy, but he couldn’t help it.  After finally going to see a doctor in May 2014, he was diagnosed with Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy – a fairly common and mild form of general epilepsy.  But this meant he could no longer drive.

Getting married the very next month after his diagnosis, in June of 2014, Tyler went into this marriage not knowing what his future held.  The rug had been pulled out from underneath him!  He drove for a few more months, but at the end of 2014, he hauled his last load of pigs.  And it was a doozy.  It was one of those terrible loads, where everything goes wrong, and you just want to quit trucking.  Well, after this load, Tyler did quit.  He figured it was the perfect load to end on.  But the next few months were dark days for Tyler, as he began working in his dad’s shop again, which is not what he really wanted to do, struggling to find his place and fight off his ongoing depression.

Back in high school, Tyler had bought a few trucks to fix up and resell and made some tidy profits off the deals.  Thinking that might be the answer, he bought a truck and started fixing it up in one of the back bays of his dad’s shop.  Rebuilding a 2001 Peterbilt 379 to flip in 2015, Van Der Zwaag (VDZ) Customs was born, but that first year was tough (they could barely make ends meet).  Later that year, things started to get better, and Tyler built a second truck.  Teaching himself, he painted the entire truck on his own.  In 2016, they added on to the shop and created a small space just for Tyler.  From then on, he began building about two trucks a year, and the business just continued to grow.

Over the next couple of years, VDZ Customs continued to grow, and Tyler eventually took over the entire shop building.  Doing custom builds for himself and now outside customers, he also did all sorts of engine repair work, body and paint, sleeper swaps, and accessory installations.  In 2018, to improve the quality of his work, he built a legit 30 x 40 paint booth inside their building, which is large enough to park a complete big rig truck in.  This paint booth took their builds to the next level.  Today, he has a crew of three full-time employees and room enough to park six trucks inside at once – and these days, all of the bays are full most of the time.

Hiring Jeremy Darnell in 2018 to be the main painter, this guy is super talented, and an important part of the VDZ Customs team.  In 2020, Tyler hired Trent Hoogland, who does it all, and is great with the fine details (this guy doesn’t miss a thing).  And then in January 2022, Tyler brought in Clay Petitt to join the team, and this guy can tear it all down and put it all back together and is capable of doing just about anything.  They no longer do major engine work, unless it’s part of a complete build, and focus more on paint and body, fabrication, and custom installs.  If you can dream it, they can build it!  Tyler prides himself on using as few store-bought bolt-on accessories as possible, and his latest work/show truck is a testimony to that.

Wanting to buy an older truck and fix it up for a driver, Tyler found this 1995 Peterbilt 379 for sale in Arkansas in January of 2021 and bought it sight unseen.  When he arrived to pick it up, it was a little rougher than he expected and it didn’t run, so the small customization project turned into a full rebuild, but he was cool with that.  The truck already had a 300” wheelbase, an Ultra Roof cab, and a 70” standup sleeper, but it needed a new drivetrain, an interior, and some other pieces.  Wanting to do it right, Tyler found a recently wrecked 2007 Peterbilt 379 and bought it to be a donor truck to the 1995.

Swapping out the drivetrain from the donor Peterbilt, the rig is now equipped with a deleted 770-hp Acert Cat with a single turbo, a 13-speed, and 3.36 ratio rear ends.  They also used the doors off the donor truck, as well as the entire interior, which is why this 1995 truck has a newer-style interior inside.  Once the drivetrain and chassis were dialed in, the VDZ team went to work on the paint, spraying everything with a nice metallic maroon.  Everything underneath was either repaired or replaced, and then the task of reassembly and the fabrication process began.  Tyler has a local guy named Josh Borman of Borman Custom Steel Works in Rock Valley, IA do all his fabricating.  This guy does amazing work and gets the job done fast.

With a two-tone paint scheme featuring metallic maroon on the bottom and off-white on the top, the truck has double square headlights with shaved blinkers, LED headlights from J.W. Speaker, VDZ polished stainless steel mirror brackets, and lots of one-off pieces made by Josh, including the cab and sleeper drop panels with hidden lights, visor, painted custom box lids with billet step plates from Lifetime, a square bumper with mitered ends, and a painted smooth deck plate.  The truck was also fitted with 8” Dynaflex pipes, Hogebuilt half-fenders mounted on new-style VDZ brackets (redesigned to be extra strong), an integrated rear light bar with a quilted stainless filler panel, and a steel “I-panel” between the fuel tanks with a quilted stainless insert and hidden lights, also made by Josh.

Covered with hidden and under-glow red lights, the rig also has custom engraved plastic lug nut covers made by Lifetime, chopped air cleaner screens, painted tanks with polished ends, stainless breather light panels (blanks with no lights), and a stainless filler panel in front of and between the rear fenders.  The words “Spare Parts” are written on the back of the sleeper, just above the stainless air line connection box, which is the name of the truck.  Originally just a joke, because at first the truck was going to be built on a small budget, but since it ended up being pieced together from various trucks and using “spare parts” from here and there, the team thought the name was still fitting.

As mentioned before, the interior was completely gutted and replaced with the interior from the 2007 Peterbilt donor truck.  But it wasn’t just swapped out, it was completely customized.  Featuring a one-piece painted aluminum floor made by Josh and the VDZ crew, the cab also has custom glitter shift and brake valve knobs with the VDZ logo embedded in them (made by Twisted Shifterz), refaced white gauges done by NT Lites that now light up in red, custom painted dash panels, painted aluminum door panel inserts and headliner panel, and a billet steering wheel from Forever Sharp.  The soft vinyl dash pieces were all painted maroon (they accomplished this by adding a flexing agent to the paint).  The final touches include Legacy Lo black leather seats, billet foot pedals, and custom billet door sills with the VDZ logo, made by Lifetime.  The stereo is nothing fancy, but it is hooked to an amp and a pair of 12” sub woofers, which are mounted under the bed in the sleeper.

Besides building the engine to have 770 available horses and 2,650-ft. lbs. of torque, not too much was done to the engine compartment.  However, the engine is painted maroon to match, and has some painted tubing, a stainless-steel radiator/fan shroud, made by Josh, and a few tid-bits of chrome sprinkled here and there.  I also noticed a pair of Hood Skinz, which are constructed of high-quality durable material that is designed to stretch and fit perfectly over the upper hood supports and stop that annoying hood squeak.  Tyler loves his and says they really work – especially with his heavy fiberglass aftermarket hood, which came with the truck.

After six months of hard work, the truck made its debut at the Wheel Jam Truck Show in Huron, SD in June 2021.  I was at that show, and that is where I saw this truck for the first time.  I was impressed, but when Tyler told me it was going to work the following week, I was skeptical (I have heard that before).  However, this one actually did.  Fixing up a 2014 Utility reefer trailer by painting the upper and lower rails and the reefer unit to match, polishing the wheels, and painting the tanks to match the truck (maroon with polished ends), it was all done in about a week.  And once it was done, Tyler’s driver Trevor Coufal (28) of Oakland, NE, hooked the truck to it and headed west.  Since then, he has run this combination every day, taking meat from the Midwest to the west coast, and then bringing whatever they can find back.  This is a true work truck – but it’s also a show truck.

Back in March of this year (2022), Tyler and his crew were super excited and surprised when this truck was chosen to receive the Best of Show Working Bobtail award at the massive Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY.  That is a huge win for anyone involved in truck shows!  Tyler called it a “highlight” in his life, and I have to say, it really opened our eyes to this truck.  After meeting all the guys at Wheel Jam in 2021 and hanging out with them, we really liked them as people.  Then, the truck actually went to work – for almost a year!  And then, it won a Best of Show at MATS.  Add these together, and you get the perfect ingredients for an amazing cover truck and feature story.  And that’s why we did it (for anyone who was wondering).

Running this combination under another one of his companies, Van Der Zwaag Trucking, Tyler currently has just the one truck and one driver – Trevor “Cheese Ball” Coufal – along with an owner operator that pulls a trailer Tyler owns.  Trevor came on board in January 2021 when the truck build was just getting started.  The truck was being built for another driver, but when he left, it went to Trevor – and he isn’t complaining.  Tyler says Trevor is a great driver!

Trevor grew up riding with his dad in his R-model Mack, and then later a Superliner.  In addition to spending five years in the Army National Guard of Nebraska, which is a part time commitment, he also ran a cattle yard for one of the larger kill plants in his area, and then started driving trucks at 21.  He spent almost five years with Accord Transportation, hauling propane to the west, before joining the VDZ Trucking team in 2021.  Married to his wife Kelli since 2018, the couple has an 8-month-old girl named Adalynn “Addy” Mae Coufal, and they live in a beautiful old farmhouse out in the country in Nebraska.

Married to his wife Janelle since June 2014, she and Tyler have two sons – Karson (4) and Jaxton (2).  Both of these boys love trucks and, by the looks of things, they got the bug already!  Tyler and his family live in a house on a piece of property just outside of town that has been in their family for at least four generations.  Their farm has been in the family for 165 years (since 1857) and the house they live in, as best they can figure, was built around 1880.  The house isn’t much to speak of these days, but Tyler and Janelle are looking forward to building a new house, on the property, in the near future.

Getting his medical condition under control, Tyler currently has his CDL again and can drive, but he really doesn’t want to anymore.  He recently filled in for Trevor when he got sick, and he enjoyed the trip, but he really doesn’t miss driving.  He likes building trucks and working close to home, treasures his time with his wife and boys, and loves to go camping or out to his parent’s lake house for weekend getaways.  Truck shows are fun, too.  He’s also building a 1964 Lincoln Continental with rear suicide doors, swapping the big block with a Chevy 6.0 LS small block crate engine.  He is still getting the kinks out, but one day that thing will scream!

Looking to the future, Tyler would like to grow the trucking side, but no bigger than five trucks.  He also wants the shop to keep growing, but never wants to get so big that the quality suffers, and he can’t be a part of everything.  He wants to be hands-on and involved at all times.  Big thanks go out to his parents for all the help and support they have given him over the years, especially when he was first getting his business started.  If you want a cool custom truck and you don’t want to settle for second best, call Tyler at Van Der Zwaag Customs.  Never settle for “good enough” or anything less than the best, because if you earned it, you deserve it!

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