Truck Show Royalty

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Over the years, the popularity of truck shows has really grown.  Not that long ago, there were only a handful of nationally known events across the country, and these shows drew in the best trucking had to offer.  The “golden age” of truck shows was probably the 1990s and early 2000s.  During this time period, not only did the popularity of truck shows skyrocket, but so did the customizing of trucks.  Before this, most accessories were basic bolt on items, and only a few people were truly fabricating custom pieces.  Dave Marcotte of Momence, IL and his Peterbilt 379 were part of that initial show explosion, and he was one of many influential truckers who quietly led that charge and propelled the truck show scene into what it is today.

Back in the early 1990s, 10-4 Magazine was just getting started, too.  By the late 1990s, we were hitting the shows pretty hard and putting together full reports from many of these events, so we became a part of that scene and “grew up” with a lot of these folks, as well.  People like Dave Marcotte (AKA Tanker Dave) were going to these shows and doing well.  During this time, trucks were evolving, styles were changing, and new shows were popping up everywhere.  It was a fun time to be getting involved with trucking, and many of the people we met back then went on to become not only truck show royalty, but ambassadors who helped usher in the modern age of truck shows and custom trucks.

Attending shows like the Walcott Truckers Jamboree in Iowa, the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville, the International Trucking Show (ITS) in Las Vegas, Truckerfest in Reno, and Shell SuperRigs, which was held in a different location throughout the country every year to find and photograph their calendar rigs for the following year, these shows, and others, were the biggest ones of their day.  Earning a Best of Show at one of these major events came with a big trophy, cash and prizes, and a lot of bragging rights.  But it was a different time.  The competition was fierce, for sure, but at the end of the day, these folks were all friends, and whoever won that day, the others would celebrate with them.

Some of the big names back then were the same people Dave Marcotte hung around with and, quite often, competed against.  People like Jason Alt, Bob “Cowpoke” Martin, Roger & Heather Hogeland, Russ & Debbie Brown, Mike & Bonnie Burns, and Harvey & Karen Zander.  Others included Bob & Suzanne Stempinski, Rod & Kim Grimm (now Kim Jaikes), Tod Job, Bill & Marie Sandvik and their driver Isaac Aguilar, Neil & Barbara Holsomback, Victor Verret, and so many others.  Many of these folks graced our pages over the years, and a few of them went on to write and contribute to the magazine (Kim Jaikes has been writing our monthly “Trucker Talk” feature since 2003, which was originally started by Suzanne Stempinski in 1996).

When I say “Truck Show Royalty” I am not just referring to Dave Marcotte individually, but instead this entire class of truckers who paved the way.  Collectively, they made a difference, and they changed things for the better.  There might be bigger names today, building outrageous and over-the-top trucks, but these old school truck show veterans and their classically styled rigs were still ahead of their time.

Back then, what these people lacked in custom, they made up for with showmanship and creativity.  Many trucks at shows were parked on a nice piece of carpet, decorated with fresh-cut flowers, and plenty of glitter sprinkled on the ground.  Chrome suspension parts, brake drums, and drive lines could be found, and everything was in view thanks to strategically placed mirrors underneath or removed wheels.  But Dave never got that crazy with his show trucks – in fact, like most “show” trucks back then, when the show was over, they went back to work on Monday.  I am so glad we were finally able to photograph Dave’s truck and tell his story, because he is a super nice guy, a very hard worker, and about as humble and real as they come.

Rene Marcotte, Dave’s great-great-grandpa, immigrated to the United States from Quebec, Canada, around 1867 and settled in the same area of Illinois where the family still resides today.  Back then, many French immigrants went to Canada – some stayed there, while others moved on.  In 1871, Rene married Eliza, and then in 1885 Dave’s great-grandfather Henry was born.  Working on their farm in Momence, IL, growing vegetables for themselves and feed for their livestock, they built a barn in 1915 using a lot of re-purposed wood from St. Patrick’s Church of Momence, which had just undergone a full rebuild the year before.

The next generation of the Marcotte family in Momence were Dave’s grandparents, Clarence and Ruth.  Living on that same farm, Dave’s father Paul was born in 1941.  Farming was what they did, just like the generations before them.  Many of the farmers in that area at the time grew vegetables and Gladiola flowers, and to make money, when he got old enough, Paul would haul the vegetables and flowers to the markets in Chicago to be sold.  Eventually, Paul started his own farm, but everyone in the family helped everyone else, so it was all a big family affair.

There were always transportation vehicles around the farms, but trucks really became a big part of the operation in Paul’s generation.  Farming has always come first in the Marcotte family – and it still does – even though they have a thriving trucking company today.  Livestock was phased out in that area during the 1960s and 1970s, and today, like most of the Midwest, it is all about soybeans and corn.

Born in 1963, Dave (59) is the oldest of three children to Paul and Jeanne, followed by his brother Brian (57) and sister Sharie (54).  Dave vividly remembers sitting down at the kitchen table with his siblings in 1979 and talking about the future.  At that time, they had a couple trucks and were farming a modest number of acres each year, but if these businesses were going to have to support three more families, they were going to have to plant more acres, get more cattle, or add more trucks.  Dave and his brother were both excited about the trucks, so that is the direction they decided to go.  Today, these three siblings are all still business partners together at Paul Marcotte Farms, Inc.

Already having a couple trucks, Paul had started the trucking operation, but once the kids joined in, things really took off.  As the operation grew, more equipment and drivers were added, and as their customer base expanded, they began buying insulated tankers, which increased their capabilities.  Today, hauling animal fats and various oils, pulling insulated tankers with their 12 trucks, is their primary business, along with hauling grain in hopper trailers, as needed (they also have a grain storage facility).  This year, they planted almost 4,000 acres of corn and beans, and Dave still considers himself a farmer first, then a trucker second.  Since graduating high school, Dave’s sister Sharie has run the office, and she still does today.

Buying his first truck in 1981, Dave started out in a 1980 Peterbilt 359 short hood with a single bunk, and then in 1990 he bought his next truck – a 1985 Peterbilt 359 short hood with a double bunk.  In 1997, he bought his third truck, which just happens to be the one featured here on these pages and on our cover and centerfold this month – a 1992 Peterbilt 379.  When he got it, the truck was bone stock, painted red with a black frame and fenders, and it was fitted with a 63” flattop sleeper.  Powered by a 425 CAT 3406B hooked to a 15-speed with 3.55 rears, the truck had a 250” wheelbase and 635,000 miles on the odometer.  Today, with 1.2 million miles on her, the truck still has many of these original items and specs.

After buying the Peterbilt, Dave immediately fixed it up.  Back then, accessories were a lot less custom and more, what Dave called, “lick and stick” stuff.  Nonetheless, he changed the visor, added grille bars, put smooth shields over the stock 5” pipes, added full rear fenders, extra lights, and a taillight bar.  He also painted the roof cap black, switched to nine cab lights, and added double-round headlights on Double JJ brackets (these were a fairly new accessory at the time, and everybody loved them).  The next year, in 1999, he added a ceramic tile floor inside the cab, which got him a lot of attention at the shows.  He also covered his dash panels with red vinyl and spruced up the interior a bit.

Hitting a few of the big shows in 1998, Dave and his Peterbilt did well, but the next year, with that tile floor and fixed up interior, he was able to secure a spot in the coveted SuperRigs calendar for 2000.  At the time, this was a real milestone for anyone in the truck show world (still is), so it was a big deal for Dave.  He even had someone etch the Shell SuperRigs logo and the year on the wind wing windows on each side of the truck, which are still there today.  That year (1999) and the next, he went to a lot of shows, had a lot of fun, and made a lot of friends.  Around 2003, he stepped back from the shows, basically because his truck was “old” and played out, as he put it, but he kept working it every day.

In 2010, a car spun out in front of Dave on I-355 just outside of Chicago, and Dave t-boned him.  The truck was pretty banged up, but he was able to drive it home.  After that, the truck underwent another rebuild, which is what you still mostly see today.  Switching out the stock 63” sleeper with a 48” flattop, Dave also added air ride and converted it to a Unibilt system.  At that time, a new paint job was done, too.  Liking the “tribal” stripes of the day, Dave created a silver “wave” design to separate the red top from the black bottom, and that design and color scheme was utilized on the front and rear fenders, as well.  Amazingly, this is the same paint job you see on the truck today, over 10 years later!

Another thing Dave did to his truck, which is popular now but wasn’t back then, was switch his exhaust to a weed burner system underneath.  With no need to worry about any heat issues because now the pipes were dummies, he paid some extra bucks for a 7-inch chrome plated stainless-steel exhaust system from Vendetta, which he bought at 4 State Trucks in Joplin, MO.  Because of this change, he jokingly named the truck “Exhausted” for obvious reasons.  After this final rebuild, he took the truck back to MATS in 2012 and got a 2nd place in his class.

Most of what you see on the truck today was done during the 2011 rebuild, but some things get changed here and there throughout a truck’s life.  The exterior currently features “Pearl” (clear) flush-mount LEDs from Grand General, Fibertech cab and sleeper extensions, a flush-mount stainless deck plate (brushed not polished), and custom air line connections, made by a local shop out of stainless piping, that were fabricated and then welded to the deck plate to help make the connections more water resistant.  The painted rear full fenders are from Hogebuilt, the stainless rear light bar is from RoadWorks, and stainless breather light panels were added in front of the air cleaners.

Moving inside the cab, as mentioned before, the truck has a black ceramic tile floor that has been in there since 1999.  And after all that time, Dave only has two slightly cracked tiles!  Along with red dash panels, the interior also has an old-style tilt steering column, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, black low-rider leather seats, and custom foot pedals from a Harley Davidson.  The door panels and headliner were custom-made back in 2012 to emulate the exterior’s stripes and color scheme, and there is a custom painted steel overhead console, designed by Dave and his dad, Paul.  This was the actual “template” they used to build stainless-steel versions of this overhead console for their other trucks, but once computers started using CAD programs to make parts, the template was no longer needed – so Dave painted it and installed it in his truck.

Typically hooked to the trailer seen here, it is a polished 1978 insulated Kari-Kool tanker, with lots of extra lights and plenty of shine.  On the back of the trailer is a license plate that says “SHADOW” on it – this is Dave’s CB handle.  When asked where it came from, he said that in 1983 he bought a brand-new 750cc Honda Shadow motorcycle with a V-twin engine, so all the guys he rode with started calling him Shadow, and it just kind of stuck.  His other nickname is Tanker Dave.  This name came from when he was showing his truck, and there were a few other “Daves” out there.  So, when Jason Alt and Bob Martin would describe Dave Marcotte to other people, they called him Tanker Dave, because he pulled a tanker.  That name kind of stuck, too, as that is all we have ever called him!

After surviving colon cancer in 2010, Dave’s dad Paul had ongoing health issues, but he was still very involved with the business.  This roller coaster of ups and downs – times when he was sick and times when he was healthy as a horse – finally caught up with him in 2020 when he got covid.  He was pretty sick for a while, but was on the rebound, so they thought.  After a normal day of working with Dave, Paul headed home for lunch but never made it.  He passed away on May 8, 2021 – he was 79 years old.

Paul had stopped driving many years prior and worked every day in the shop.  His job was to maintain the equipment, and he also did most of the truck customizing.  One project he had been working on for four years – a 2006 Peterbilt 379 – was almost done, so Dave, his siblings, and the guys in the shop decided to finish it and take it to a few shows in his honor.  The red truck with white stripes (Project 37) was completed and taken to the MATS show in Louisville, KY in 2022 and then, in July of that same year, also taken to the Top Gun Large Car Shootout in Rantoul, IL.  At both of these events, Paul K. Marcotte was remembered and honored.

Married to his wife Diane since 1986, the two met in 1981 while they were still in high school.  36 years later, the couple has two grown daughters – Amy (35) who is married to Eric, and Alyssa (33) who works in the healthcare industry and lives in Aurora, CO.  Amy is a nurse at a local high school, and Eric works in the auto body repair field.  They have a daughter, Harper (5), who is the apple of Dave’s eye.  He spends as much time with her as possible and loves every minute of it.  Dave’s mom Jeanne is retired and enjoys spending time with her card club friends.  Dave wanted to thank his parents for all the opportunities they have given him.  He has worked hard all his life and done well, but none of it would have been possible without them.

Remember the barn mentioned earlier – the one built by Dave’s ancestors back in 1915 that can be seen in the background of many of the pictures here?  It had fallen into disrepair quite a long time ago, and as barn wood became a hot commodity for building furniture and such, the family began pulling pieces off of it and selling them.  They figured it was better than burning it down!  We met up with Dave at that old family farm of theirs back in July 2022 to take these pictures and had a great day.  That weathered skeleton of a barn made for a neat backdrop, for sure.  But as fate would have it, after it stood for over 100 years, 70 mph winds blew that barn down just weeks after we took these pictures, making them even more special.

As a certified workaholic, Dave doesn’t have any hobbies.  He loves what he does – farming and trucking – and doesn’t consider it work.  He has no plans to retire because, why would he?  He will keep working as long as he is willing and able.  He is a firm believer in the Golden Rule, which says, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”  This is more important than his time or money, because it is all about integrity and making the world a better place.  Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone followed that Golden Rule!

Remembering where things came from helps us to keep where we are at now in focus.  Dave Marcotte’s old Peterbilt may not be the most custom, wild, one-off rig rolling around the Midwest, but it’s classically-styled look has withstood the test of time and can still hold its own at any truck show – even though most of it was built 10 to 20 years ago.  One piece of advice he offered to anyone building a truck: “Build it for you.  Build what you like!”  That’s great advice from a guy who comes from a pioneering class of veterans who helped pave the way for today’s show trucks, and for that, he and his friends (and many others), should be considered truck show royalty.  The trucks being built today may have raised the bar, but the trucks these guys built back in the day were the ones that first set that bar!

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