Truckin’ and Huckin’

Words by Andrew Villablanca

Photos by Andrew Villablanca & Chelsea Masri

Armed with my bike and some bad directions I headed into the hills. I had heard rumors about an old abandoned barn hidden up in the canyons, but I was beginning to doubt the stories as I beat my way through the bushes. The brush was so thick that I was using my bike as a makeshift machete rather than a form of transportation. After what seemed like an endless stretch of long forgotten trail, I came to a clearing with some scattered structures. Off in the distance lay the tattered shell of the barn. The corrugated steel and I-beams sat mangled and melted from the intense heat from one of the many past wildfires. I walked up and slid through a gap in one of the metal panels, I couldn’t believe what was inside. Basking in the soft, dust filled light that came through an upper window was a gorgeous 1956 Peterbilt. I walked around the side of the truck, and as I peered up into the cab the hair on my arm stood up. Painted on the side of the door were the words, “Roarke Ball Trucking.” That name means nothing to most, but I immediately recognized it as the name of my good friend, Marshall Mullen’s uncle. How on earth did his truck end up abandoned in a forgotten barn?

The old Peterbilt was Roarke’s first truck, bought out of a salvage yard and used to haul around tractors for his heavy equipment business. He had owned it for many years before letting the rig go. He upgraded to a model with power steering. Roarke traded the truck for a horse trailer, but periodically visited the resting beast as it sat for some ten years in the abandoned barn where the current owner left it. Marshall was helplessly drawn to the truck. His family has grease for blood and a penchant for old machines, so Marshall couldn’t help but dream about bringing the truck back to its former glory and keeping this piece of history in the family. After a lot of investigation, Marshall and his uncle tracked down the owner of the truck and after some lengthy negotiations, Marshall purchased the old Pete.

At that point the truck didn’t run, but it only took a few hours with Roarke’s help to bring the beast back to life. After troubleshooting a non-functioning fuel shutoff solenoid, the Cummins engine roared to life with the help of a little Ether and a bump start down the hill. Of course the second the truck was alive and running, the gears in Marshall’s head started turning for how to incorporate the Peterbilt into a rideable feature. He’s had a set of well known dirt jumps for years and initially the truck was supposed to be a part of the dirt jump line, but as things started to evolve, Marshall saw a different possibility for the truck involving his Specialized Levo. E-bikes have a stigma as being less cool – a cop out for a real bike. Marshall has been bitten by the E-bug and thought it’d be cool to just do what he does best on his favorite new bike.

His vision for the project was to build a removable up box that could be mounted on the truck and then driven to any location with a landing. Planning for the build took several weeks since Marshall had to design and build the box to mount on the truck and find the perfect location, which proved to be the most difficult part. After a long search, he reached out to a good friend with a large chunk of land overlooking the Santa Monica Mountains. After a quick scout, it was pretty clear that the sloping field would be the perfect spot, so Marshall got to work clearing out a run out with the tractor. Of course we still had to get the massive truck to the location, which is no easy feat.

Everything was set in place for the truck jump. As I followed behind the Peterbilt in its cloud of diesel smoke, I realized the absurdity of the situation. The truck had no lights, no windows, tires older than us, and a dual transmission without synchros. Only The Man could stop us now. What could possibly go wrong? It looked like something from a movie as the dilapidated hulk of a truck cruised down the Malibu highway surrounded by shiny new cars.

We drove it several miles and up a winding canyon to the field where everything was set to happen, Marshall was rowing through the gears and the truck roared along as it climbed the steep grade away from the Pacific Ocean. With the truck positioned, we stepped back and looked at everything. The set up was over a 15-foot drop, and well over a 30 foot gap – by far the biggest thing Marshall had ever attempted on the e-bike. After a few practice runs, and swallowing some butterflies, Marshall sent the Levo and stuck it perfectly on the small, narrow landing.

It took about a week or so more to wait for the perfect weather and to get the film crew all lined up, but finally the pieces came together on a perfect evening. The months of tracking down the truck’s owner, time spent getting it mechanically sound (enough), and constructing the set up all paid off as Marshall sent the new set up, hands stretched out behind him in a perfect suicide. As the light fired off, Marshall continued to session the feature, which is no small feat given how flat and hard the landing was. After we’d all had our fill and the sun had set, we sat around the truck with a couple beers and tried to scheme up where the truck could go next. It may be time to get some windows in the ol’ Peterbilt.

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