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Peterbilt 359 Dodge Ram - Mini Peterbilt

A Diesel Big Rig That Can Fit In Your Driveway

Photography by Steve Temple

Bigger might be better, but good things also come in small packages. After all, Dr. Evil didn't clone a larger version of himself, did he? And remember those enormous cell phones in A Night at the Roxbury? You wouldn't be caught dead lugging around those chunks. So, following that same logic, wouldn't it be cool to own a diesel big rig that could fit in the family garage?

Stop rubbing your eyes. The screaming-yellow semi shown here wasn't left in the dryer too long. It's a 1980s-style 359 Peterbilt body fitted on a '93 3/4-ton Dodge Ram pickup. The vehicle's original owner (who prefers to remain anonymous) wasn't able to drive a standard-sized 18-wheeler, but when he realized that he could have a truck that looks like a big rig, yet was small enough to fit in his home garage, he just had to have one.

The Mini Pete's co-owner, Johnny VonSlochteren, acquired the truck through a surprising sequence of events, while making some exten ive modifications of his own along the way. When asked what motivated Johnny to take on the project, the answer was simple: "Just plain craziness!"


We'll let Johnny relate his story in his own words, because we just couldn't make this stuff up.

TWO OWNERS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
"About four years ago, me and my brother-in-law were outside messing with the cars in the front yard," Johnny recalled. "He asked me if I saw that truck that just drove by, and I said, 'No.' He said it was a yellow semitruck but smaller. I said, 'Yeah, I've seen that before. It's a Kenworth with a sleeper, painted yellow on a 1-ton frame.'"

They went back and forth about the make, but finally agreed to go find it. Turns out his brother was right when they stumbled across the vehicle about a block away at a BBQ place in Longmont, Colorado. While they were ogling it in amazement, the owner of the truck came out from getting his food and asked, "Can I help you?"

"We said, 'No sir. We're just looking at your truck,'" Johnny relates. "We talked to him for a minute or so. I told him that I worked for Peterbilt in Denver, and that if he needed anything to just come and see me. He just said, 'OK' and drove away." End of story, right? Hardly.

"About a month later, he came down to the shop to get himself a shirt and just look around. I saw him at the parts counter and said hi. He just looked at me funny for a minute and said, 'Oh, I remember you now. What do you do here?'

" I told him that I am a body shop tech and that I fix trucks for fun! I get to do what I love for a living-why do you ask?"

Standing there with a shirt in hand, the Peterbilt owner then asked a fateful question: "Can you do anything to a truck?"

"Yes," Johnny replied. "What do you want done?"

Truth can be stranger than fiction, we suppose, but the plot thickens. Backtracking a bit, the details are a bit fuzzy as to how the truck was modified before Johnny got involved. The previous owner cut about half of the OEM Peterbilt parts down from their stock size and then welded them back together. He also added a set of 1956 Ford F-100 rear fenders. All of the other parts he made by hand with benders and tools of the trade.

Once Johnny got into the act, the project began to take on a life of its own. "The owner brought the truck in and we started changing everything," Johnny noted. "We did the seats first. From there, I changed the exhaust from 4-inch to 5-inch stacks. Then I took off the 9-inch yellow visor and put on an 11-inch stainless steel visor." In addition, Rocky Mountain Cummins took out the old 5.9L 12-valve engine and put in a new 24-valve engine so the truck would pass Colorado emissions.

What happened next was totally unexpected. "By this time I was a good friend of the truck's owner and told him he should take the truck up to the Truck Fest show sponsored by Cummins," Johnny says. "He just said, 'No. But if you want to, you can.' I said, 'What?! Are you telling me I can take the truck by myself?' He said yes, gave me a key, and said, 'Have fun.' That Sunday, my wife and I took the truck up to the mountain and entered it as a big rig special interest. It won First Place!"

"We took the truck back to his house, and he asked how it went. I said, 'Good! It won First.' And he then said, 'Good-so people liked your truck.'

"I told him, 'No, they liked your truck.'

He asked, 'Why didn't you tell them that it is yours?' I told him that I know too many people, and I wasn't going to tell them it was mine."

OK, now this is the part that gets unreal. "He asked me for a dollar, so I gave him one," Johnny said. "Then he said, 'Now you own stock in the truck. Keep the key, and you can do anything you want with it.' I was blown away!"

This strange tale took place back in the summer of 2004, and even more unusual things happened after that. "Since then, I have had Ajax Chrome refinish both the inside and outside of the truck," Johnny adds. "I also had Auto Weave Upholstery redo the interior. To make the truck flow, I took the rear springs apart, left the main spring in, added airbags with a leaving valve, and added a trackbar bar so I could adjust the suspension.

"I also changed all the lights to LEDs. In 2006, Valley Chrome made me a 13-inch, boltless bumper for the front. I took off the 11-inch visor and put on a 14.5-inch dropped visor by RoadWorks. I replaced the old 359 grille bars with W 900 grille bars." The truck also got an air compressor and air tank in order to work the seats, suspension, and the two sets of horns. The roof-mounted horns work with the pull cord, and the train horns work with an air over electric switch.

What was the previous owner's reaction to the extra mods? He's still involved with all the buildup aspects, and the truck stays at his house, largely because it fits in his garage. "He has become like a dad to me over the past four years," Johnny smiled. "But he said that the truck is just as much mine as it his. Then he did something I thought he would never do: He willed the truck to me."

"The summer of 2008- it's game on," Johnny enthused. "I'm going to take out the four-wheel drive and change the front axle to fix the steering problems." He also wants to add a Gear Vendors overdrive if he can make it fit, along with airbags for the front suspension.

Not only that, but it seems Johnny's really gotten hooked on this Mini-Me thing, because he's also in the process of building another pint-sized Peterbilt with a sleeper cab and fifth wheel so he can haul the kids around. In other words, Johnny has big plans for small things.

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