A blast from the past

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My dad started out driving Fords and I got a brand new one in 1988 myself. We must’ve had 15 or 20 of them over the years.” –Bill Warner Jr. of Bill Warner Jr. Trucking, talking about the truck that made him the “Grand Champion” of American Trucker’s “Readers’ Rigs” section for 2011.

One of the other hats I wear in my professional life is that of editor for American Trucker magazine, and one of the best parts of that job is heading up the annual “Grand Champion” selection process for its “Readers’ Rigs” section, which is sponsored by PPG Commercial Coatings.

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Now, let me tell you – it’s not easy to pick a single truck from all the sweet iron chronicled in the Readers’ Rigs section every month and declare it the “best of the best” for the year.

But sometimes a vehicle just seems to stand forth, all on its own, as the winner right from the moment you see it – and this is exactly the case for Bill Warner Jr.’s fully restored 1989 Ford Aeromax LTL 9000.

Warner set out to restore this particular Ford to what he calls “brand-new-on-the-dealer-lot” condition for a simple yet unsurprising reason: both he and his father started their trucking careers behind the wheel of Aeromax models. [To see more photos of this truck, please click here.]

Although Warner freely admits that Peterbilts are far and away his favorites among commercial vehicles, he remains deeply attached to Ford’s long-since vanished tractors. That attachment is what drove him – with the more than willing help of his son Cody Warner – to infuse this one-of-a-kind “blast from the past” with new life.

[Below, Warner provides an overview of the work he did to resurrect his Ford Aeromax tractor.]

“My dad started out driving Fords and I got a brand new one in 1988 myself,” Warner explained to me during the “Grand Champion” photo shoot last November. “We must’ve had 15 or 20 of them over the years.”

They were everywhere back then, those Aeromax models, he said. They weren’t considered glamorous or cool, by any stretch of the imagination, but were real “lunch pail” trucks just like their owners – tough, hard working, and certainly not favoring ostentatious displays of chrome and sheet metal.

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In a strange twist of fate, the 1989 Aeromax LTL tractor Warner restored is the very same truck he glimpsed back in the 1980s hauling fuel up in and around the Manassas, VA, area; a place Warner and his dad operated their Aeromax dump trucks during the week before returning to tiny Circleville – a stone’s throw from Seneca Rocks, WV, now home to Warner’s repair shop – on the weekends.

Warner got into restoring trucks back in the early 1990s and attending “pride and polish” shows in 1994, always looking for in his words “hard to find” models. Today his fleet of 20 trucks includes a beautiful Kenworth K100 cabover and Peterbilt model 359 long nose tractor, yet he still hankered to find a Ford he could bring back to life as a testament to his trucking roots, so to speak.

As luck would have it, he found this particular Aeromax five years ago not far from where he lives and set about working on it with son Cody, then all of nine years old. As parts are almost impossible to find for the Aeromax, he ended up crafting some of his own, such as the front bumper and plastic “cradle” for the sleeper.

He also made a few “minor” modifications, such as stretching the frame out an extra 52 inches (giving the truck a 276-in. wheelbase), installing modern air ride seats, and shifting the fuel tanks to install steps for entering and exiting the cab.

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All in all, though, Warner achieved his goal with his Aeromax restoration as the truck now looks like it indeed just rolled off a dealer’s lot – despite having over 590,000 miles on its odometer.

Even Gary Jodzis (seen at right, with Bill and Cody Warner, who are in the center and on the left, respectively, in the photo), a territory manager for PPG who was on hand to formally award the 2011 “Grand Champion” plaque, fully recognized the skill and attention to detail that not only went into the restoration process for Warner’s Aeromax, but into the other trucks on Warner’s lot as well.

“These are hard-to-find truck models,” Jodzis told me – and he’s seen more than his fair share of classic iron working for PPG. “But they look like they’ve just been delivered from the factory.”

The condition of Warner’s equipment is even more remarkable as it all remains “working iron,” hauling mainly grain and other agricultural products in a 10 state region surrounding his domicile in West Virginia.

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None of them, appearances to the contrary, are dedicated show trucks – and the classic “square nosed” shape of most of them doesn’t hurt the bottom line too much, either.

“We pull a lot of hills, so you’re never going to get really good fuel mileage anyways – aerodynamics really doesn’t help you out here. So if you’re getting 5 mpg, you’re doing really well,” Warner said, noting that his Ford Aeromax gets about 5.2 mpg on average.

Equipped with a Caterpillar 425-hp engine and 15 speed manual Eaton Fuller transmission with overdrive, Warner’s Aeromax still sports hand-crank windows, an AM radio, even cloth carpeting for both the cab floor and doors. It’s about as original as an original Aeromax can get.

Warner’s only regret, though, is that his father passed away before he finished work on this truck. “He loved Fords … and he would have absolutely loved this one,” Warner said.

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