Blood that’s thicker than steel

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Eilen & Sons Trucking is one of those family-owned firms I wish I knew a lot better, simply because of the iron they put out on the road every day.

Tom Eilen founded the company that bears his family’s name over 25 years ago and his fleet of 50-plus trucks still operates out of Hampton, MN, pulling end dumps, van trailers, flat beds, and tankers.

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But the thing is, this isn’t your every day collection of rolling stock – oh no. Because the Eilen family has a reputation for crafting some of the most eye-popping rigs you’ll ever see operating out on the roadways – that goes for the sons as well as the father, I might add.

As luck would have it, I got to briefly meet Jonathan Eilen (at right) – one of Tom’s sons – a few weeks back at the 2011 Mid American Trucking Show, right after his 2010 Peterbilt 389, dubbed “Iron Affliction,” and 2008 custom Mac trailer took top honors during the National Association of Show Trucks (NATS) annual competition.

[You can view a photo gallery of “Iron Affliction” by clicking here.]

Eilen & Sons Trucking are regular sights at almost all the yearly show truck competitions across America and take home a passel of awards for their work. That includes Jonathan’s rig being showcased in the 2011 Shell SuperRigs calendar, which is perhaps the single most pre-eminent honor a show truck enthusiast can attain.

Yet it’s not the pretty trucks that make the Eilen family – and the many other trucking clans just like them – stand out to my mind. For the Eilen clan isn't bashful about working all that sharp iron hard; they don’t baby the trucks, nor do they baby themselves.

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For example, Jonathan hauls mainly gravel in the spring and summer months with his rig, switching to even more abrasive sand and salt for the winter.

“I pulled into a guy’s yard one time to pick up a load and he came out frantically waving me off; he didn’t want my truck to get scratched,” Jonathan related to me during our brief chat at Mid America. “I told him, basically, don’t worry; I’m here to work for you.”

I can only imagine the look on the faces of the shippers and receivers the Eilen family serves; you certainly don’t soon forget their one-of-a-kind 18-wheeled “calling cards” when they arrive to pick up or deliver a load.

They’re also a pretty tough family, given some of the things they’ve gone through. Jonathan wasn’t shy about noting that he dedicated “Iron Affliction” to the memory of his late brother, Jake Eilen, who died in 2008 in a fatal single car accident.

“We’d just had dinner as a family on a Sunday night and he was driving home with his new dog,” Jonathan told me. “The roads were a little slick with rain so he must’ve lost control somehow. We don’t really know.”

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Jonathan himself endured a brush with death last year. As a driver of the Number 77 car Eilen & Sons Motorsports, he blew out a rear tire with only three laps to go during the final race of the American Speed Association (ASA) Midwest Tour circuit in 2010. When that tire failed coming out of turn two at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids, IA, Jonathan lost control of his car and plowed into the retaining wall at high speed, fracturing his lower back and breaking four ribs.

Yet that near-tragedy didn’t slow him down – he kept right on crafting “Iron Affliction” and hauling loads, all while recuperating from his injuries (he’s well enough now to get back into racing for the 2011 season).

Trucking certainly requires a certain amount of toughness – a certain amount of steel, if you will – to withstand the rigors of an often difficult and frustrating business. But it’s folks like the Eilen clan that prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that not only do they have the toughness to succeed in this business, they do it with a lot of class as well.

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