Custom champs: A run with dry-bulk owner-operator John McCormick and his 'Bandit' '21 W900L

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Updated Dec 5, 2022


It’s not just Snowman's classic black-and-gold throwback paint scheme from Smokey & the Bandit on owner-operator John McCormick's beautiful rig that’s all behind the name. The owner-operator christened the rig "Bandit" more than a year after he first purchased it working through the MHC Kenworth dealer in Springfield, Missouri. He admits the calls of "There goes the Bandit" -- and "Hey, it's the Snowman!" -- over the CB did play a role, though.

The other influence? "When me and my wife ran team, we got a little Yorkie at six weeks old," McCormick said. "His coloring on him -- he looked like he had a black mask on, kind of like a raccoon."

Searching around for a name for the pup, McCormick's son said, "Well, he looks like a bandit." 

John McCormick and his shifter knob, aka 'leroy'John McCormick and his Kenworth's custom shift knob, aka "Leroy"Bandit would turn out to be "my little buddy through the years," McCormick said, growing up in the truck; John and his wife, Marilyn, back then were pulling reefer trailers as company drivers. (Marilyn's since come off the road herself after a parent took ill and moved in with the couple many years ago now.) Bandit "marked everything from Boston to L.A.," McCormick said, over 17 years of his life. The owner-operator's Pride & Polish-winning 2021 Kenworth W900L is now rolling memorial to his memory. 

Bandit Sassy Molly window decalAnd not just Bandit, but also, as shown on the driver-side sleeper window, Sassy and Molly, all Yorkies.

In today's edition of Overdrive Radio, drop into a a run in the Working Bobtail, 2015 & Newer category-winning rig that McCormick was kind enough to take us on -- his bread and butter in recent years, back and forth between Cresline Plastic Pipe in Henderson, Kentucky, near the McCormick home in Robards, and Westlake Chemical’s PVC complex in Calvert City. 

2021 Bandit Kenworth offloading at Cresline plastic pipeHooked to one of two Mac pneumatic tank trailers owned by all-owner-operator Oakley Trucking out of North Little Rock, Arkansas, McCormick’s Bandit Kenworth cuts a fine picture, whether offloading PVC powder into one of the silos at Cresline (pictured here where they turn that powder into pipe) or hauling along I-69 or 24 or elsewhere between the two principal points for most of his runs these days.

Driver-side view of the Bandit KenworthThe 280-inch wheelbase KW features a 565-hp Cummins X15, an 18 speed transmission and 3.36 rears.

Utilizing principal supplier Chrome Dome out of Haubstadt, Indiana, on I-64 north of Evansville, McCormick's added bright parts over the two years he's owned the truck -- including throughout the interior. He's added eight cab lights for a total of 13 along the roof, breather lights and plenty throughout the interior. 

Night view of the Bandit KenworthAmber underglow lights are by Shift Products,

The front bumper is a somewhat recent addition McCormick ordered almost a year ago and finally got and installed this Spring, well after pictures regular readers have seen during the Pride & Polish contest were taken. 

WTI FendersDrive full fenders are from the WTI company.

The fenders were custom-painted by an artist in Robards McCormick knows well, but only as "Chop." Chop's next project is already under way -- he's painting a Rockwood floor for the interior that McCormick gave the artist plenty of rope to produce. When asked what it was going to look like, "I'm not real sure," McCormick said. "Basically I just give him free rein of it. He said he had a friend who does airbrushing. ... I told him, 'you know the truck, the theme of the truck, you can go from there.' ... Everything I've seen from him looks great."

Howes logoOverdrive Radio sponsor Howes is offering a prize pack including bottles of anti-gel fuel treatments Diesel Treat and Diesel Lifeline, among other things, to those who leave voicemail on the podcast message line: 615-852-8530. Leave a message to claim yours. We'll be back in touch for your shipping information.It's that kind of trust in long-term business relationships that guide 48-year-old McCormick, whether in his choice of leasing partner (he's been with Oakley for 15 years now) or his approach to general maintenance. Over the time he owned Western Stars prior to the Kenworth purchase in 2020, he established a solid partnership for basic preventive maintenance with a Detroit dealer right next to the Cresline facility, Clarke Power Services. "I'm sure people would wonder why I take a Cummins to a Detroit dealer to get the oil changed," he said. "It's one of those deals where you get a good working relationship with somebody and you want to stick with them."  

Collage featuring past trucks from McCormick and his brother and father's trucksMcCormick’s got two Western Stars in his past leased to Oakley (the 2013 4900SB at top right, 2016 5700XL bottom left), likewise a 2003 Peterbilt 379 (top left) that was his first truck, purchased in 2007 with dealer-facilitated financing. At the bottom right are three separate McCormicks' rigs at a rare meeting in the drop yard outside Westlake Chemical in Calvert City -- that's right, John McCormick's father, Andy, and brother, Bill, are both today leased to Oakley and serving some of the same customers he does.

The owner-operator grew into hauling from truck maintenance work as a young man, and kicks himself for selling the Pete today, in some ways. "It had over a million and a half miles on it," he said, powered by a 6NZ Cat. "It was pre-emissions and all that ....and I just got tired of working on it every weekend." The Kenworth is his third truck purchased new since then, though, "and I still wish I had that Pete." 

Bandit offloading PVC power at CreslineIf you've never heard the sound of a blower used to air off dry bulk freight in a pneumatic tank, catch a brief snippet of it in the podcast, volume reduced substantially of course. On-site, earplugs are definitely recommended. McCormick aired off PVC powder on this day through the trailer's four lower valves, one at a time from the front to the back of the tank, utilizing subtle clues in the change of the blower's sound to signal when each valve had emptied of freight above it in the tank. Then: A final clean-out, repeating the process from front to back.

Truth is, he's worked on all subsequent trucks, "to an extent," he said. His last Western Star gave him a few fits with the emissions-control system – right around 300,000 miles or so, he said. With a large outlay for replacement of several parts of that system, including a variety of sensors as well as complications with filtering equipment in the exhaust, he started using Pittsburgh Power’s Max Mileage catalyst fuel treatment, one among treatments out there designed in part as a preventive to some emissions headaches.

John McCormick adding fuel treatmentMcCormick adds the catalyst at every fill-up.He didn’t have significant issues over the next 300,000 miles in the Western Star before he traded for Bandit. With a couple hundred thousand on the Kenworth now, and still using the Max Mileage catalyst at every fill-up, he guesses he might have clearer indication the treatment helps as a preventive in about a year from now. So far, the only issue he’s had maintenance-wise had to do with a seal that failed in the power steering pump, which was replaced. Bandit’s two years into a five-year note, he said, and given inflation in used and new equipment pricing, he’s happy he picked it up when he did in 2020.

Hear plenty more about McCormick's history, likewise the truck, in the podcast. 

John McCormick raises Kenworth hood to reveal firebird graphicAn easter egg lurks on top of the Kenworth's big hood for fans of the Smokey & the Bandit film: A firebird emblem nodding to the Bandit-driven Trans Am in the flick.

[Related: Custom champs: 'Eighth house truck' for Rick and Terry Henderson, with a 144-inch ARI bunk]

Transcript

Todd Dills: Welcome one, welcome all to the pristine start and expert hauling of owner-operator John McCormick and his 2021 Kenworth W900L, christened Bandit for some fairly obvious reasons. It's not just the Snowman's classic black-and-gold throwback paint scheme on the beautiful rig that’s all there is to it though.

I'm Todd Dills, and for this edition of Overdrive Radio, we're going to drop you right into a run with Oakley Trucking-leased owner-operator McCormick. McCormick was kind enough to take me along for the ride on one of his regular runs back and forth between Cresline Plastic Pipe and Henderson, Kentucky, near his home in Robards, and Westlake Chemical's PVC complex in Calvert City. Hooked to one of two MAC pneumatic tank trailers owned by Oakley, McCormick's Bandit Kenworth cuts a fine picture, whether offloading PVC powder into one of the silos at Cresline, where they turn that powder into pipe.

What you hear there is the sound of McCormick's blower airing off the product. Earplugs recommended, for sure.

Anyway, Bandit cuts a fine picture for fellow travelers most anywhere, hauling along I-69 or 24 or elsewhere between the two principal points for most of his runs.

McCormick's got a Pete and two Western Stars in his past too, the Pete a 2003 379 he had when he was over-the-road pulling coast to coast, running in a team with his wife of now more than two decades, Marilyn, who's since left the road. With the two Western Stars, subsequently, he built a solid partnership for basic preventive maintenance: the Detroit dealer right next to the Cresline facility, Clarke Power Services.

John McCormick: Before I got the Kenworth, I had Western Stars, and they'd do all my work on all my Western Stars. Of course, they're a Detroit dealer, so whenever I got this one, I asked them about changing oil on it, which they have to order the filters specially for me because this one's got Cummins in it, but they still do it. So yeah, that's just one deal where you get a good working relationship with somebody, you want to stick with them, even though they're technically not working on their stuff. I'm sure people would wonder why I take a Cummins to Detroit dealer to have the oil changed.

Todd Dills: McCormick's 2021 W900L was winner in one of two working bobtail categories of Overdrive's 2022 Pride & Polish Virtual Truck Show and Competition. We'll hear much more about the rig and McCormick's business in today's edition of Overdrive Radio for December 2nd, 2022. You can catch plenty of views of the rig in the post that houses the podcast. Look for a link to it in the show notes or find it at overdriveonline.com/overdrive-radio.

McCormick will introduce the Bandit to us just after this word from Overdrive Radio's sponsor.

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Todd Dills: Find more information via howesproducts.com. And dial 615-852-8530 and leave a voice message for me, and I'll send you a prize pack that McCormick himself also got from the fine folks at Howes. Features their Diesel Treat and Lifeline anti-gel fuel treatments, the Howes multipurpose penetrating oil, and more swag from the company. Again, dial the podcast message line at 615-852-8530. We'll be back in touch for shipping information.

John McCormick: Truck is a '21 W900L Kenworth. It's got a 565 Cummins in it. 18-speed. 3.36 rears. 280-inch wheelbase. And the paint job on it is black and gold, which is the same paint job that was on the Kenworth in Smokey and the Bandit.

Now, the name Bandit, which kind of has a double entendre for me, because whenever I signed up for MATS in 2022, of course on the registration form, it asks does the truck have a name? Well, at the time, no, it didn't have a name. And right after I'd done that... Well, whenever I first bought the truck, bringing it back from Little Rock, of course everybody on the CB radio was going on about, "Yeah, there goes Snowman." And you know, "There's the Bandit." And after I signed up for the truck show, I was headed down here, and two guys down here on 69 hollered and said, "There goes the Bandit." So I thought, well, I’ll just name the truck Bandit. Everybody wants to call it Bandit; that's what I'll call it: Bandit.

But the other thing is when me and my wife run team, we'd got a little Yorkie when it was six weeks old, and whenever they brought him home... Of course I was out over the road, so I wasn't at home whenever they got him. Whenever they brought him home, his coloring on him, he looked like he had a black mask on, kind of like a Raccoon. And they were trying to decide what to name him, and my son says, "Well, he looks like a bandit." So we named him Bandit. And Bandit, he was my little buddy. He was supposed to have been for my wife, but whenever I got home, he took up with me. He followed me every step that I ever took. And I don't know, he was probably a couple months old whenever she went to driving. So he pretty much grew up in the truck. So I can tell everybody he's marked everything from Boston to LA. But yeah, he was always my... He was my little buddy. We had him for 17 years.

Todd Dills: That's a long life for a dog.

John McCormick: Yeah.

Todd Dills: Bandit's long life is memorialized on the 2021 Kenworth Bandit's driver side sleeper window, along with two other Yorkies the McCormicks have lived with: Sassy and Molly.

McCormick then walked me through his previous trucks.

John McCormick: Before I got this one, I had a '16 Western Star 5700. And I don't know, I had about 600,000 miles on it, and I was really wanting to trade it. And I guess I wanted something with... You know, I liked the Western Star. I liked all the room and stuff in it, but I just wanted something that I could dress up a little more and that had a little better resale value too. And of course I went and talked to Peterbilt, and they would sell a truck, but nobody wanted that 5700. They didn't want to trade for it.

So yeah, I talked to Kenworth out Springfield, Missouri, and they said, "Yeah, we'll trade for it." So like I said, I done looked on their website, and they had all different kind of colors and stuff, but the one they had on their lot was with blue and silver. But like I said, they had sold it before I could get... Basically I had to get the approval from Oakley because of the weight.

Todd Dills: Owner-operator McCormick's loads hauling PVC powder out of Westlake Chemical's facility in Calvert City, Kentucky, to which we were rolling as we spoke, max out legal weight with a payload of almost 45,000 pounds. He's 34,970 pounds empty hooked to a Mac pneumatic tank.

John McCormick: And they'd sold it before I got the approval. So yeah, he told me he had this one, and this one was in Dallas, Texas. And so I told him, I said, "Well I want black and gold one that's sitting in Dallas." So we done up paperwork, they got the hold put on it so nobody could sell it, and they had somebody drive it up, which actually I picked it up in Little Rock. 'Cause he was going to bring it all the way to Springfield, Missouri, and I told him, I said, "Well, I’ve got to go to Little Rock anyway. You might as well just take it to Little Rock." So they took it down there and I picked it up down there. Say about November of 2020.

Todd Dills: You know, since then, clearly you've done some things to it. I don't think it... Probably didn't look quite like this on the inside when you picked it up.

John McCormick: No, I've put a bunch of...  What chrome I could find on the dash. And I've done more on the interior, you know, put the lights on it, changed the lights on the back of the sleeper, WTI fenders. Then I got to put the drop visor and the window chops, bug shield, then the window chops on the sleeper too. Yeah, I just want everything to match. That's why I only went with the three-inch window chops because they line up with the visor. I finally got my bumper in. …

Todd Dills: The bumper is a significant change from what Overdrive readers have seen of Bandit in the Pride & Polish program, because the pictures from McCormick's entry were taken well prior to installation of the new hardware.

John McCormick: I ordered it October of last year. I was really hoping to have it in before MATS in March. Well, that didn't happen. I think it was the end of June before I finally got it. And me and my son, we put it on.

He drives the yard truck down here at the Tyson plant on the live haul side. So basically whenever the company that goes out to the farm, they'll bring them into the plant and they drop them in the... What'd he call it? Let's see. They drop the trailers in the fan house, and then he goes out, pulls the trailer out of the fan house, takes them into the plant to unload them, and then brings it back out. That's what he does.

Todd Dills: Your bumper came in in June. Where'd you order that from?

John McCormick: Chrome shop up in Haubstadt, Indiana called Chrome Dome. That's where everything has come from. I buy everything from him. Really great guy to deal with. Yeah, I call him up on the phone, tell him what I need. Yep. He's either got it or he's got to order it.

Todd Dills: Have you done a lot on the chrome accessories on the exterior other than stuff we've talked about already?

John McCormick: I got 13 cab lights now. I had five, so I added, what? Eight. Can't do that math in my head today for some reason, but... Added the chrome for the lights. I've got underglow light that I ordered from Shift Products. They're just amber.

Yeah. I got trouble back years ago out in Utah for having blue lights in the back of the cab. And ever since then, I stick... You know, I like the different colors, but I stick to red and amber. That way I don't... Most of the time, if they're red and amber, I don't get hassled.

But yeah, I got some more stuff coming. I got a floorboard that's being painted. I ordered me an aluminum floorboard from Rockwood. But I got it in, I took it to the paint shop, have them paint it.

Todd Dills: What's it going to look like?

John McCormick: I'm not real sure. I know it's going to be black and gold. Well, I say paint shop; actually it's... Well, the guy's got a shop, but he's kind of retired. He just does it on the side. I told him... Basically I just give him free rein of it. He's the one that painted my fenders. Yeah, I gave him pretty much free reign of it. He said he had a friend of his that does airbrushing, and so he was going to talk to her, see if she wanted... You know. And like I told him, I said, "You know the truck. You've seen pretty much the theme of the truck." I said, "You can go from there."

Todd Dills: Use your creativity.

John McCormick: Yeah. Everything that I've ever seen that he's done looks great. He's got a little place on 41 there, just north of the house.

Todd Dills:  What's his name?

John McCormick: Chop. I don't know what his name is. I don't know what his actual name is. Everybody calls him Chop.

Todd Dills: It's sure to be a spectacular addition to an already decked out interior, no doubt, when Chop finishes up with it.

John McCormick: Chop's into race cars, and he does bodywork and stuff. Like I said, he does it for friends and family. Kind of like that. And I think he done my fenders just because he thought it'd be cool to do, and a challenge, you know.

Todd Dills: As noted, find pictures of those fenders and most all of these and other features of the rig in the post that houses this podcast for December 2, 2022, and overdriveonline.com/overdrive-radio.

Owner-operator McCormick notes a significant caveat for the day those pictures were taken, though: area in North Central Kentucky where he lives and hauls had gotten some of its first significant snow of the season in the days ahead of it. And yes, this Bandit works day in, day out.

John McCormick: I love doing this run right here, well, for two reasons. One: it gets me home every night, and so I don't have to worry about where I'm going to park, don't have to worry about what I'm going to eat. Well, I do this week 'cause my wife's in Florida, but... But one bad thing about it is there's not a truck wash en route. There's a great lady down in Paducah that's got a truck wash over there that I go to whenever I can, but it's just finding the time to go do it and all that. But it's still 20 mile out of route, 20 mile back.

Todd Dills: It's a pretty tight run McCormick's on, getting two round trips in within the time he wants to be done. For an average week, his settlements minus fuel expense and plus fuel surcharge, paid a percentage of the load, given the short nature of the hauls, he's able to gross about 5,000 a week he said, to support the family, pay for the truck, and continue to invest in the equipment and the business. Though load availability had been showing some signs of slowing with the construction industry that much of the product he's hauling ends up serving, it's a good gig. It has been his bread and butter for quite some time now.

John McCormick: This one here, we started this in I think October of '19. Think this is our third year doing this. Now, before that, there was a plant over between Evansville and Mount Vernon, Indiana that I used to run up there. It wasn't a bad deal, but... I don't know if you've ever been through Henderson and Evansville.

Todd Dills: Yeah. I mean, it's been a while.

John McCormick: Yeah. Well, you know about all the traffic lights.

So trying to do two of those in a day and still be able to get home, most of the time it didn't happen. But every now and then, things slow down. You know, here a couple months ago I went out over the road, and I found myself down in Savannah, Georgia, and went out to Oklahoma...

Todd Dills: After this run, just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, McCormick was running out to Oklahoma again with a series of eight loads he guessed may have been diverted from rail, not due to any looming rail strike, though, with speculation of such dominating the news at the time, continuing to an extent. The customer, he suspected, may just not have wanted to pay rental on the rail of the holiday.

John McCormick: That little two months or three months from the time they closed that plant until we started running up here, I had one run, I went from Savannah, Georgia clear to San Francisco.

Todd Dills: Wow. Yeah. That's something you guys probably used to do a lot more of. You and your wife were teaming, you said, when you were running reefer back in the day. Right?

John McCormick: Yeah. Back then, yeah, we were in California all the time. We were working for company out of Owensboro, and they got a contract hauling Baskin-Robbins ice cream out of Owensboro. We went from Owensboro to Mira Loma, California, and then we picked up produce out in California and went to Webster, Massachusetts. And then we went to Wells, Maine, picked up newspaper inserts, and they were usually coming around the Midwest, and depending on where they were going, we either made the deliveries or we brought them back and dropped them on the yard and we picked up another load of ice cream and went back out. Yeah. We enjoyed it, but that was hustling, 'cause we'd make a round about every 10 days. Yeah.

That broker in California, he would just soon as dispatch tell him we was headed that way... I mean, a lot of times we hadn't even made it out of Owensboro yet. He would call me on the phone, want to know when I was going to be there, and for me to stop and give him a fax number so that he could fax me reload information. Yeah, so a lot of times I knew three days before I even delivered what I was going to pick up. Course it all went back to Webster, Mass.

Todd Dills: Yeah. Well, that's good. Were you guys owner-operators then?

John McCormick: Not then, no. No. I bought my first truck in '07. So that one was an '03 379 Peterbilt that I could still kick myself forever ever getting rid of. I should have kept it. Yeah, it had a 6NZ.

Todd Dills: No DEF.

John McCormick: No. No. None of that.

Todd Dills: No DPF.

John McCormick: Yeah, it was pre-emissions and all that, but it had over a million and a half miles on it, and I got tired of working on it every weekend, and I decided that... Thought, I'm going to buy me a new truck. That way I don't have to work on it. Course, this is my third new truck since then, and I still wish I had that '03.

Todd Dills: You probably had to work on all those to an extent, right?

John McCormick: To an extent. Not nearly as much.

Todd Dills: His last Western Star gave him a few fits with the emissions control system, right around 300,000 miles or so, he said. The large outlay for replacement of several parts of that system, including a variety of sensors, as well as complications with filtering equipment in the exhaust, he started utilizing Pittsburgh Power's Max Mileage catalyst fuel treatment, one among treatments out there designed in part as preventive to some emissions headaches. He didn't have a significant issue over the next 300,000 miles in the Western Star, at which point he traded for Bandit. With a couple hundred thousand on the Kenworth now, he's still using the Max Mileage catalyst every fill-up. He guesses he might have clear indication the treatment helps as a preventive about a year from now.

So far, the only issues he's had maintenance-wise had to do with a seal that failed in the power steering pump in the Kenworth, which was replaced.

Bandit's two years into a five-year note, he said, and given inflation and used and new equipment pricing, he's happy he picked it up when he did in late 2020.

John McCormick: Yeah, back whenever I got it, it was still expensive, but it was within reason. Now, like I said, what I gave for this truck, they've jumped $75,000 since it. If I'd wanted to sell this truck, I could probably make money on it, but like I told somebody, the problem is you can't find nothing to replace it. Now, if I was getting out of trucking, yeah, it'd be great, but...

Todd Dills: Did you go through a local bank? Do you have a relationship with a banker? What did you do for the financing on this thing?

John McCormick: This one, it's financed... The dealership had their own finance company.

So I just used them. And the one before that... Well, I guess about all the trucks I've had been financed through... You know, my first one was financed through Paccar. The second two were both financed through Daimler. This one, like I said, this one here was financed through the finance company. Dealership's got their own finance company, so...

Todd Dills: What's the dealer group there?

John McCormick: MHC Kenworth.

We got Kenworth up in Evansville, which anything related to warranty, or basically anything but an oil change, I take it up there, but...

Todd Dills: Evansville can't be more than 30 minutes from you, right?

John McCormick: Yeah, about that. That's Palmer truck group up there.

I started working on the trucks whenever I was 16, so most of the guys, all the parts houses and the dealerships, they all know me, so... They've all known me for years, so nobody really gives me much grief over buying a truck somewhere else. Course I just tell them, I've never been able to deal locally. I don't know why it is, but as far as buying trucks and stuff, I've never been able to deal locally with anybody. I would like to, but...

Todd Dills: Yeah. They want too much, or they don't have what you want, or they're not able to get what you want, or...

Perhaps there's an enterprising dealer around Central, North Central Kentucky with an idea for McCormick. In any case, we'll hear more from the owner-operator in a subsequent edition of Overdrive Radio, so keep tuned for that.

And here's a big thanks to the owner-operator for his time. Likewise, a big congrats on his Working Bobtail win in Overdrive's Pride & Polish.

Catch more close looks at winning owners now and through the new year at overdriveonline.com/pride-polish.