Million-mile machine

Dec. 4, 2018
The specialty 1993 Freightliner tool truck was built from an extended wheelbase semi-tractor and a large trailer.

Tim James is an independent distributor based in Jackson, Tennessee. He purchased his 1993 Freightliner FLD in 2000 as an owner-operator and rebuilt it to better fit his tool business. The 18-wheeler has over one million miles on it, and about as many tools inside.

The Freightliner wasn’t James’ first truck out of the gate. He began his tool sales career with a van that was -- according to James -- “overloaded, underpowered and under-braked.” To remedy the problem he built up his ’93 Freightliner 18-wheeler to custom specs.

“This truck is homemade, redneck built,” James says. “I’m never overloaded, I’ve got way too much power, and way too much suspension.”

He intentionally built the truck “as simple as can be,” without a generator or big inverters.

“I don’t have anything fancy or flashy,” he says. “It is a work truck; it’s not a show truck. It’s built to go out daily and work. And I keep it full.”

In the build process, James took a cutting torch to the over-the-road rig. He cut the fifth wheel off, and the rear end out from under it.

“The only professional shop [the truck] was at was the Savannah Machine Shop [in Savannah, Tenn.] to add length to the frame and to build new drive shafts, because we had to stretch it,” James says.

“Building this truck, there were so many unanswered questions; I didn’t know if it would work or not.”

He decided to put the door behind the axel, because the rear suspension is air operated and has air bags. He lowered the step and door so customers can get on and off easier.

Everything on the Freightliner runs off the original truck. James says the air conditioner runs off the original truck, and the heater runs off the radiator.

“I literally built it as simple as humanly possible,” he says. “All of my lights are 12V run off of the optimator battery system. The only inverter I have you can buy at Walmart or Radio Shack or anywhere. It runs my computer and my printer.”

The Jackson-based distributor began selling tools in 2007. He launched his career in outside sales, selling heavy duty truck parts and collision parts to body shops. His route now consists of lawn mower shops, motorcycle shops, body shops, dealerships and an 18-wheeler dealership.

“I pretty much had a knack for talking to customers, and I’ve always wanted to go into business for myself,” James says. “I’ll sell to someone on the street if they have the money.”

James’ “big truck” suits him just fine.

“I’ll never trade it,” he says. “I’ll never have a conventional tool truck. Never.”

He has his eye on cosmetic touches here and there -- lighting upgrades and resealing the floor, to make it “a little bit fancier,” but overall, his customers enjoy the abundance of space and products the truck offers.

“I’m not going to lie,” James says. “My shelves stay packed full of merchandise and I always have cardboard boxes on the floor full of tools. But I learned in outside sales a long time ago that you can’t sell out of an empty wagon. And I actually have customers that think it’s like a rummage sale. They want to come in whenever I get a new shipment in and go through the boxes and it’s like Christmas to them.”

He says he keeps his stock exciting, and keeps customers showing up at break-time by providing beef jerky and a cooler for drinks. At Christmastime he stocks seasonal and specialized items to help his customers with their shopping so they can avoid the hustle and bustle.

“It’s not a show truck,” James says. “But it’s an everyday, go out and crank it up [truck]. I don’t shut it off until I get home at night.”

With this special breed of innovation and determination at work, it's not a stretch to think James and his tool-toting 18-wheeler could make it another million miles down the road. 

About the Author

Sara Scullin | Editor | PTEN and Professional Distributor

Sara Scullin is the editor of PTEN and Professional Distributor magazines. These publications are part of the Endeavor Business Media Vehicle Repair Group, which includes Fleet Maintenance, Professional Tool & Equipment News (PTEN), Professional Distributor magazines and

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