Bumpus boys know trucks
Passion for old trucks gives boys early start in trucking industry

By Suzanne Stempinski
Field Editor

Being successful in trucking today is no easy task. Do you buy a new truck with extended warranties? Do you cross your fingers and hope it all works out? Not if you’re OOIDA member Jay James Bumpus from Hillsdale, MI.

His company, Tri-State Transport, moves heavy equipment in the Midwest, and hauls automotive parts, including brake rotors and drums, from Michigan to Wisconsin. Some of his trucks run the East Coast hauling windows, with a few more trucks doing local work. With a roster of 22 trucks that friends and business associates call “The Museum Fleet,” Bumpus is quick to explain that what works for him – and has for the past 26 years – is to have no truck payments.

“I’d rather buy a $5,000 truck that’s parked out in the weeds and spend about that much or a little more to fix it up. I do almost all my own work at my shop, including painting. Then I have a truck that’s ready to head off to work, and I don’t have to worry about making a truck payment,” he said. 

“Right now the high fuel prices are killing me, and if I had truck payments to worry about on top of everything else, I could easily become one of those ‘casualties’ I keep hearing about.” 

Most of his trucks are Peterbilts that date from the mid-1970s to the early ’80s. Because of his passion for antique and old trucks, Bumpus began attending truck shows like the annual event in St. Ignace, MI. It was easy for him to stroll past the new fancy trucks parked up front, and work his way out to the back, looking for those older trucks that showed years of care along with a little wear.

In 2000, he and his two sons, Jay Bumpus II and John “Gator” Bumpus, met truck show veteran Dan McGrew that way, sitting in the seat of his old Peterbilt out behind the “glamour” trucks. The Bumpus boys live and breathe diesel, having grown up with it, and just love anything to do with trucks. They can tell which motor is under the hood – just by listening to the sound. 

Over the years, young Jay collected Cat Scale Cards, and carried them along with him, hoping to see some of his dream trucks up close and personal. During their conversation with McGrew in 2000, Jay showed McGrew a picture of his favorite – a 1966 Autocar. When McGrew mentioned that he knew the owner and that it was for sale, the 10-year-old turned to his dad and said, “I want you to buy it!”

Bumpus told his son that if he wanted the truck, maybe he should be the one to buy it. 

When they got home, armed with the name and phone number of the Autocar’s owner, the enthusiastic youngster called and had a long conversation with her. He saved his money, and eight months later, with some help from his dad, called and made arrangements to buy the truck and take it home from Florida.

The truck, titled in Jay’s name, came home and went to work – running over 100,000 miles during its first year with Tri-State. Bumpus had his bookkeeper set up an account in the computer specifically for Jay’s truck. When the truck made money, it went in the account; when expenses were incurred, money came out of the account. The earnings went toward paying off Jay’s loan. 

While his Dad is responsible for hiring the drivers, Jay is pretty particular about who is allowed to drive his truck – no smokers allowed.

Some of Jay’s responsibilities include regular maintenance – cleaning, polishing, oil changes, grease jobs, changing the rear ends or whatever else he’s capable of. 

In 2003, when the Autocar was almost paid off, they decided to give the truck a total makeover, stripping it completely apart, repainting, refinishing; redoing both the interior and exterior to put Jay’s special imprint on it. The boys worked on it after school, and when school let out, they spent even more time on it.

Now 14, Jay loves working on his truck. “My schoolwork comes first, then the truck,” Jay said.

All three Bumpus kids (including sister Elizabeth, 9) are straight “A” students. They’re also members of their school band and active in Scouting. When it comes time for truck shows, the whole family gets involved, including Bumpus’ wife, Nancy, and his mother, Inge. They go to truck shows together with everyone grabbing cleaning rags and polish.

“We don’t go to truck shows to win trophies or money,” explained Jay. “We go to see the people we know and have a family vacation, too. It’s great.”

Gator just got his own truck, too. The 11-year-old is now the proud owner of a 1963 Peterbilt 351 with a 90-inch bunk that they first saw when they went to pick up Jay’s Autocar. At the time, the owner wanted more money than Gator and his dad wanted to spend. So they waited. Gator’s truck finally came home to Michigan in September of this year, in between Hurricanes Frances and Ivan, having sustained some damage during Hurricane Charley.

Like his older brother, Gator now has his account set up for revenue in and expenses out, and they’ll go through this truck and put it back in top-notch shape.

“I want to do a bunch of stuff to it like a new paint job, new interior, fixing a bunch of lights – but I really want to put a CD player in it,” Gator said.

They’re hoping to take both trucks to the 2005 Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville in March.

Both the boys are getting comfortable behind the wheel, learning to drive in the parking lot of their shop. While Jay’s been practicing for about four years, it’s only in the last year that he’s hooked up to a trailer in the yard. Gator’s just getting started; his legs aren’t quite long enough to depress the clutch. The most important thing as they’re learning to drive?

“Know how to get it stopped.”

Sounds like these guys really have their priorities in order.

Suzanne Stempinski may be reached at wheelz624@aol.com.