By Susanne Stempinski, field editor
It's after midnight and, like so many truck drivers with a schedule to keep, Alex Bashenow of Whiteland, IN, is sitting behind the wheel of his truck. He's hauling a load of dreams-come-true with his silver Freightliner FLD cab simulator.
Alex, now 26, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 6. His enthusiasm for big vehicles with wheels began at 5 when he went to the Indiana State Fair and sat on a farm tractor. While he may never have the opportunity to actually drive truck, he can tell at a glance what's coming down the road, or identify an engine by the sound it makes.
Autism used to be diagnosed in one of every 10,000 children; now the numbers are one of every 110. And, no, that's not a typo.
While Autism is technically a developmental disability – you'd be hard-pressed to consider Alex "disabled" when you look at everything he has done.
A charming young man with a keen sense of wonder, Alex's family has encouraged him to make the most of every opportunity. He's a high school graduate, he operates his own recycling business, and he helps deliver food to needy organizations in downtown Indianapolis.
"Never say never" is how they make things happen, according to his mother, Ruth. The Bashenow family – Ruth, husband Alex, son Alex and twins Lauren and Nicholas are actively involved with Special Olympics and a number of autism support groups. Young Alex lives with a roommate in a supervised group home just blocks from his family's residence.
They attended the Mid-America Trucking Show three years ago and were intrigued by a cab simulator they saw. It started their wheels turning, but the costs seemed bigger than their budget would accommodate. Alex was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Alex Debogorski from the "Ice Road Truckers," his favorite television program.
This year, they decided to see if they could turn wish list into reality and started making phone calls. One call led to another and they ended up talking with Carl Carstens of Rockwood Products.
Carstens, whose business is all about dressing up trucks with parts made in America, took up the challenge. Before long, he had contacted Jim Raines of S&J Truck Sales in Fort Wayne, IN.
Raines, who restores trucks, repairs wrecks and builds trucks (including two winners of the Big Rig Build-Off at MATS) had the perfect cab for the project – an old Freightliner sitting out in back of his shop – just like the cab Alex Debogorski drove in the first two seasons of the show. It was covered in rust and neglect, but Raines and his son Mike dug it out and prepped it, which included building a custom cover for the back.
Hoosier Truck and Trailer painted the cab silver. Door panels, seats, steering wheel and other custom trim pieces were donated by Rockwood Products, along with custom one-of-a-kind graphics.
Show truck driver Ron Huey, whose grandson also battles autism, provided transportation to the special unveiling at Alex's garage.
As cries of "Open that garage door," rang out from the crowd, the door rolled up to reveal Alex's truck ... along with his hero, Alex Debogorski, standing by to present him with his special rig.
Every inch of the truck received meticulous inspection. No DOT officer was ever more thorough. Truck number 0626 (the date of delivery) was just fine and ready for action.
Keep dreaming big, Alex. LL