Staying true to your roots. That’s what Valley Farm Transport, based in Dixon, California, is all about. The company, now in its second generation, began its life in 1963 with Bob Nickum behind the wheel, hauling grain.
“My father started from scratch and built a successful company hauling mostly grain in our area,” recalled David Nickum, who took over as owner and president after his father’s passing in 2009. “He built this business with a statement of excellence and a code of ethics. We’re a service company. We haul a variety of agricultural products, and our work philosophy has never wavered.”
Bob Nickum, founder of Valley Farm Transport, is shown with his Kenworth W900A back in the company’s early years.
Today, Kenworths are still providing the service they once did, but the trucks are a bit more modern, fuel-efficient, and comfortable to drive. And, the radius of work has expanded – the company now has four terminals dotting Northern, Central and Southern California.
“We’re up to 230 trucks and have evolved from W900s, T800s and T440s to the Kenworth T880,” said Nickum. “Once the T880 model came on the market, we began bringing them into our fleet. We’re now up to 90 T880s and the latest order feature the PACCAR MX-11 engine. The T880 and MX-11 is a great combination for us – saving us around 400 pounds in just the engine spec. We were using the MX-13 engine, rated at 405 horsepower, but now are running 430 horses in a smaller envelope.”
Purchased through NorCal Kenworth – Sacramento, the single-axle trucks were spec’d with 10-speed transmissions, and weight-saving components, including aluminum hubs and lightweight drums, aluminum air tanks and clutch housings, and no passenger seat. The T880s also have a short wheelbase at 156 inches, and low profile 22.5-inch tires and wheels.
David Nickum. president of Valley Farm Transport, stands in front of one of the company’s Kenworth T880s.
“We’re paid by weight and typically net 56,000 pounds,” said Nickum. “Since we haul all kinds of agricultural commodities – from tomatoes, walnuts and almonds to corn, wheat, onions, even rice – we’re constantly out in the fields to load the crops. Our trucks run with two 24-foot trailers, which give us the maneuverability we need. There’s no way we could navigate a 48-foot trailer out there.”
Reliability is a key signature of Valley Farm Transport, and the recipe for its growth. This was exemplified by comments made by then-Heinz plant manager Scott Adrian noted in a Valley Farm Transport video done in conjunction with its 50th anniversary celebration in 2013. “At some point they took over all our business because they were the best. And, they still are the best by far. We don’t have to worry about trucks being here – you know it’s going to happen.”
In the same video, Tim Gruenwald, then a director at Campbell Soup, said, “They have a strong reputation, operate above board and ethically – it’s very consistent with Campbell’s standards.”
According to Nickum, working with top names, like Heinz and Campbell’s is no coincidence. “We have a culture of working extremely hard – we only go after best-in-class customers. We’ve grown organically with these companies, plus we’ve also added capabilities by buying out smaller companies over the years. We gain a lot of new business based on our reputation. But, much like my father, we haven’t grown the business to be big. We’ve grown it because it’s made sense.”
Valley Farm trucks can average anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 miles a year. “As you can expect, we’re seasonally driven,” said Nickum. “During the main summer harvest, we will be working 12 to 16 hours a day, and our drivers can be as close as 2 miles away to a processing plant, to 500 miles away. But, typically we’re somewhere in between, which means we can run anywhere from three to 10 loads a day per truck. In the winter, fewer trucks are running – we’re primarily hauling water, refuse, and rice to the ports for export or from dryers to the rice mills.”
Alberto Hernandez, recruiter for Valley Farm Transport, is shown in a Kenworth T880. The company’s T880s help assist driver recruitment and retention efforts
According to Nickum, drivers are paid based on productivity, “which puts extra emphasis on reliability,” he explained. “But they also enjoy being behind the wheel of a Kenworth – they feel good about driving the No. 1 product out there.”
SIDEBAR: 1930 Kenworth On Display at Valley Farm Transport
A piece of Americana greets visitors to Valley Farm Transport’s Bakersfield facility – a fully-restored and operational 1930 Kenworth Model 125. Only a handful are known to exist throughout North America.
1930 Kenworth Model 125
Built at Kenworth’s original Seattle plant on Pike street, the truck, with a maximum speed of 38 mph at the time, found its way to Valley Farm in 1973 when a Kenworth dealer in the Bay Area offered the truck to Bob Nickum. “The truck was in very poor shape, but the dealer knew my father loved Kenworths and he liked projects – it was a wonderful gift,” said David Nickum. “But, he didn’t do anything with it for 15 years. It sat in a SeaLand container box while he searched for someone to do a full restoration.”
In 1990, the process began when Bob found a craftsman in Napa Valley who restored cars. “He wanted to tackle the Kenworth truck, so we towed the truck to his shop,” said Nickum. “It took 3-1/2 years to do the full restoration – from rebuilding the Hercules (6-cylinder) engine, to sandblasting and restoring the exterior, and re-doing the interior. It was amazing, but our re-builder was able to find parts to complete the project. We put on the bed for the truck four years ago.”
The company entered the 1930 Kenworth in several car shows throughout their area. “And, it did quite well in winning awards,” said Nickum. “But, its days at car shows are now over. We drained the fluids and the Kenworth proudly sits in our lobby to welcome our guests in Kern County.”
Kenworth T880 (foreground), 1956 Kenworth 825 series (rear left) and 1930 Kenworth Model 125 (rear right)
But, the Model 125 is not the only historical vehicle with Valley Farm Transport. The company also has a fully restored 1956 Kenworth 825 series. “We had a client that was going to scrap the truck due to CARB regulations – they were using it in service, but couldn’t do so anymore,” said Nickum. “So, they offered us the truck and we were happy to take it. This project took two years – and like our 1930 Kenworth, it’s fully restored and operational. It’s a beautiful truck and we use it to represent our company at area parades and festivities. It represents our company well.”
According to Nickum, the historical Kenworths keep the company grounded. “We understand the legacy of our company and our own history,” he said. “The history of Kenworth plays a part in our own growth, and it’s nice to look at these trucks and think back to our beginnings, and what my father built when he started this company back in 1963.”
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