Bruce Johnson admits it. He didn’t know what the heck his wife, Janeen, was talking about a couple of months ago, but like most dutiful husbands he listened, sighed and went along.
The couple owns Johnson’s Heavy Towing, Inc., out of Flagstaff, AZ. Bruce has been towing garbage trucks, cement mixers, 18-wheelers, tractors and more going on 42 years, with locations in several other Arizona towns.
A meat-and-potatoes guy all the way, Johnson built a business that between him and his son includes about 20 trucks, working “eight days a week and weekends too.”
Johnson’s come a long way regarding what his fleet looks like.
“We used to paint all vehicles the same,” he told American Trucker. “Now all my stuff looks like a bag of Skittles.”
Going one step further not long ago, he decided to jazz up a 2017 Kenworth T880 with a Century 5130.
“The truck is a cross between our beloved Disney character Tow Mater and an old Route 66 rat rod," he said. “It’s actually a wrap. We were gonna do designs on it, because everybody’s doing these laser wraps these days. I tried about half a dozen, but wasn’t feeling it. Then I was thinking if I had a rat rod, I would leave it rusty and just varnish over the top of it, clear coat it. So I did, and that’s how it came to be.”
A designer with Colorbomb Wraps, in Tempe, AZ, helped add fly splat on the side mirrors and smoke trailing from a burned-out light socket. Additionally, unique wheel simulators, a copper-toned, specialized paint for highlights to set off the wrap, more lights and hinged fairings behind the cab combined for a stunning effect.
Thinking the unique-looking truck, now called Rust Bucket, could get his company some publicity, Johnson brought it to a Las Vegas tow show.
“It didn’t win anything and I thought I really don’t need to entertain doing this anymore, so I forgot about it,” he said. “We took some photos of it for promotional stuff.”
Rust Bucket did get some attention.
“Its driver, Jody, brought it home once and parked it in his driveway,” Johnson recalled. “A neighbor drove by, slowed down, stopped, backed up, looked at it and went up to the driver’s front door. By the time he got there he could see what it was. He told Jody, ‘Man, I thought your truck caught fire, and got burnt!’
“And when I first got it wrapped Jody took a picture and put it on the internet. Within like 12 hours it had 650 likes.”
After the Vegas flop, Jody told Johnson that Tow Times wanted to send out a guy to do a photo shoot of the truck.
“It didn’t register… I was like, whatever,” said Johnson. “My wife told me I should go to support Jody, so I did.”
Which leads back to Janeen telling Bruce something odd sounding…
“She said we're gonna have a Johnsons 42nd year anniversary,” he explained.
Bruce: “42nd year? Okay. Why?”
Janeen: “Oh, for driver appreciation, and account appreciation.”
Janeen: “In two weeks.”
“So she puts it all together, sends stuff out to like 50 accounts, who all show up at a community hall,” said Johnson. “We get there and there’s all these big signs covered in white paper. They took off the paper and there’s Rust Bucket as the centerfold they’re using for Tow Times magazine. What the heck? It said 2019 Grand Prize Winner. Best Looking Truck in the United States and Canada. When did this all happen? They showed a picture of the cover of the magazine with Rust Bucket. I’m like, ‘that’s freaking incredible!’ I didn’t know anything about it.”
Rust Bucket, one of more than 500 entries, had won the 2019 Shine 'n Star Tow Truck Photo Beauty Contest. It also included a $1,000 cash prize that Johnson graciously gave to Jody.