You sure as hell can’t miss it rolling down Highway 82 or blocking your entire horizon at the stoplights.
In a part of the country dominated by off-road-capable Range Rovers, 4Runners, FJ Cruisers and Xterras, it stands as the baddest-assed vehicle in the Valley. Tricked-out Tacomas and F-150 Raptors are toys by comparison.
It’s freaking huge.
“You have to climb a mountain to get in,” says Thirsty Corp. partner Lyle Samuelson of his company’s 1990 Bobtail 900.
The cab clearance is 11-feet, four inches. You need a ladder to work on the tank-sized engine.
With a loaded 3,100-gallon water tank, the whole damn thing weighs in at 48,000 pounds.
Its six massive tires — 450 pounds each, 50 inches tall and 20 inches wide — can crush a man. Accessing the spare tire requires a built-in hoist and two men to manipulate. The tires are self-deflating and inflating, hooked up to a cab-operated air compressor. Mud, snow, sand, boulders, no problem; little more in, a little bit out.
“They have a bead lock on them,” Samuelson says. “It would take a catastrophic failure to pop it.”
Pintle hitches stabilize drive-train connectors. You can hook 30 of these beasts, ass to nose, and ford a river deeper than the floorboards (snorkels kicking in) or traverse the rockiest of landscapes, like a train.
Thirsty Corp. purchased this military behemoth from Boise Equipment in Ogden, Utah, for twenty-two grand. They invested another six grand in the wheel set up. The VIN records of this specific M935A-2 iconic Bobtail confirm a tour of duty in the Middle East and that it’s been rebuilt completely three times over in its 25-year military history
Even as a woman, I feel chest hair sprout just looking at it: straight-up “Thunder Dome” meets “Road Warrior.”
You know that feeling you get when you put on a hard hat? That’s what climbing inside feels like.
Powering up is pretty dope, too. With the spin of a thin two-inch key, 210 horses of M14 Cummins diesel rumble through your legs, butt, back and head. Then, a higher pitch like the keening of a hammerhead Piaggio jet kicks in, signaling takeoff.
Layer in the humming reverb from tire knobs massaging the pavement, the dBs increasing proportionately to our growing speed. The tonnage of sloshing, rolling water introduces an eerie, rocking ocean effect. Good God, this is some power.
By now, older brother Ward, the primary driver, has learned that speaking in a lower voice is more effective than yelling. He leans towards me over the roar, pointing to the dash.
“Radio will save you when you get tired of hearing the turbo — which you haven’t heard yet,” he says quietly.
Oh, but wait — wait — there it is, rising between shifting gears like a VW whine on steroids.
There is no comparable experience in the Valley to this ride-along.
TruckDrivingJobs.com calls the Bobtail “one of the most classic and effective commercial vehicles on the road,” used for hauling small to medium loads. Typical to semis/tractor trailers, Bobtails fill our interstates. In their 18 years of hauling potable water on the Western Slope, Thirsty Corp. has used several iterations of the Bobtail. It’s a family favorite.
“On my list of things to buy as a kid? This was one of them!” Lyle points out. A fondness for toys resides in the heart of the Samuelson boys.
Best friends and twin brothers Lyle and Kyle grew up with three other brothers and a sister in Glenwood Springs. As young men, Lyle and Kyle ran off to Alaska, working ski resorts, equine gigs and, as many men do in Alaska, heavy equipment. When Colorado called them home, they honed in on “something in trucking.” With the oil business booming and man camps mushrooming across the Roan Plateau, hauling water for showers, cleaning and drinking was a given. In the first five years, Thirsty Corp. deliveries peaked at 200,000 gallons a month and over a million gallons a year. It took an impressive fleet of seven Bobtails, an 18-wheeler, two 6-bys, and even a Snowcat.
They’ve downsized post-boom, but it’s still not hard to turn an honest profit filling pools, hot tubs, ice rinks, cisterns, stock tanks and irrigation projects all over the Western Slope. Take, for example, two of their Snowmass clients: $75K (for six months of the year) and $100K (year round!) for water deliveries, primarily for lawns better suited to Kentucky.
The water itself is not the primary expense, costing mere cents a gallon. The value is in the capacity and capability to deliver it. Deliveries are $120 an hour. In El Jebel, where this truck often fills at a fire hydrant near Crown Mountain Park, water is 39 cents a gallon, purchased on an honor system, with a notebook log, from Midvalley Metropolitan.
The Bobtail 900 also scoops up all the outlier clients other operations can’t handle on the two-track roads from the Flat Tops to Little Annie Road.
Don’t mistake these Samuelson men for roughnecks, or “just truckers.”
Although twin Kyle is a bear of a man, his dead-level eyes hold a burgeoning smile. Curly gray whiskers fur his face and climb from the collar of his buffalo plaid flannel. His hands are working ones, calloused and gentle, dropping often to rub Cody, his Shiba Inu. Barnwood frames hang on the office walls behind him, the product of Kyle’s right brain. In a baritone husk, the left side of his brain explains his earlier work through Thirsty Corp., when he drafted standard operating procedures for “water tender” regulations — which the Colorado Public Water Systems eventually adopted, statewide.
Around a wad of chew, brother Lyle shares what he calls his “true gift”: painting. His folk art wildlife scenes fill Lyle’s wooden frames. The twins seem inseparable, not only in work and life but through creative collaboration, too.
“I’m in art mode right now,” Lyle continues. “Oil paint has to dry a little, so I worked on four different pieces yesterday.”
An oversized wall piece of his hangs in the Valley View Hospital Calaway Young Cancer Center.
“It takes you 40 minutes just to look at it,” Lyle says. “Did you notice the beaver in it? Or how ’bout the owl? It doesn’t matter where you enter the painting, it forces you to move through it.”
At 63, older brother Ward’s face is dark and smooth, with a smile like morning sun peeking through clouds. Behind unusual, stylish spectacles, his eyes are peaceful, and I wonder what’s in there, driving a monster truck all day.
“I think a lot about inventions, try to figure out gadgets to make life easier,” he says. Words unfold slowly. “I’ve made quite a few things.”
A machinist by trade, Ward grew up tinkering on the printing presses of his parents' newspaper, the Glenwood Post. This opened the floodgates to a lifelong affair with machinery. He spent the better part of his younger years wrenching on classic cars and trucks, from Catalinas to Econolines to Mustangs.
“It was the times,” he smiles, with eye contact. “Back in those days, no one had money but everyone had hot rods and cruised Grand Avenue.”
Cruising ourselves, at about 55 mph now, cars and trucks float onward, far below us.
“Nothing like looking down on the cars around you. Everyone’s always racing to the lights so they can stop and text!” Ward says with a wry laugh.
How does he like driving such a beast?
“It was like a toy, like, oh my God! But the fun wears off pretty quickly,” he admits, regarding the long, routine days. Water deliveries keep Ward on the road, hauling water from municipal pump to client and back, day in and day out, all over the Western Slope. “Sometimes I get discouraged driving this truck around and then some kid gives me the arm pump!” he says, lighting up.
The Samuelson brothers have had a long haul. Trucking takes a toll on the body; days can blur together. All three brothers can swap some stories. They’ve done their duty, building a profitable family business in service to society — delivering “life,” in their view. They’re ready to turn their attention to more personal pursuits.
Thirsty Corp. is for sale.
“My retirement dream was to be an artist,” Lyle says. (He gives me an original and four prints during our conversation. “Give one to your editor!” he orders.)
Over the decades, the Samuelson boys have acquired an impressive collection of trucks and parts. When Thirsty Corp. is sold and the slate is clean, Lyle dreams of one ... more ... beast.
“I can take two cabs,” he begins, his eyes seeing some grand vision, “and weld them together to make a four-door, all-wheel-steer monster truck!”