Chris Walker builds Super Trucks.
His clients are millionaires and billionaires, men with magnificent financial portfolios, larger-than-life personalities and oversize appetites for luxury.
For more than 10 years, Walker and partner George Stickler have satisfied wealthy men’s desires for massive machinery at their small compound in an industrial park off Barton Chapel Road in Augusta.
“I build trucks for people who can have just about anything they want, but they can only get these trucks from me,” Walker said. “I’m probably the only Ford dealer like this in the world.”
Super Trucks’ business model is low volume, producing only about 90 trucks each year. What he lacks in quantity, however, Walker makes up for in sheer size and presence. These trucks are a far cry from your granddad’s vintage Ford F-10 Custom.
Super Trucks specializes in refitting commercial Ford F-650 trucks, generally designed for use at construction sites, hauling heavy loads and taking a lot of abuse.
Walker transforms the work trucks into shorter, lighter, more powerful vehicles, outfitted with polished aluminum wheels, stainless steel fuel tanks and bumpers, sun roofs, stunning paint jobs, leather interiors and just about every electronic entertainment device imaginable – all customized to each client’s personal tastes.
“We take this big industrial truck that’s made to do all kinds of crazy things and we put a pickup box on it,” Walker said. “I’m 18 trucks behind, and I’m working on 10 right now.”
The trucks are meant for tough use and lots of mileage. The supercharged Cummins diesel engines and 200-gallon fuel tanks are made for long hauls, he said.
“At 200,000 miles, these trucks are just getting happy,” Walker said.
Super Trucks grew out of Walker’s other business, Southeastern Utilities of Georgia, which buries cables for major utility and cable providers across the Southeast. About 11 years ago, Ford came out with a new F-650 that featured an extended cab with additional seating.
Walker said he saw a way to cut his operating costs by eliminating the need for a second truck at many of the jobs he was doing. He bought an F-650, cut it down and tricked it with extra features, including a pickup bed from a Ford F-350. He was able to haul the entire work crew and all the supplies in one vehicle.
“Somebody saw it and wanted to buy it,” Walker said. He sold it, built another and sold it, too. Soon he knew he was on to something special. About 900 vehicles later, he has his process down to a science, but he’s still open to improvisation, accommodating his customers’ whims in any way he can.
Most recently he was asked to deliver a truck with built-in rice cookers and 16 ash trays.
“I thought, ‘Where am I going to put all these ash trays,’ but we figured it out,” Walker said.
Though the trucks can go for a bargain basement price of about $87,000, adding features such as a third row of seats or a satellite TV system can add up. Some “extreme” versions go for well over $200,000, but as little as $20,000 down will get you a place on the waiting list. His newest model is meant to fill the void left behind when Ford stopped making its Excursion SUV. The six-door, F-350 3XL SUV seats nine passengers and starts at about $122,000.
Walker said clients are informed when their truck is next in line, at which point they can ask for a refund or make changes to the order. After that, it takes four to 16 weeks to complete a build.
“I don’t give a delivery date, and I go as fast as I can go,” Walker said. “We build them right.”
Part of that timeline involves some of the spectacular custom paint jobs that enhance many of the Super Trucks. Those are created by local artist Ken Rayburn, who has been working with Walker and Stickler from the beginning. He has done custom paint for everyone from athlete Derek Jeter to the sheikh of Dubai, said Rayburn, who has two trucks in his Hephzibah shop now.
In the Super Trucks shop this week, workers were preparing to put a new roof on a truck intended for former Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn. They had just completed extending the passenger compartment to make it a six-door pickup, which eventually will include a third row of seats, a $6,000 entertainment system and a 40-inch sunroof, among other options.
Vaughn is just one of many current and former pro athletes who have become Super Truck owners. Other notables include basketball great Shaquille O’Neal, New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
“We did a show once for ESPN,” Walker said. “They were calling us ‘The official truck of the NFL.’ ”
Success has made it easy for Walker to give back, he said. At least once every year, he works with a charity somewhere to raise money through the sale of a Super Truck creation. Currently, he is working with an organization that helps the families of wounded service members. He plans on building a special “Medal of Honor” vehicle to promote the cause, much of it donated.
“I’m working on Ford to give me a truck right now,” he said.
Walker says although Super Trucks is a relatively small business, his clients are from all over the world, so there is no telling who will call him next.
“Last year, I flew in a fighter jet with the king of Jordan,” Walker said. “I guess I get to do some cool stuff.”