Ohio father rebuilds truck into memorial on wheels

Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer The (Toledo) Blade Published:

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- Tom Wylie spent the last 3½ months tearing apart and rebuilding a dump truck in his mechanic shop, but he really was retooling his broken heart.

The owner of Wylie & Sons Landscaping in Perrysburg Township turned the vehicle into a rolling memorial to his 23-year-old son, Tommy Wylie, Jr., who was killed June 23 in a vehicular crash in Henry County.

"It helped me get through a lot of the suffering," Mr. Wylie said.

Tommy, who worked with his father at the truck repair and sand and stone-hauling business, ran his steel-hauling business, WJR, from the same Glenwood Road location.

He was driving on U.S. 24 from Wylie & Sons back to the family homestead near Swanton early that June day when his pickup collided with two commercial trucks pulling double trailers. The impact from the second one crushed his vehicle and killed him instantly.

The Henry County Sheriff's Office says the crash remains under investigation, but Mr. Wylie said he needed to do something to cope with the pain.

Tommy was an avid dirt-bike racer, and fellow racer Jeffrey Clark of Bad Brush Design in the village of Holland had made memorial decals with Tommy's 513 bike number.

"When our community loses someone ... it seems to help in those situations," Mr. Clark said.

The sticker inspired Mr. Wylie to repaint the 1999 Mack, the first truck he ever bought, in the same bright purple as his son's Kawasaki racing color, with the Bad Brush graphic enlarged onto the cab doors. Closest match for the truck paint: Crazy Plum Purple. Mr. Wylie didn't flinch when told it cost $500 a gallon.

"Well, I need a gallon and a half," he said.

He didn't stop at the truck's exterior. Mr. Wylie stripped it down and then rebuilt it.

Todd Hanson of Hanson Graphics in Wauseon hand-painted "Tommy Lives" with green stripes on the hood. Mr. Wylie clear-coated several pictures of his son on the cab and trailer, practicing first on the shop's washing machine.

Kristen Kowalski of Delta, a bookkeeper for Wylie & Sons who was Tommy's girlfriend, is in several of those pictures.

"I think he would love it," she said.

Mr. Wylie's eldest son, Josh, works at the business, and his youngest son, Nick, is pursuing a horse-racing career.

And although Mr. Wylie is separated from his wife, Lisa, she's going to be behind the wheel of her son's memorial truck when it hauls again, he said.

The dump truck carries the names of businesses where Tommy had worked, including Shrader Tire & Oil of Toledo and the Flag City Mack dealer in Findlay.

"It's pretty nice of them to put our name on something that's so special to them," said Chris Herman of Columbus Grove, parts manager at Flag City Truck and Equipment.

Mr. Wylie said he spent 10 to 15 hours a day on the project, which helped keep him busy. But his grief persists.

"I was crying so hard on Christmas Eve, I didn't think I'd get through it," Mr. Wylie said.

He completed the dump truck by his goal of Christmas as a present to Tommy.

"When God gives him his window to peek down and see what's going on, he can see it going down the road," Mr. Wylie said.


Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/