Sitting behind the wheel of a big rig, Alex Bashenow Jr. adjusted his seat and gripped the wheel.
The Bargersville area resident grabbed his CB radio, pretending to contribute to the chatter of other truckers driving around central Indiana. Moving the custom-made gearshift, he imagined downshifting, as if he were in a convoy racing down the highway.
Bashenow likely will never have the opportunity to pilot his own truck. The 26-year-old is severely autistic, which prevents him from earning his certification and driving. But with the help of the trucking community and the star of TVs “Ice Road Truckers,” he now has a modified truck cab to sit in and envision that he’s taking to the open road.
During a special ceremony on June 26, Bashenow was presented with the specially outfitted truck cab. Though the engine, wheels and front half have been removed, the main shell and interior are intact.
Organizers arranged for Bashenow to be picked up in a fully outfitted big rig and taken for a ride. When they returned to his home, he found a mob of people standing out front, waiting for him.
“I jumped out of the truck, thinking something was wrong,” he said.
What: A Greenwood-based company created by Alex Bashenow Jr. and his parents, Alex Sr. and Ruth Bashenow, to recycle electronic and technology materials
What they accept: Used ink jet cartridges, cell phones, Blackberrys, mp3 players and any other handheld electronic communication device
How to get a bin: Contact Ruth Bashenow at 695-1047 or e-mail at Voyager820@aol.com
Instead, they cheered him as the garage door went up, revealing his own personal cab, complete with his name on the side.
“Someone yelled, ‘Open that garage,’ and his eyes just lit up. It was like something out of TV,” his mother Ruth Bashenow said.
Representatives of Special Olympics Johnson County and Johnson County Autism Support Group cheered as Alex Bashenow Jr. got his first glimpse.
Alex Debogorski, a Canadian truck driver who gained fame on the “Ice Road Truckers” series, was present to meet him and shake his hand. The two had met at a truck show in Louisville, Ky., and Debogorski was familiar with Bashenow’s friendly, yet sometimes brash attitude.
“He talks like a trucker and acts like a trucker. He’ll fit right in,” Debogorski said.
Bashenow has been a trucking enthusiast since he was a child. His room was decorated in toy models, and he had posters of imposing driving machines covering his walls.
He also has made connections with other truck drivers in the area. He has a standing invitation from Second Helpings, an organization that collects unwanted food from around central Indiana, to serve to the needy.
A few times each month, he rides shotgun in the collection truck, getting a taste of driving without actually being behind the wheel.
Bashenow also is a regular participant in the Special Olympics’ annual World’s Largest Truck Convoy. On highways across the country, trucks line up in miles-long convoys to raise money for the Special Olympics, and Bashenow typically rides along with them.
“We’re all lined up, blowing their horns at each other and waving at all the kids you pass,” he said.
Every year, Bashenow and his family attend the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville. They walk for hours, staring at the display showcases, talking to truckers from around the world and marveling at the newest in trucking technology.
“From these shows, Alex knows so many truck drivers. When he shows up, they all get excited,” Ruth Bashenow said.
Finding an alternative
While the different aspects are fascinating, nothing captures his attention like the truck-driving simulator. Sitting in a fully functioning cab, with a video screen instead of a windshield, he can get the feel for the road that the professionals have.
The simulators are prohibitively expensive, costing upward of $30,000. So as an alternative, Alex Bashenow Sr. wanted to buy a stripped down cab so his son could get the same effect.
The donation of a modified truck cab was put together by people from around the country who were made aware of Bashenow’s devotion to the trucking world.
Through their connections at the show, Alex Bashenow Sr. contacted Rockwood Products, a trucking products company.
Carl Carstens, Rockwood owner, immediately jumped at the opportunity to help. He scoured his product line for a used cab that could be converted.
The silver FLD Freightliner that he discovered was donated by S&J Transportation and turned out to be perfect, nearly a match for the one that Debogorski drives in the television show.
A “Trucking for Jesus” decal was placed on the side, along with a sticker for “Ice Road Truckers.”
Alex Bashenow Jr. has been a fan of the show since it first aired on the History Channel in 2007. The program follows a group of hard-nosed drivers in the Arctic, who traverse Canada’s Yukon Territory on carved-out roads built over frozen ponds.
“I’m always watching them on TV, with their huge big rigs, going over the country,” Alex Bashenow Jr. said.
The 57-year-old Debogorski has emerged as one of the most charismatic characters on the show. His new-found fame has led to speaking engagements around the country. By chance, he happened to be in the Midwest on the day Bashenow would receive his special truck cab.
“Alex is a big fan of the show, and we thought it would mean a lot for me to be there,” Debogorski said.
Running a business
While the trucking business is his passion, Bashenow is kept busy with work of his own. He and his mother started their own recycling business, AJ’s Recycling, which focuses on reusing ink cartridges, cell phones, mp3 players and other electronic devices.
Every Wednesday, he and Ruth Bashenow drive their car to bins that have been set up throughout Johnson County. The items they collect are shipped to a company in California for reuse.
They started the company to help autistic people and others with special needs find work, Ruth Bashenow said. Though it’s just the two of them right now, they hope eventually to hire others to expand the company.
“Part of our mission in doing this is to bring awareness that autism is a significant issue, not just for children but for adults too,” Ruth Bashenow said.
The actual collection business, as well as meeting with area companies to set up pickup points, takes up most of Alex Bashenow Jr.’s time. But since receiving the truck cab, he spends a few hours a day sitting in it. With its own battery, the truck has working lights, windshield wipers and other components.
The CB radio is disconnected, but he still can pick it up and give out call signs.
“We like to have him live in this world that we all live in,” Ruth Bashenow said. “But it’s nice for him to have this available.”