Photos by Gary Kaplan at garykaplanphotography.com.
For Natalee King of Santa Fe, Texas, her Power Stroke F250 is more than just a dream, it’s a legacy left behind by her husband who died while serving our country at Joint Base Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Senior Airman John E. King II, an 89th Aerial Port Squadron aircraft services specialist, passed away while on duty Feb. 17, 2012, leaving behind Natalee and their son John King III. In 24 short years, Natalee has experienced enough loss and heartache to last a lifetime, but she is starting to find healing in creating the truck she and her husband dreamed up together.
Serving Our Country
When Natalee was 18 years old, she lost her older sister, which took a huge emotional toll on her. Grieving and feeling lost and confused, she joined the United States Air Force as a Vehicle Operator. She spent her days driving everything from A/T forklifts to 7-ton trucks to tractor-trailer combinations and became an Airman 1st Class serving her country in Japan.
“There were very few females in my career field, so I felt out of the loop at times. I was living in a foreign land with no family so I focused on my studies,” remembers Natalee. “Teaching myself about diesel engines was one of my favorite spare-time activities. I have always had a love for diesel trucks of all kinds, but when I met my husband, John, I fell even harder! Especially for his Dodge 24v Dually Cummins with dual custom cat stacks centered in the back.”
The two quickly discovered they had the same interests, not only trucks and diesel engines, but also in many other things as well. They were both members of the Air Force and took pride in fighting for our country, freedom and rights. John and Natalee soon decided they were better together than separate, so they tied the knot.
Once married, they moved back to the states and had their precious son. It was then, John handed the keys to his truck to his wife. She had fallen in love with it through pictures while they were stationed overseas and now it had become her daily driver.
John drove his first-generation Cummins flatbed to and from work, while his wife and their baby made good use of the Dually Cummins.
“Life was great. Although our trucks weren’t the most expensive or fully-loaded trucks that you see on Instagram or Facebook, we loved them with everything we had,” says Natalee. “Not to mention our son! At only a few months old, he would mimic the sounds our trucks made as we started them up and spooled the turbos.”
The couple spent their weekends building trucks on the computer or hand-drawing sketches of truck builds for fun. John designed one for himself, one for Natalee and then a few random others.
“As we did this almost every weekend, the sketches started to add up into piles of papers,” laughs Natalee. “Of course, at the time, it was just a dream of ours considering we were both military, our finances couldn't pay for them, but it was still fun though.”
John always promised her he would build her dream truck before the couple died or got too old to enjoy them.
“I would always tell him ‘Yeah, yeah okay babe, whatever you say," says Natalee.
On February 17 of 2012, the promise turned into a distant memory when John was killed in the line of duty with a top secret clearance at Andrews Air Force Base. The dream life the couple was putting together seemed like a lifetime away for the grieving widow, who was now singly responsible for raising their young child.
“A few months after his death, my mother had to push me back into the real world,” says Natalee. “We ended up going through his personal items. Although months had gone by, this was something I was dreading. In the first box I opened, I found the dream truck sketches of John and me.”
The memories came flooding back, making Natalee both laugh and cry. As she went through the pile she picked out the main two, his dream truck sketch and her dream truck sketch. She immediately placed them in her fire box along with his other personal items of great value.
“I knew right away what I wanted to do. It was all right there in front of me, written out on a piece of paper, in my beloved husband's handwriting,” says Natalee. “I had to build this truck.”
Starting The Build
Natalee first purchased a stock Power Stroke F250. Since she had recently relocated to Sarasota, Fla., she had to explore her options. She went into a few different diesel shops, not knowing where exactly to go or where to even start. With some help from her husband's friends, she found the two perfect places. Upright 4X4 and Underground Auto Styling, both of Sarasota, Fla., helped her build her truck into the dream it was meant to be.
Dave Rathel of Upright 4x4 did all of the performance work and helped her design the entire outside look of the truck. As far as performance modifications go, Natalee decided on Dual Fox 2.0 Performance Series front shocks and Fox 2.0 Performance Series for the rear shocks. She put in an H&S Mini Maxx tuner, S&B Cold Air Intake and MBRP 4-inch to 7-inch Rolled Tip exhaust.
For the exterior, Natalee incorporated a BDS 8-inch, 4-Link Lift kit, AMP Research Power Step running boards, Road Armor Stealth bumper, SmittyBilt M1 Mesh grill and Bushwacker Pocket Style fender flares. The lighting on the truck has been completely redone as well, with Rigid Dually fog lights, Rigid 20-inch E-Series LED bar, Recon Smoked Projector with LED Halos headlights and a Smoked Recon LED third brake light in the back. To complete the exterior, she put on American Force Independence wheels with 37-inch Toyo Open Country M/T tires and added a “Passion Pink” powder coat to different components.
Jack Polubinski and Eric "Stretch" Gibbs of Underground Auto Styling helped out with the interior of the truck by adding pink LED strips around the air vents, cup holders and floor boards. They also added a dual headrest 7-inch LCD display with a Sound Stream DVD player and Phoenix Gold TI Series speakers with a custom subwoofer.
“With the help of two great shops, I was able to go above and beyond my, actually our, wildest dreams,” says Natalee. “My truck has custom details that remind me of my late husband. One example is his initials are printed on the shocks. There are many more, but only I know what they mean to me because my truck is filled with memories of my John even though he never actually got to see it.”
Now Natalee and John III spend their time cruising around in this beautiful masterpiece. Every time she cranks the engine, her husband’s dream springs to life.
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