Jake Eilen: Gone but not forgotten
One-year old Jaden Eilen's first words were "Dada," and he was already beginning to take after his dad, Jake, with a love of semi trucks.
The last time Anne Eilen talked to Jake, her husband, he called simply to tell her he loved her.
That phone call happened Nov. 23, just 10 minutes before Jake, 27, of Hampton, died in a one-vehicle accident on County Road 50, across the street from his parents' house and the house he was building for Anne and Jaden.
The two most important things in Jake Eilen's short life were his family and his work.
Like father like son
Though his life was cut short, Anne said Jake never wasted a day and there was never a dull moment when he was around.
His brother Jonathan said Jake never looked back and always kept his eye to the future, whether it was growing his business or building a new house for his wife and son.
When Jaden came along, Anne said, Jake stayed home more to be with them. Jake's brother Pat said Jake would leave early from work and rearrange his schedule to be with Jaden as much as possible, and when the two of them were together, not a lot else mattered.
"When he (Jaden) showed up, everybody else was chopped liver," Pat said.
At age 2, Jake loved sitting on the side step of the semi trucks that Tom Eilen, his dad, owned and drove for a living. Following in Jake's footprints, Anne said Jaden loves being around Jake's trucks.
"You put Jaden in a semi truck and he grabs the steering wheel and freaks out," she said.
Jake had a photo of Jaden doing just that as his cell phone background the night of the accident.
Anne said Jake was a hard and dedicated worker. He loved the trucking business and she remembers him saying he wouldn't have a clue what to do if it wasn't there for him.
"He lived his dream every day," she said.
Jake grew up around trucks. His mom and dad, Julie and Tom, own Eilen and Sons Trucking.
"He could back a truck up out of the bay at (age) 7," Anne said.
And Julie added that he could do so better than some of the fulltime (and full-grown) truckers that the company employed.
By the time Jake was 15, he had a farm permit and was driving trucks around the Eilens' property, organizing loads and helping wherever he could.
Tom and Julie didn't push Jake into the trucking business, it was just what he wanted to do.
"I offered to pay his way through college," Tom said. "But no, he wanted to drive truck. I guess it was in his blood."
Jake and Anne knew each other from the time they were 5 years old. Her earliest memory of him was when they were at a cabin and he was chasing her around with a dead fish.
"Yeah, I did not like him then," she said.
They played Little League together and went to school together. They've said "I love you" to one another since they were in seventh grade. Julie said they're true childhood sweethearts.
King of the road
Jake started out driving semi trucks, and Anne said he loved being on the road, either in a big rig, or on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. She said he could drive a load to Florida and back in two days, which both amazed and scared Anne.
If Jaden and Anne were Jake's real pride and joy, his Harley and custom big rigs were his mechanical pride and joy.
His favorite colors were orange and black, which showed if you ever saw the big rig Jake dubbed "HD100," because he couldn't get out of a Harley store without spending at least $100, Anne said. He designed the HD100 to match his Harley.
Jake started his own company, Jake Eilen Trucking, about six years ago. His fleet was up to six trucks and two trailers. Even when Anne would call Jake's cell phone he'd answer, "'Jake Eilen Trucking, you call, we haul,'" she said.
The HD100 truck, and several others of Jake's, have made it into trucking trade magazines several times, something Jake was very proud of.
The trucks also won numerous awards at national truck "beauty pageants," which were another source of pride for Jake.
He took good care of his trucks, Anne said. Like clockwork, every Friday Jake would wash them and polish them on Saturday.
"Everything had to be immaculate," Anne said, even her car. If she pulled up with a dirty car, Jake was outside soon after washing it down.
Now, a month after Jake's death, Pat said truckers still come over his CB radio with their condolences when they see the Eilen name on the side of his truck. The Eilen family, and Jake in particular, were well known and well liked in the trucking industry.
Pat said he and his siblings were always close and if they weren't working together, they were hanging out.
"He wasn't just my brother, he was a good friend of mine," Pat said.
A fitting tribute
Jake's wake was like nothing Pat had ever seen. There were more than 2,000 people there from more than 10 states. It lasted more than six hours and some people waited in a line three hours long to pay their respects at Jake's casket.
"I knew he knew a lot of people, but I didn't know the extent of it," Anne said.
Foregoing a hearse, the Eilen family decided to send Jake off in a style that was more befitting of him.
They strapped his casket onto a flatbed trailer that was pulled by Jake's HD100 semi truck. They also strapped his Harley onto the back of the truck, giving Jake one last ride.
The funeral procession also included Jake's six big rigs.
Gone, but still here
Since Jake's death, strange things have been happening to the Eilens that give them the feeling that Jake is still with them.
When Anne and Jake's best friend were talking during the wake, the open lid to Jake's casket, which had a locking mechanism holding it in place, shut without warning and without anyone near it. The funeral director said he'd never seen anything like that happen before. The power shut off unexpectedly at the wake as well.
When the funeral procession was passing the place the accident happened, a bald eagle flew across the field and straight up into the air above a memorial that was placed there.
Anne said she's constantly felt pressure on one of her fingers since Jake died, almost like someone's grabbing it.
At 1 a.m. on Christmas, Tom's cell phone rang. He wasn't able to answer it in time, but the number that showed up on his phone was all zeroes.
"Jake's spirit is everywhere," his mom, Julie, said.
No matter what the cause of those strange occurrences was, Jake will live on in the memory of everyone who knew him, and through his son, Jaden.
Jake's brother, Jonathan, said he and his family will always be there for Jaden, telling him how great a guy his dad was.