Kickin’ off in high gear

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My earliest memories were of being on the interstates and seeing all the ‘golden era’ big rigs on the road. The trucks were so unique. Each one was different from the next and seemed to take on an identity of power and freedom.” –Robb Mariani, designer, artist and self-styled “fanatical” truck expert

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Let’s get the New Year started off with a bang, shall we? Not to mention with a whole lot of fun, too!

In about a month here, you’re going to see Robb Mariani (at left), a designer, artist and self-styled “fanatical” truck expert, on the “Speed” cable television channel hosting a new program called American Trucker, which is dedicated to showcasing “iconic trucks” that made the trucking business famous.

American Trucker hits the airwaves Thursday, February 24th with two 30-minute episodes running back-to-back at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. eastern time.

Produced by BCII Productions (which brought programs such as Overhaulin' and Hot Rod TV to the small screen), American Trucker from the clips I’ve seen so far sure looks to offer an awful lot of sharp iron and interesting plot lines.

What’s nice is that Mariani himself seems genuinely enthused about the world of trucking and you just can’t help but get swept along by his high-octane hosting style – just check out the clip below to see what I mean.

Mariani – a native of Wisconsin – said he came by his passion for big rigs in traditional fashion, after numerous family trips spent on the highway in a motor home from the 1960s through the 1980s. “The trucks [we saw] were so unique. Each one was different from the next and seemed to take on an identity of power and freedom,” he explained in the background material on this new TV program. “Each truck driver I would see was like seeing a super hero – their rig was their 'super power.'”

At the same time, Mariani’s artistic skills shifted into overdrive as well, culminating in a passion for big rig scale models. "I would work for my Grandma, saving newspapers and aluminum cans from her tavern, mowing lawns, painting garages, whatever I could in order to finance big rig model kits,” he said. “Kenworths, Peterbilts, Freightliners, Internationals, Macks – I had my own fleet and could see myself driving them all over the nation.”

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He related that he worked for a time during his school years as a loader at a local trucking company to make ends meet. “I got taught to drive the rigs in order to hook up the tractors to the correct trailers for loading,” Mariani recalled. “The first truck I ever drove was a 1975 Mack Cruiseliner with a 300 hp Maxidyne [engine] and a 5 speed [transmission]. I thought I was cool in that cabover Mack!”

Yet the call of the art world proved too strong. “After high school, I studied graphic design for three years in college,” he said. “Needless to say, my plans for becoming a trucker took an exit. I followed my art skills and made it my career, but never lost my fervor for American big rigs.”

In particular, Mariani said he loved the “old trucks,” such as the Ford cabover – called “Blue Mule” – driven to lasting celluloid fame by Jan Michael Vincent in the 1975 movie White Line Fever. He eventually tracked down a similar make and model big rig rusting away in Tennessee, restoring it to preserve – in Mariani’s words – a portion of his childhood.

[You’ll note the first truck highlighted on Mariani’s show is from the old TV series BJ & the Bear, chronicling the adventures of a long-haul trucker and his unusual sidekick, a chimpanzee named “Bear.” Though it’s perhaps not what one would call the most flattering portrayal of trucking, it nonetheless served for a time as the lens through which most of America viewed the industry.]

“I’m a ‘renaissance man’ for the golden era of American trucking,” Mariani explained. “Old trucks sitting in a field once played a vital role in the lives of American families. Someone once designed the trucks; people were employed to build the trucks; someone made a living selling the trucks; and countless hours were spent driving the trucks, delivering untold amounts of goods to untold destinations – most of it completely anonymously.”

Those are some of the tales – both real and imaginary – Mariani hopes to tell via the American Trucker TV program. “Thousands of others feel the way I do about these trucks, so I wanted to do something to preserve those old road ghosts; those old American big rigs and all the stories they tell.”

I for one hope Mariani gets that chance, for if nothing else, this high-energy program sure looks like it will be both interesting and fun to watch.

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