Chrome sweet chrome
Original Mafiosi (l to r) Rick “Scrapyard Dog” Stone, Bryan “Bossman” Martin and C.B. Grimes with their “Godfather” tractor, which boasts this stunning back-of-sleeper mural, the work of truck-painting whiz kid Ryan “Ryno” Templeton.
The light bulb that would burst brightly over the heads of the men who became founding members of the Chrome Shop Mafia first flickered in Joplin, Mo., in early 1998. It exploded into full brilliance in the fall of that year at the inaugural Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.
These men loved nothing more than tinkering with big rigs, and that year they created a brilliant yellow Peterbilt that looked like nothing much else on the road in those days.
“We took it to the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas and got a really unexpected reception,” says Bryan Martin, the Mafia’s “Bossman.” “The truckers really loved it – it was amazing. It genuinely surprised us. There was enough of a buzz for us to sell it right there at the show. We started building one a year, and that’s how we got into customizing as a business.”
The Mafia became a kind of artists’ colony. Whether starring in the Country Music Television reality show Trick My Truck – in which the group converted unsuspecting truckers’ rigs into customized creations – or working in their own shops, these Mafiosi are artists in their own right.
Martin owns 4 State Trucks in Joplin, Mo., which went into customizing in a big way. C.B. Grimes and Rick “Scrapyard Dog” Stone are also with 4 State. Rob Richardson, another Joplin native, has worked extensively with 4 State but has his own business, Rob’s Audio Solutions. In Seattle,the Pickett brothers Rod and Kevin run Pickett Custom Trucks. And in California there’s the one-of-a-kind truck-painting virtuoso Ryan “Ryno” Templeton.
While today all but two of the Mafia members have moved on from Trick My Truck and returned to their own customizing businesses, the CMT show propelled the group to stardom.
Martin grew up around trucks in Joplin. He never doubted his career would involve them. His father and his father’s uncle were in the business of truckstops and wholesale parts and supply, and Martin worked on trucks while he was in school, tinkering with air-conditioning, brakes, clutches and various other parts. He went into the family business just as it went into salvage in 1992.
“We started out buying a few that just couldn’t be repaired and parked them. We’d use parts from them when we could,” Martin says. “Then drivers started coming in asking things like, ‘How much for the fuel tank on that International?’ Or they’d want a steering wheel or some other part. The salvage yard really helped business to boom.”
The expanding business began to prepare show trucks, eventually creating working trucks that followed no blueprint.
“We’d go to shows, not just truck shows – although we did a whole lot of those – but bike shows, anywhere people liked to see customized trucks,” Martin says.
In his last years at school, Grimes, an artist who today can turn a stock sleeper into a work of art, had decided he wanted to be an architect. “I couldn’t live in an office today; I don’t know what I was thinking back then,” he says. His first job was with an aftermarket sleeper company. “My hobby was cars and I’d worked a bit in a cabinet shop, so working on truck sleepers fit what I knew and what I liked.”