A Little Something Extra

Not content with pristine paint jobs and gleaming chrome, enthusiasts add personality with a decorator’s touch.

Tiny girls and boys hide their faces in their arms as they lean against show trucks in classic hide-and-seek pose. To the casual onlooker, these might be children playing to pass the time while their parents view the gleaming rigs. But Pride & Polish contestants know them as “pouty babies,” one of the many decorative accessories some show truck enthusiasts use to help make their rigs stand out from the crowd.

“It’s a little flair,” says Heather Hogeland, who with her husband, Roger, and their 1996 Kenworth, Total Obsession, is a multiple Pride & Polish award winner. Modeled after Heather’s niece, Mary, the Hogelands’ pouty baby features red pigtails, blue overalls and a purple baseball hat and tennis shoes, to match the color scheme of their truck. “You have to get something somewhere that sets you apart from everyone else,” Heather says. “That’s hard to do when you’re competing against such creative people.”

The Hogelands and other successful Pride & Polish contestants are quick to point out that extra touches such as dolls, floral arrangements and color-coordinated carpeting are no replacement for good old-fashioned elbow grease. Cleanliness is king at Pride & Polish, and a quality paint job and gleaming chrome rule the day. But that attention to detail separates contestants who merely “show” their trucks from those who “present” them, truck show enthusiasts say.

Much of the credit for bringing the concept of presentation to the show truck circuit belongs to the winningest Pride & Polish contestant of all time, Darian Stephens. Stephens parlayed his experience showing a 1968 Chevelle street dragster into a record six Best of Show wins with his purple 1995 Freightliner Classic, Keystone J.R. “I tried to do some of the same things we did in car shows,” he says, such as cleaning underneath the chassis and hand-lettering the tires. “It wasn’t new to showing, but to truck showing it was.”

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Stephens’ hallmark is adding something new for each show – purple carpet surrounding his rig, mirrors placed on the ground to showcase his chrome, or purple neon lighting around the inside of the grille and in the diamond-shaped windows of the sleeper. When he really wants to go all out, he wears a top hat, tails and purple vest. “It’s the whole elegance thing,” he says.

Where Stephens led, others followed. When Rusty Wyrick and Tina Lomax of Mansfield, Ohio, bought Gordon and Janie Levering’s 1998 Western Star, Gone with the Wind, in 2001, they completely transformed it, giving it a Mardi Gras theme and renaming it French Quarters. Firm believers in the importance of a good presentation, the Wyricks place carpet under the truck and add a neon “French Quarters” sign to help their rig stand out. “I get accused of going too far with my decorating,” Wyrick says.

A trip to Wal-Mart was not too far for Heather Hogeland, who surprised her friends Harvey and Karen Zander with a dusting of artificial snow around their Freightliner, Icy Blu, at the 1998 Atlanta Pride & Polish. She used purple glitter on the asphalt around her own Kenworth “just to catch your eye,” she says.

Some contestants choose to showcase their creativity through their interior decorating skills. Better equipped than many of the finest hotel suites, Thomas Smith’s 140-inch sleeper, for example, featured cherry wood cabinets and floor, faux marble countertops and an etched-glass shower with brass accents. The Goldsboro, N.C., trucker’s tasteful presentation – with a little help from his wife, Rochelle – earned him first place in the Custom Aftermarket Sleeper category at the March 2000 Pride & Polish show in Louisville, Ky.

As a big movie buff who also loves the 19th century, Janie Levering didn’t have to think twice in selecting a décor for Gone With the Wind. The Leverings carried the exterior theme, featuring murals of Scarlett and Rhett, inside their 150-inch ICT Sundowner sleeper, with Rhett and Scarlett Barbie dolls and a framed painting of Scarlett. Velvet curtains, brocade pillows and a stained-glass window added to the effect. The Leverings, who won numerous Pride & Polish awards, sometimes even placed full-size mannequins outfitted as Rhett and Scarlett outside the truck to greet passers-by.

Ray Schomaker likewise put plenty of thought into the interior of his 1987 Peterbilt 359. The etched glass on the dash, gearshift knobs and sleeper mirror imparts a classic elegance. “The swinging doors in the bunk, those were my idea,” he told Overdrive in its October 1999 issue. “It kind of gives it the Western look.”

Whatever look they are going for, successful Pride & Polish contestants stress the importance of a consistent theme and color scheme throughout their presentation. “I’ve always tried to have something that will coordinate with my truck,” says Debbie Brown, who with her husband, Russ, has outfitted three award-winning rigs. The Browns’ current truck, a 1999 Freightliner Classic, is black and orange Harley-Davidson from grille to fifth wheel, including Harley shirts, jackets and boots for the owners.

Heather Hogeland carries her color scheme through to the very tips of her fingers. She has her perfectly manicured nails painted in flames to match those on her Kenworth. “I like to coordinate stuff like that,” she says.

Although show participants agree that the glitter, carpeting and accessories may not sway the judges, the fun is in continually coming up with new ideas to set yourself – and your truck – apart. “It’s just a little extra some people like to do,” Debbie Brown says.

Sometimes, the extra touches show truck enthusiasts add to their rigs are less about decoration than necessity.

Before one show, for example, Roger and Heather Hogeland hit a post with their 1996 Kenworth. They couldn’t get the dent out in time for the show, so Heather placed two ficus trees in front of the damaged area. “No one ever noticed,” Heather recalls. The couple even walked away with several trophies.

Debbie Brown used her talent for making “pouty babies,” the child-sized dolls seen leaning against many show trucks, to solve a perennial problem. “We set them on the steps to keep visitors from crawling on the truck,” she says.

In some cases, budget constraints drive creativity. When the Hogelands couldn’t afford a chrome kit for their engine, they put wire loom over the hoses in yellow, orange, hot pink and purple, to coordinate with their truck’s color scheme. “We even won First Place, Engine,” Heather recalls.

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