Putting On a Show

Bob Farr might be the envy of every trucker who dreams of landing a job that combines trucking and sports.

Farr, of Tustin, Calif., has been driving broadcast production trucks since 1984. He currently hauls a production trailer for Southwest Television Production Services of Tempe, Ariz., which is rented to CBS Sports for broadcasting sporting events. He drove for Trinity Broadcast Network for 17 years before it sold its production trucks; he also ran a camera for Trinity’s first mobile uplink.

“It’s the kind of thing every kid involved in television dreams of while in college,” Farr says. “I get to do it and get paid for it.”

Before working in television, Farr, 62, hauled cattle and general freight. He began driving trucks on his family farm in the ninth grade. He was student teaching in college when he decided that teaching wasn’t the profession for him, and quit school to drive a truck.

“The students weren’t interested in learning,” Farr says. “Trucking was beginning to grow so I quit school and went on the road. I drove for a baking company for years and was ready to retire. I saw a guy on television say that his company was going to buy a new production trailer, and I just knew I was supposed to pull that trailer. I’ve been hauling for broadcasting companies since then.”

When Farr arrives at the next broadcast location, he helps set up if he isn’t over his legal hours. If he doesn’t need to rest for the next day’s drive, he watches the event. He does whatever he can to help out.

“I pull the truck in, find the location and park,” Farr says. “I power it up. My responsibility ends there, but if I have some hours left to work I’ll help with the cable. At the end of the show I pick up the cable and leave for the next town if necessary.”

Bob Farr’s production trailer expands 40 inches, making the total width 102 inches. The trailer is 53 feet long and 14 inches off the ground, and has a 10-foot spread axle, corner air bags, landing gear on each corner, and levels along the sides. It always weighs close to 80,000 pounds.

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Farr’s truck is a white 1996 Freightliner cabover with a sleeper. The side of the trailer expands 40 inches, making the total width 102 inches. The trailer is 53 feet long and 14 inches off the ground, and has a 10-foot spread axle, corner air bags, landing gear on each corner, and levels along the sides. It always weighs close to 80,000 pounds.

“It’s the heaviest unit ever pulled constantly at that weight,” Farr says. “I weigh all the time and it varies but it’s always close to 80,000 pounds.”

The trailer has to be straight and level when parked so it will go back together without problems. Last year Farr delivered the trailer to many college football games, including two University of Alabama and three University of Florida games.

If CBS wants a high-definition television broadcast then Paul Randall of Mesa, Ariz., follows Farr with a 48-foot trailer that has high-definition capabilities. Randall has driven for STPS for eight months, and says it’s different from hauling regular freight.

“There is always something to learn,” Randall says. “I’ve learned a lot from Bob. I follow his lead.”

Sometimes Farr’s schedule between events is tight, leaving him only time to sleep and drive. In October 2001, he was at a boxing event in Cincinnati for HBO, left the next day for a basketball game in Denver, then traveled on to Salt Lake City.

Parking his trailer at Louisiana State University’s football stadium in Baton Rouge is the tightest fit Farr has to negotiate. Clearance is 10 inches on the inside and 14 inches on the outside after the trailer is parked between the stadium columns. Farr has to place the trailer in a hole, and he gets out to look and make adjustments many times before the trailer is in place.

“I have to sneak behind the columns and pull under the stadium,” he says. “I scratched the trailer on one side, and it was the first time in 18 years that I’ve scratched a trailer.”

If Farr is in a hurry to make his next location, and is over his hours for driving, the company will fly in another driver to help out. Farr sleeps in the trailer for security reasons, and if he isn’t in a hurry, he takes back roads to see the countryside.

Mike Cunningham places caution tape around his satellite truck to keep spectators away during a sporting event.

Memorable Rides
Another driver who got “television fever” is Mike Cunningham, who began driving a satellite truck in the mid ’80s when the large C-band satellite trucks became popular. He began pulling one in 1986.

In 1992, Cunningham began driving for Videocom Satellite Associates of Dedham, Mass. He’s been to many events, including NASCAR Winston Cup races and national presidential conventions. He has been to the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 and ESPN-broadcast sporting events.

One January he drove to the remote Canadian Atlantic province of Newfoundland. He took his truck and trailer on a ferry ride overnight from Nova Scotia to reach Newfoundland, and on the trip to the ferry he faced howling blizzards along Nova Scotia’s east coast. When he reached Newfoundland there was 10 feet of snow. He set up his trailer to cover an interactive videoconference that was preparing for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta.

“I told the company I’d go to the ends of the earth for them,” Cunningham says. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Several events also stand out in Farr’s mind. When he was with TBN, he drove a production trailer into New York’s Bronx area to cover a tent revival that was being held on a vacant lot.

“Going in I saw people dead on the sidewalk and through that experience realized how critical it is to help society,” he says.

On a more cheerful note, last year Farr was in St. Louis for a National Football League game in which the Kansas City Chiefs scored more points than had ever been scored against the St. Louis Rams.

“Kansas City rose up and stomped them,” he says. “It was a fun game to see.”

Many people would envy Farr: While with TBC, Farr used a tape of country music star Dolly Parton to set his audio level. He was helping produce a Christian show in Nashville, Tenn., on which Parton was a guest.

“I met her backstage,” he says. “She was nice and cordial.”

Randall’s favorite event was the National Hockey League playoffs held in New Jersey when the Pittsburgh Penguins were playing the New Jersey Devils.

“I met Mario Lemieux, owner of the Pittsburgh team,” he says. “He still plays and is a fantastic guy to talk to.”

Where the Action Is
Inside the STPS trailer, you’ll find a production area with a switchboard and cameras where the director, producer and technical director work. The audio area has a studio board with the capability to record a 24-track album.

“I built and designed the inside,” says Jim May, STPS’s engineer in charge. “Bob gets the truck here and knows about engineering to help out when he can. Not everyone can do what he does. It makes him more than a driver. You have to be to haul this trailer.”

The trailer produces a live feed and has two 10-ton compressors to keep the equipment from overheating. Each camera has a monitor, and there are 25 to 30 cameras feeding broadcasts to the trailer for production.

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