There haven’t been many times when a photo project falls in my lap. For my first major project at the Press-Gazette though, that’s essentially what happened.
While I was driving to Lambeau to cover a Packers game, I saw this scene near the Mason Street bridge about a couple miles from Lambeau field:
On my way back from the game, I stopped at the house and rang the doorbell a few times. No answer.
The next day, I had an assignment that went by the same house. I rang the doorbell again, but no answer. I grabbed a sheet of paper from my reporters notebook and scribbled down about a paragraph explaining to this stranger who I was and what I wanted to do. I then used some Gaffer tape to post it to their door.
I felt borderline creepy doing this. But hey, I’m a journalist, it’s my job to be curious and find stuff out.
Within the day I had a phone call from a guy named Andy Otten, a 25-year-old jovial fellow with an awesome Wisconsin accent. Somewhat to my surprise he was super excited I wanted to do a story on him and his truck.
I stopped by his house for a little interview and to photograph him while he worked on his truck. At this point I expected my photo project would be a quick little thing showing Andy fixing his truck, blah blah blah. Not super exciting but I still was interested. Then, he told me there were others, that he was in a club, and that this club was going to drive their trucks through a farm in the middle-of-nowhere Grafton, Wis., on a weekend at the end of October. Oh, and he asked if I wanted to come.
Obviously I said yes.
Now, I’m going to pause for a second to say a couple things about myself. I know nothing about cars—or trucks for that matter. I don’t like being dirty. I’m not really an “outdoors” kind of person. I don’t own anything resembling outdoor equipment like boots, hunting jacket, tent, etc. What I’m getting at here, is that this story was so interesting to me because of how different Andy and I are. He likes trucks, Bud Light and country music. Looking at this, you could probably say Andy fits into the Wisconsin Redneck sort of stereotype, and I don’t think that would be necessarily wrong. But what became immediately apparent to me was that Andy is very smart and very good at what he does. He’s not an ignorant backwoods hooligan who just drives around a giant truck. He’s someone who has spent thousands of hours perfecting a craft that I know nothing about and he gets dirty (very dirty) doing it. That’s cool. Even though the remainder of this story deals with the “mud trucking” aspect of everything, I’m glad I got to do this story for more than the experience of being sprayed with mud and almost flipping over in a 10 foot tall monster truck. The perspective I gained was much more lasting and important.
Back to the story.
So what kind of place is Grafton when it’s full of dozens and dozens of Frankenstein mud trucks? It’s a weird a place. Lots of guys driving giant trucks with cans of beer in their hands or clasping a Mason jar of moonshine (I’m not making that up).
For the vast majority of the day I had no idea what anyone was talking about. Converters, axles, drivetrain, suspension, transfer box…this was the language being spoken. A joke was told to me about the height of someone’s lift-kit, I didn’t laugh but instead stared blankly ahead before telling them I drove there in a Jetta. Also, I showed up to the campsite wearing Converse and almost got laughed out of the place. Fortunately I was given a spare pair of boots.
I’ve never been more outside my element than the 8 hours I spent with these fine gentlemen.I left covered in mud, smelling of gasoline and an even further understanding of how I am not an outdoorsman.
In case you don’t think these photos told a good story, you can check out my actual story here. I was also responsible for making and editing a video, which you can watch below. Oh, and here’s how it ran in Sunday’s issue.