When Somernites Cruise Team Member Mark Hansford -- the "Voice of the Cruise" heard on the loudspeaker downtown on Saturday -- told a reporter to look for a visitor with the name "Steve Francis," the reporter had to ask: That's not the Steve Francis who played basketball for Maryland in the late '90s (falling 103-91 to Kentucky) and spent nine years in the NBA, is it?
"I wish," laughed Steve Francis of White House, Tenn. -- not the basketball player.
Even so, Francis scored a slam dunk at Somernites Cruise by bringing one of the more interesting trucks for the third-annual Truckin' National Cruise event this weekend. Curious eyes came around to see the low-riding custom creation with two compartment lids popped up in the long flat bed, revealing 32-inch flat TV screens.
And that might not have even been the most interesting part about the triple-rear axle 1989 Isuzu pick-up.
"We did a three-inch body drop on it, suicide doors (that open backwards), took out the factory engine and put in a 350 Chevy engine with 700R4 (transmission), and of course the undeniable six wheels in the rear," said Francis, who noted that he put the truck together with a number of his friends.
"Believe it or not, it it was more sitting down and figuring and measuring and more measuring before we actually put it together," he said. "We had to make it work. I knew what I wanted, I just didn't know how to exactly put it together."
Francis has had the truck since 1993 and has tinkered with it, changed the paint, and added onto it multiple times over the years. He's taken it to other car shows to display the truck -- "The first couple of years after it was done, we hit a lot of shows" -- but Saturday marked his first visit to Somernites Cruise, and Francis liked what he found.
"(The truck has had a) great reaction," said Francis. "Super-nice people, everybody's been very hospitable. It's been nice. We'll definitely be back."
"Nice" was a good way to describe Saturday's downtown Show-'n-Shine overall. Though temperatures were in the high 80s, there was a nice breeze and not the oppressive heat of last weekend, when numerous events like Master Musicians Festival and the Pulaski County Fair were taking place, and sunny skies with no threat of bad weather.
That made for an impressive turnout at this month's Cruise. Overall, 1,380 vehicles overall came through the Cruise gates, one of the better numbers of the season, and over 600 trucks, which shows the theme is becoming more popular each time out. (The Truckin' Nationals is presented by Trick Trucks N Rods, with associate sponsors National Parts Depot and LMC Trucks). Bev Hines of Canton, Ohio, won the big raffle prize of the day, a 1984 Chevy C10 custom pick-up truck.
"It's been awesome weather, you can't say anything about it other than that," said Hansford, noting that the long-distance travel winner was Nolan Jackson, who went 950 miles from Sunrise, Fla., in a 1946 Chevy truck. "We've got cars here from Georgia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, got some folks from Alabama here.
"Word has spread (about the truck theme)," he added. "We had truck clubs here from South Carolina, Tennessee, several in Kentucky. I think we'll probably have in the neighborhood of 250 first-timers, people who have never been to the show before. That's amazing."
One individual who was definitely not a first-timer was Rodney Johnson of Myra, Ky., in Pike County, about 20 miles south of Pikeville. Even though he and his wife Linda have a nice little three-hour trek to come over this way -- something they've been doing on Cruise weekends for about 17 years now -- they keep a lakehouse here in Pulaski County in Burnside, and absolutely love the local community.
"We love coming to Somerset; it's our second home," said Johnson. "We love the lake and we love Somernites Cruise. We go to a lot of cruises, but there's nothing like Somernites Cruise, and the Somernites Cruise staff, every one of them are just superb. It's awesome."
Johnson didn't say whether it was intentional, but he brought the colors of Pikeville (where the local university's teams, the Bears, play in orange and black) with him -- a bold orange truck and an orange shirt. The 1940 model Chevrolet truck was a custom-constructed labor of love for Johnson, and now that Somernites has a truck showcase, he gets to display it properly as one of of the Cruise's featured attractions.
"It's on the original '40 model Chevy frame," said Johnson. "I have a 327 300-horse engine in it, with the turbo 350 transmission. It's got power steering, it's got a Mustang II front end. There is a lot of customized work on the body, a lot of detailed work. I guess I was a fanatic when I started doing it."
It took a while. When he built the truck, Johnson was working about 50 to 60 hours a week.
"It took me almost four years," said Johnson. "I'd work on it constantly for a while, then I may go a month and not touch it. Then when we got ready to paint it, my friend helped me, Ronnie Tackett. He's a perfectionist when it comes to painting. I think he's the best.
"We had it in his paint shop, had the cab off, sitting on the floor of his garage, and he had to have heart surgery," added Johnson. "He told me, 'You've worked awfully hard. Don't let nobody botch this paint up.' I said, 'Don't worry, you're going to paint it.' So we waited until he got back on his feet, and painted it, piece by piece."
The truck has been completed about seven or eight years now, said Johnson, and stands as an outlet for creative individual expression in automobile form.
"Mine's a little bit different," he said. "Everybody that builds one builds it the way they like it and there are a few things I'd do different if I was doing it over.
"I think this truck showcase has been awesome here today," added Johnson. "I've walked around and looked at them. You can look at them until you get tired of looking. There are a lot of beautiful trucks here."