Jeff Krekeler owns a jewelry store and a monster truck. While the store is an integral part of the Farmington jeweler's 80-year-old family business, the truck is without a doubt his new found passion.
Last week, Krekeler sat down in a downtown coffee bar to talk about how he came to own a monster truck named "High Roller," and how becoming a part of the monster truck family has impacted his life.
"Monster trucks were basically invented by a guy in St. Louis named Bob Chandler," Krekeler said. "He owned a construction company in the 1970s. Bob bought a 1974 Ford F250 - a three-quarter-ton, four-wheel drive truck. He and his neighbor, who was 10 years younger, named Jim Kramer, raced motorcycles and they were getting to the age where they weren't recovering as quickly from motorcycle accidents."
Off-roading was just becoming "a thing," so Chandler and Kramer both bought four-wheel drive trucks and started fixing them up.
"They used to bring them down to what is now known as St. Joe State Park," Krekeler said. "It's just the way it is today, but it wasn't regulated. People would go out there and drive their off-road vehicles. As Bigfoot monster truck was becoming a thing, they were largely testing it in Flat River/Park Hills, Bonne Terre on the chat dump or in Lesterville when you could still drive through the river.
"As a kid, those were places we went, so on a couple of occasions we saw that truck before it was a thing. That whole monster truck thing really exploded in 1981, 1982, 1983. I got my driver's license in 1982, so when Bigfoot was in its first movie in 1981, we were like, 'We know that truck.' I graduated from high school in 1984 and then moved to Columbia, went to college, got a job, grew up and forgot about monster trucks."
Flash forward 30 years later and Krekeler was having a class reunion meeting at 12 West with his fellow Farmington High School alumni.
"It was the tradition on homecoming, if you're having a reunion, to get drug through town on a hay wagon," he said. "The girls didn't want to do it. They were like, 'No.' We were trying to think of kind of a cool iconic vehicle that could pull us so that it would be fun. We started thinking about guys in my class who had a big jacked-up truck in the 80s. They had all sold them. We all grew up.
"So, we're sitting in the bar and on the news, Jim Kramer is in the original Bigfoot truck in downtown St. Louis crushing ice sculptures - which was a stupid thing. We were talking about it and I'm watching on TV and I'm like, 'Holy cow! These guys are still doing this! Maybe we could get them to bring that truck and pull us in the parade.' Everybody laughed, and I went home and looked at their website. I sent them an email and the next day they said, 'We do things like that.'"
According to Krekeler, it took several months to get the details worked out but in October 2014 Chandler and Kramer brought the original monster truck, Bigfoot 1, to Farmington.
"We had a display at the store and they pulled us in the homecoming parade - which was a lot of fun," he said. "There were two things that happened that day. One, they brought the truck down, which was super cool, and two, Jim Kramer came with it. He's such a cool guy. This was on Friday, and at the end of the day they packed the truck up, put it on the semi and took off.
"After they left, I told my wife, 'I know this is stupid, but I feel like I made a friend today.' She smiled and said, 'That man's been doing this for 40 years. He's earned a living making people feel appreciated.' I said, 'I know, I know, I know.' Saturday night we're at Twin Oaks for our reunion standing around a bonfire. I'm telling a Bigfoot/Jim Kramer story. I hear somebody call out, 'That guy sounds like a jerk!' I look over and it's Jim Kramer and his wife - who live north of Alton."
It was quickly apparent to Krekeler that Kramer had enjoyed the day in Farmington as much as he had.
"He told his wife how much fun he had down here," Krekeler said. "The weather was great, there was a huge crowd, the parade was fun, he had fun. It was kind of late in his career at that point. I don't think he had fun every day and he had fun. His wife said, 'He just keeps telling me how much fun he had and how much he had enjoyed meeting you.
Krekeler said Kramer's wife said she told her husband, "You know what? Let's just go crash their reunion."
"So, they came down and crashed our reunion and we had another fun evening with them," Krekeler said. "At the end of the night they drove home, and we went home. It was one of those things that was a really fun experience and to me that's where I thought it was going to end, but just in that one day I was suddenly associated with monster trucks in people's minds."
It was in the spring of 2015 that Krekeler arrived at work one morning to discover six people had each posted on his Facebook page about a Craigslist ad out of Oklahoma about a monster truck for sale.
"It was an old '79 monster truck," he said. "It was red and had been sitting in a field for 10 years rotting."
Here's a brief history of the truck and how it ended up being left out in an Oklahoma field to "die."
High Roller was built in 1985 by David Mattingly of Fordsville, Kentucky. The design was heavily influenced by Bigfoot 1, the original monster truck. Greg Coston purchased High Roller in 1986 when he traded a Boss 429 Mustang plus $6,000 cash for it. The truck was valued at $25,000 at that time. Coston and his friend Rodman Hobbs enjoyed the truck and performed many car crushes at Ford dealers, county fairs and jamborees.
Coston sold High Roller to Lewis Ford in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1989 who modified it by adding 66-inch tires and removing the flares - at which time High Roller was then sold to a body shop in Oklahoma where it was rebodied and painted red. It was sold again to a tire shop in Oklahoma City where it was used for advertising.
"High Roller was eventually donated to a church youth group that renamed it "Higher Power" and left it sitting in a field for a decade," Krekeler said. "I really had no intention of owning a monster truck but it was cheap and it was sitting on a set of tires that I knew a monster truck guy in New York wanted.
"I bought the whole truck in 2015. He took the wheels and tires off and took them somewhere in Oklahoma to have them broken down. The guy in New York bought the tires and a guy in Ohio bought the wheels. By the time we brought the truck back to Missouri, I had less than $1,000 in the truck - which was basically free."
Now that Krekeler had bought the truck, he intended it to be no more than a cheap toy.
"My 10-year-old son and I were going to put it on tires - not monster tires but big tires - paint it blue and take it out to St. Joe, whatever. Just have fun with it. As fate would have it, a couple of weeks later we had the big hail storm. We got hit particularly hard on our side of town and the truck was sitting outside. What was left of the truck got pulverized. Suddenly I had a cheap truck that didn't run and had hail damage beyond redemption."
The truck sat outside for another month when Krekeler received a call from a man with what he described as "a Kentucky twang."
"He said, 'You don't know me, but I know that you know that you bought a piece of monster truck history,'" Krekeler recalled. "His name was Rodman Hobbs."
Finally convinced by Hobbs of the truck's historical significance, Krekeler decided to fully restore the truck in time for the 2016 Indy 4x4 Jamboree.
"In the time that I owned High Roller I got introduced to the monster truck family. People were coming out of the woodwork to offer to help. So, in the fall of 2015 to the spring of 2016, Alan Fenstermaker, who lives in Sparta, did a ton of work on it and people just kept pitching in. All of a sudden we had restored High Roller. The big unveiling was at a truck show in Indianapolis in September 2016.
"My brother-in-law and I threw it on a trailer and drove up there not knowing what to expect. The reaction was huge. It was incredible. People loved the truck. It had been at that same show in 1986, so 30 years later we took it back. We ended up displaying the truck with the International Monster Truck Hall of Fame, which to us was a real honor. We just met that many more monster truck people at the show."
Meanwhile, Krekeler had kept in contact with the Bigfoot team through the entire process.
"They invited me to bring the truck to their open house last spring," he said. "I got to drive High Roller on their field with Jim Kramer and Bigfoot 1 and crush cars together. It was super cool!"
Krekeler has found out that a monster truck not used is a monster truck that will begin to deteriorate.
"When you own a monster truck, you've got to find places to take it," he said. "You've got to find ways to use it. What we've discovered is, if you don't, the next thing you know it's been sitting in a field for 10 years. When you own a vintage monster truck, it's not like a modern monster jam truck. It doesn't fly in the air, it doesn't have all the safety equipment.
"We're really limited with what we can do with it. We can do parades with it, we can do car crushes, we can do exhibitions, we can do fairs and car shows. We've used it a couple of times, because it has the old-school light bar, for events waving the American flag during the National Anthem."
On April 21, High Roller and its team will be taking part in the Third Annual Light It Up Blue Autos 4 Autism event taking place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Bonne Terre Drag Strip, 7640 Black Berry Lane. In addition to High Roller, the event will feature a car, motorcycle and truck show, as well as a drag racing event to support Visions of Hope.