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TORONTO, Ont. - If reality TV has done nothing else, it has given society an even greater obsession with appearances. As if sexified images in commercials, magazines and movies weren't enough, shows l...

TORONTO, Ont. – If reality TV has done nothing else, it has given society an even greater obsession with appearances. As if sexified images in commercials, magazines and movies weren’t enough, shows like Fear Factor, Dog Eat Dog and the Bachelor are projecting the image of the “average” North American as a buffed, browned and bleached Baywatch-worthy babe. But if you don’t find yourself fitting into the Barbie/Ken mould, there are a slew of other TV series that can help you self-improve. Whether it be your body (The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover), your wardrobe (What Not to Wear, Ambush Makeover) or your home (Trading Spaces, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), somewhere there is a team of experts anxiously waiting to make you into a better you.

But just when you thought the trucking industry was safe from the bloated makeover genre, along came Country Music Television’s Trick My Truck (think MTV’s Pimp My Ride, but with more wheels). The program features the Chrome Shop Mafia, a group of Missouri-based big rig mechanics, who select one lucky truck driver and transform their truck into a customized dream.

One such lucky driver was Darlene Swift of Illinois, whose Freightliner Classic XL was revamped by the Chrome Shop team after the show received a heartfelt letter from Swift’s daughter telling why her mother’s truck deserved a face-lift.

“It was a complete surprise,” a giddy Swift told Truck News. “They say on the show this will change your life forever, and it has.”

Her life-changing appearance on the show involved a complete overhaul on her truck; which now boasts a new head, tires, wheels, reefer generator and dual fibreglass fenders to name a few.

But what would a makeover show be without a few extra bells and whistles? On top on the “usual” additions, the show also provided a waterfall in her sleeper, a wraparound couch, a remote control foot massager (she now has about eight remotes in all), a 32″ plasma TV and a digital camera with printer. Even her dog Roeper got a piece of the action.

“I’m probably the only person in the world who has her own personal dog shower,” she said with a laugh.

And though Trick My Truck only takes care of the exterior components, Detroit Diesel got wind of Swift’s million-plus mile engine and offered to install a reman’d Series 60 engine.

“I was in total shock,” Swift said. “Now I’ve basically got a brand new truck.”

Now when she and Rupert hit the road, they not only enjoy the newfound celebrity but also pride like never before.

“I’ve always had pride in my truck because I’ve always driven nice equipment,” Swift explains. “This was my very first truck that I’d ever owned. I always kept it polished and waxed and looking good. But this show has given me even more pride.”

It’s that feeling of pride which drives many truck drivers to seek out customization shops across the country, says Frank Fenwick, owner of Quality Custom in Brampton, Ont.

“Our typical customer is usually a guy who’s just got one truck and he wants to make it his own,” says Fenwick, who’s been working on trucks since 1979. “Everybody likes something a little bit different.”

Fenwick says the more popular items right now are custom grilles, custom sun visors, custom exhaust, custom painting, decaling and airbrush work, with some custom fenders and bumpers on the rise as well.

But Fenwick doesn’t chalk customization’s push into the spotlight as a mere fad.

“It’s not that they didn’t want it, it just wasn’t available. Nobody thought there was a market for it,” he says. “But as we started to create some of this stuff, we found out that, ‘Hey, there’s a market here.'”

Though Quality Custom helps create the whole package for truckers, other businesses are choosing to specialize.

One such business is Danny’s Custom Truck Fenders in Souris, P.E.I. – the only business in Canada making fibreglass fenders, according to company founder, Danny Campbell. Campbell, a lifelong driver and chronic truck cleaner, built the product in his head while driving down the road trying to think of a way to keep the dirt down. Campbell says his fibreglass fenders do just that, but also have benefits over rubber, stainless steel and metal fenders.

“With fibreglass, you can paint it up to match your truck and it’s really easy to repair,” Campbell says. “If you get an ‘owie’ on it, you don’t have to throw it away. You can fix it back to perfect just the same way you can get a ding out of your car. They’re not going to rust and they’re not going to end up in the recycle bin. They’ll keep your truck nice and clean and looking good, but with less maintenance.”

Though Campbell has only been in business for less than a year, word-of-mouth has spread from his existing customer base, helping the company keep customizing. But Campbell doesn’t like to just make the trucks better looking, he’s also looking to help make the truck safer.

“I don’t want to sell fenders to a guy who wants to just fancy up his truck, I want to sell it to everybody that wants a better fender,” he says.

Once customization junkies are done with Campbell’s fenders, they may want to talk to Joel Simpson, owner of Never Enough Chrome. Simpson, who drives his own truck for the gravel business, got hooked on customizing after taking a Florida vacation with his wife, which he says quickly turned into a “chrome hunt.” After finding a variety of products that were unavailable north of the border, Simpson got the idea to start his own business at his home in Ashburn, Ont., north of Whitby.

“You couldn’t buy the stuff I have up here, but I knew there was a demand for it,” he says.

Though the business carries more than just chrome (including lights, clothing and other accessories), chrome products are still the major draw at Simpson’s business.

“Most of the trucks you’re getting now have a lot of plastic in them. I can’t even really tell you why chrome. It just adds some life to it,” he says.

Another draw to his shop is the addictive nature of customizing itself, which Simpson himself was warned about when he first started customizing his own truck.

“(My friend) warned me,” Simpson admits. “He said, ‘You just don’t stop there. You have to keep going.’ And of course I did. Every time I turned around, I was looking for something different.”

Like any addiction, customizing can be difficult to control if it gets out of hand, according to Quality’s Fenwick.

“I’ve seen some guys where I think, ‘Okay, you’ve got to slow down your horses a bit.’ I have a customer who comes in every month with a $500 budget to spend on customizing. He has to save for two months if he wants a bumper that’s $1,000 for example,” Fenwick says, “But he’s addicted. He’s spending that money all the time.”

Which brings up the question: how far is too far when it comes to truck customizing? Fenwick says that for most, it’s simply a matter of personal taste.

“I just see (customizing) going more and more extreme now. Personally, we push the limit all the way to the top. I always tell guys, ‘Think outside the box. Don’t think transport trucks, think what you love, what you’re passionate about. Let me build your passion truck for you.'”

Having said that, Fenwick admits that it is possible to overdo a truck, and has actually turned away a number of potential clients.

“I will turn them away and say, ‘That’s not going to look right.’ For us, we’ve maybe overdone a couple of trucks ourselves, but only because we’ve got to push the envelope so that people can see that ‘Wow, there’s a lot of things I can do on my truck.’ So we go a little more extreme so people can look at different options.”

Simpson agrees that it’s possible to go too far with your truck and even has a friend in the process of slowly “de-blinging” his truck.

“He said he can’t even run with his radio on anymore,” Simpson says. “He says he’s gotten to the point now where he’s over the fact that it looks nice. He knows what they’re thinking before they even say

So like the Michael Jacksons and Joan Rivers before them, many truckers are slowly learning that too much customizing can leave them looking, well, freakish. That being said, many truckers are simply too full of pride to let anyone else’s opinions leave them feeling disheartened, and that pride shines brighter than any newly polished chrome.

“It feels really good to be driving across the 401 and have someone coming the other way who gives you the thumbs up or calls you on the radio and says, ‘Hey, nice ride there,'” Simpson says. “You’ll have a grin on your face for the rest of the day and that kind of makes it all worthwhile.”

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