Everyone was clamoring for a glimpse of Bigfoot.
In 1983, four years before Hulk Hogan and André the Giant collided in front of a full house at WrestleMania III in the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, another tectonic collision took place. Roughly 68,000 fans poured into the massive stadium, screaming their vocal cords raw and then mobbing the star attraction—a converted Ford F-250 with oversized wheels and axles that could crush lesser vehicles like recycled water bottles, condemning them to a junkyard.
Steel screamed in agony as Bigfoot demonstrated no mercy, crumpling the puny sedans under its wheels, windshields bursting from the pressure. With ease, the tricked-out truck climbed and then parked itself on top of the feeble vehicles.
With its massive 66-inch-tall tires and the ear-splitting sounds spewing out from its engine, the Ford had become something else—something primal. It brought out a kind of vehicular bloodlust in the crowd, which started to swarm Bigfoot. No one had ever seen anything like it. Its owner, Bob Chandler, rolled up the windows and stopped the show early, driving off before his truck was damaged.
Chandler didn’t realize it at the time, but he had created a monster.
The Legend of Bigfoot
A onetime Navy mine sweeper and carpenter by trade, the 35-year-old Chandler didn't always aspire to terrorize frail sedans. He just liked pick-ups, which served utilitarian purposes like hauling lumber or tools or camping equipment. Chandler's pride and joy was a brand-new F-250 in bold blue, but it wasn’t enough. He pushed the truck to its limits while off-roading, often wrecking its axles and engines in the process.
In 1975, after a motorcycle accident curtailed his contracting career, Chandler opened Midwest Four Wheel Drive in St. Louis, Missouri, which sold aftermarket car parts to like-minded owners looking to customize their vehicles. The new business also happened to give Chandler easy access to all sorts of parts for his own rig. To help advertise the shop, he slapped some 48-inch oversized wheels on his F-250 and added larger axles for support. His cabin began to loom over the road.
“I really never had the thought to build a monster truck,” Chandler said in 2010. “I had a stock [Ford F-250 pick-up truck] and I kept putting bigger and bigger tires on it. Then I broke the axles, so I put bigger axles under the truck. Then I didn’t have enough power, so I put a bigger engine in the truck. It was just kind of a vicious circle for about three or four years … the truck gradually got to be its own star, I guess.”
Chandler zipped around town in the ever-growing pick-up, his lead foot mashing the pedal as the truck rumbled down the road. Business partner Jim Kramer joked that Chandler’s “big foot” was always on the gas; Chandler was therefore known as “Bigfoot,” a nickname that he eventually painted on the truck.
If Chandler intended for Bigfoot to be part-billboard, it worked: Locals were awestruck. The Ford F-250 retailed for about $4400 ($16,000 in today's money) new, but he got offers to sell it for as much as $50,000 ($185,000 today). “We always get strange stares,” Marilyn Chandler, Bob’s wife, told The Los Angeles Times in 1980. “When we go out at night it looks like lightning because so many people are taking flash pictures.”
A few years later, Chandler got a call from a movie producer who was working on a comedy titled Take This Job and Shove It (1981). He had seen Chandler’s truck in a magazine and asked whether he would be willing to have the car make an appearance in the movie. Chandler agreed.
Though it wouldn’t actually film for another year, Bigfoot made its big-screen debut in the movie as a participant in a pick-up truck race. The production initially insisted on using stunt drivers, but none had the feel for the truck like Chandler, who wound up behind the wheel for filming.
Chandler invited a friend named Everett Jasmer along for the shoot. Jasmer was another big truck enthusiast who had tricked out his 1970 Chevy K-10 and dubbed it USA-1. It was the perfect addition to the scene, and Chandler and Jasmer made a perfect pair.
Tall Wheel Drive
Bigfoot’s celebrity was rising, and the media soon began to refer to it as a “monster truck.” The early public appearances Chandler made with the truck included cameos at tractor pulls and off-road events, where he would drive Bigfoot out in front of audiences to show off its size and speed. Other times, Chandler would tow something heavy behind the beast to really impress the crowds. But that wasn’t quite enough.
“I was watching Wide World of Sports on TV when I saw trucks driving around a muddy area,” Chandler told History.com in 2018. “There was a body of a car in the mud, sticking up six inches out of the ground, and this Toyota put its front tires on it. My employee Jim Kramer was with me and I [said], ‘You know, Bigfoot would drive clean over a car.’”
Before long, Chandler and his friends started to wonder if maybe Bigfoot could actually crush a car, similar to how a child would take a toy truck and mash some Hot Wheels underneath it. Only this demolition derby would be to scale.
In 1981, Chandler and his friends went out to a field and parked some cars already destined for the junk heap. Bigfoot and its mammoth tires rolled over them with ease. Someone had the foresight to film the scene (above), which Chandler played in his shop.
Eventually, someone thought there might be more potential to Bigfoot than just some weekend fun. Maybe Chandler could actually make some real money with it. Soon, promoters phoned him asking for Bigfoot to make public appearances at events to total some cars.
Chandler, however, wasn’t so certain. He viewed his truck business as family-friendly and fairly clean-cut, which made him question the wisdom of driving over four-door vehicles like an automotive Roman gladiatorial contest. It seemed ... violent. But Chandler acquiesced, and when Bigfoot tore through some scrap heap specials, the crowd ate it up.
Show business came calling again when the popular ABC series That’s Incredible! offered to pit Chandler against Jasmer as they drove across a 50-car obstacle course. It was, Jasmer later told History.com, the paradigm shift. The television exposure led to a whole lot of people modifying trucks to crush a whole lot of cars.
The monster truck scene of the ‘80s borrowed a lot from professional wrestling. (Or perhaps it was the other way around.) Announcers hyped up crowds for attractions with names like King Kong, Bear Foot, and USA-1. Like prizefighters, they vied for supremacy in dirt-caked arenas, sometimes going airborne on their way to total destruction. Once the special attraction for tractor pulls, monster trucks were becoming the main attraction.
At the Silverdome, Chandler unveiled a bigger, badder Bigfoot, with tires measuring over five feet tall that were sourced from a fertilizer spreader. After the truck made short work of a line of junk cars, thousands in the crowd rushed onto the field and mobbed the vehicle for the perfect photo op.
To satisfy the demand for personal appearances, Chandler expanded into a fleet of Bigfoots with multiple drivers and booked hundreds of shows annually. Through television exposure, his Bigfoot became the Hulk Hogan of monster trucking. He nabbed a Ford sponsorship; fans filed into stadiums sporting—or buying—Bigfoot T-shirts; Bigfoot popped up as a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy; a battery-powered toy truck hit shelves. Chandler's wife, Marilyn, even drove a Ms. Bigfoot.
To satiate the demand, Chandler kept going bigger. By 1986, the latest iteration of Bigfoot sported tires in excess of 10 feet tall, which made it look like a cartoon. The seat was nearly 15 feet in the air, a precipitous fall if you were thrown from the cabin. The trucks were so unwieldy that accelerating could mean flipping front over end.
The scene was getting more competitive, too, with the trucks racing and jumping in addition to demolishing. (A 1988 broadcast on ESPN even saw USA-1 edge out Bigfoot for the win.)
But the race wasn’t relegated to the track: Monster Jam, a kind of WWE for the monster truck scene, arrived in the 1990s and is currently backed by Feld Entertainment, the operation behind the defunct Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice.
When Monster Jam was first emerging, organizers wanted to buy Bigfoot outright, but Chandler wasn’t interested. Instead, they opted to push vehicles like Grave Digger, and promote events with commercials that most kids coming of age in the 1990s remember—the ones that usually promised mayhem on “Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY!”
“I ran for them before they were Monster Jam,” Chandler said in 2017. “That’s maybe five companies back. When they came in, they wanted to buy Bigfoot. And I said I wasn’t interested in selling. They’re pushing Grave Digger, and the trucks they push are the trucks they own. And they can get all the novelty rights and everything else off them. I understand what they’re doing. It’s a business decision. People seem to like their shows.”
Though the events were often stereotyped as being entertainment for rural communities, organizers rebuffed the idea. “When you talk about 60,000 people in a stadium, you can’t have that many rednecks in one market,” PACE Motorsports head Chris Rossbach told the press in 1996.
When it came to Grave Digger’s popularity, “You’d think it’s Mick Jagger,” Rossbach said.
Recent Bigfoot Sightings
Bigfoot has gone through nearly two dozen models over the years, several of which have accomplished awe-inspiring feats, like a 1999 jump over a 727 airplane. The iconic truck still appears at shows to thunderous applause, though its creator has long since stepped away from behind the wheel.
“Somebody wanted Bigfoot 1, the original monster truck, at a show and said, 'I want you to drive over cars,’” Chandler said in 2017. “And I said I don’t want to. I’m 75 years old. I don’t want to tear things up now. I want to enjoy the rest of my life.”
His days of Silverdome glory may be over, but the monster truck industry continues to thrive, its participants roaring into the arena Bob Chandler built.