Beginning in 1959, when he was 10, Pete Machi would wake up at 2:30 a.m., leave his home in the Pittsburgh, Pa., suburb of Bloomfield and walk two blocks to get picked up by one of the “huckster” trucks owned by Bloomfield-based Balistrieri Bros.
A huckster truck is a customized truck full of products salesmen try to sell by driving through neighborhoods.
The Balistrieri truck was loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables. Machi, a salesman at Pittsburgh-based Consumers Produce Co. Inc. for the past 35-plus years, still remembers the rack on the top of the truck where they kept the watermelons.
Little wonder he remembers that detail. For his work on the truck, Machi was paid a dollar and a watermelon a day. He remembers how much his mother loved watermelons.
Six out of seven dollars he made went to her. Decades later, when Machi got married, his mother gave him a check for $7,200 — all the money he had given her as a child, plus a lot of interest.
After his morning of huckster-ing, young Pete returned home and got ready for school.
“I worked from the age of 10 to the age of 14 — it gave me the work ethic I have today. I loved it.”
More than half a century had passed since his first day on the huckster truck when Machi woke up one day and had a revelation: he was going to build an exact replica of it.
He remembered that the name of the company that customized the 1958 Ford had been written on the truck: Barati Bros.
Problem was, Barati Bros. had been out of business for more than 25 years. But Machi took a drive down the road where the company had been based, and he found another business with Barati in the title: Barati Auto Parts.
It was the same family. Soon Machi was in touch with the only one of the three brothers still living, Bill Barati.
Machi told Barati what he wanted to do.
“The guy thought I was nuts,” Machi said. “But he came down to my office, and he had photos of the old truck. That helped me a lot.”
Barati, 81, wasn’t about to build another huckster truck himself. But he gave Machi the name of one of his old rivals in the truck-customizing business. The rival’s first answer was no. But Machi pleaded with Barati to ask him again, and eventually he got a yes.
Machi went online and found a 1989 flatbed truck in Ohio that suited his needs. Several months and $50,000 later, his huckster truck — painted red just like the one he worked on, and featuring custom-made curtains from the same company that made the curtains for the original truck — was complete.
Machi has yet to load it up with Consumers Produce fruits and vegetables and go door-to-door, like in the old days, but who knows what retirement could bring, he said.
For now, he’s content to take it to produce trade shows and drive it in parades and car cruises.
Much to his delight, Machi has found the truck means as much to others as it does to him. Recently, he took the truck to the 90th birthday party of Tony Balistrieri, the only one of the three Balistrieri brothers still living.
“When Tony’s nephew, Anthony, saw it, he started crying,” Machi said.