In a grove of pine trees a few miles off the beaten path in Somerville sits a quaint brick house with a large front porch. Mary Taylor, who spent the morning making cookies, sits in one of the many rocking chairs watching her husband, Charles, and her son, Travis, wave at the cars passing by. The scene has all the makings of a peaceful Saturday morning at the Morgan County home. That is until Charles, Travis and their friends go out to the street and ignite the rocket fuel cylinders they’ve attached to two toy cars.
Smoke, sparks and a loud explosion rock the once-serene environment. As a film crew rushes into the woods across the street to get the best shot of the crumbled cars, it’s become ‘just another weekend’ for the stars of National Geographic Channel’s show, “Rocket City Rednecks.”
“That was an experiment to show you don’t really want to be sitting in a car powered by rocket fuel,” says Michael Taylor, Travis’s nephew. “Because if you are, that’s the end of it.”
The show is led by Travis, a research scientist for the military and NASA, who felt there was a gap to fill in television programming. Their solution? A show that used science to explain how things work and was fun to watch.
“I knew from the start exactly who I wanted to be in the show,” Travis said. “I knew there was an opportunity for a show centering around us as we hang out and experiment. We get together on the weekends and attack a project. It has been so much fun!”
In addition to Travis, the cast includes four other men with various skill sets. Charles Taylor, Travis’s father, is retired from General Motors and worked for NASA in the late ‘60s. Michael Taylor, Travis’s nephew, owns a landscaping business. Dr. Pete Erbach, Travis’s brother-in-law, is an optical physicist for Polaris Sensor Technologies, Inc., and rounding out the crew is Travis’s best friend, Rog Jones.
During the show’s first season, the guys used their ingenuity and know-how to tackle projects like building military-style truck armor out of beer cans and constructing a cost-efficient, above-ground tornado shelter. When the cast created a submarine out of a fertilizer tank and beer kegs, even those watching from the shoreline held their breath as the vessel started sinking rapidly with Travis and Michael inside. The two were able to get out, and the episode — “20,000 Kegs Under the Sea” — remains a favorite for most of the cast.
In the second season — scheduled to air in late September or early October — Travis and the guys will continue to use their national “Rocket City Rednecks” platform to reclaim the true meaning of redneck, changing it from an insult to a compliment.
“Some people think redneck is a derogatory term,” Rog said. “But it’s not to us. I have no qualms about being called a redneck, because I am one.”
When Travis first presented the show’s name to the network, officials were skeptical and afraid it could be offensive. Travis insisted that historically, the term described someone who worked outside and was never meant to be derisive. The other fellas liked the name too.
“I like to say there are rednecks all over the country,” Pete said. “Anyone who has that strength of independence, rebelliousness, ingenuity and a sense of community and responsibility... as far as I’m concerned, they’re rednecks too.”
Charles said viewers in other parts of the country are often surprised people with Southern accents can be so intelligent.
“We know things that might surprise some people,” he said. “We want to just tell folks, next time you talk to a redneck, you might want to do a lot of listening.”
To learn more about the show, or to watch clips from the first season, visit http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/rocket-city-rednecks.