The Sparks resident’s tailgate masterpiece is an eye-catching blend of Wolf Pack and Nevada pride, fusing the famous wolf head with the state’s flag and motto. It seems fitting for a man raised in northern Nevada — and born on Nevada Day no less.
The Reed High graduate (‘83) cites musical background from his family, a few of whom taught at Sparks Middle, Sparks High and Reed High schools as well as the University of Nevada, as one trigger to his love of Nevada. Hickman’s university roots run as deep as the roaring ‘tuba, tuba, tuba!’ chant from Nevada’s end zone fans.
“I played tuba in the marching band for six or seven years because you can watch the football games for free,” Hickman said. “The football team is my favorite and I have been watching them since Frank Hawkins was a running back. I have always just liked watching football up there.”
Former Nevada football head coach Chris Ault is one of many people who has spotted, followed and approached Hickman, asking about his artwork on wheels. The canvas, however, wears its second paint job after a neighborhood keying incident forced Hickman to adjust his original ideas.
“The guy who originally painted it moved to California and getting him here would have been no problem, but I support local businesses so Jimmy (Johnson) over at Elite Customs in Sparks did this one,” Hickman said. “It was funny because the university never had anything associating Battle Born until after I had the mural and the Battle Born plates connected on my truck. It is (Johnson’s) signature on it. I just footed the bill.”
With a ride like Hickman’s, it is no surprise he enjoys a good game day tailgate prior to his beloved football games. He is easy to spot, sporting a Nevada flag hoisted 30 feet high. His philosophy while tailgating is the same one he abides by in the crowds of the game.
“Anybody who walks by and wants something is welcome. We never turn anybody down and it is just fun,” Hickman said of tailgating. “We have always been zonies. I have always loved sitting there. You meet new people, different people, all the time and you are not sitting next to the same people every game. Plus, you intermingle with the opposing fans because it is general admission.”
Hickman was a longtime truck driver throughout the state, hauling products from Coke, 7Up, Pepsi and Coors “anywhere east of Sparks” to begin with before taking some routes closer to home. In 2001, Hickman joined his retired father to start H&H Custom Cabinets to fuel his creative side as a wood worker. Hickman’s home is littered with his products and plenty more are in the works for an ever evolving home.
“It just gives me a lot more freedom and it allows me to be creative,” he said. “I think the creative part is the best thing about it because I can visualize something without having to look at it, whereas my wife will see something I draw out and know exactly what she wants changed.”
Hickman, his wife Lisa and their five children, keep plenty active in sports and outdoor adventures, ranging from baseball, softball and golf to hunting, hiking and fishing. John and Lisa adopted two special needs children in 2010, which only left them wanting more as they entered the foster parenting program to welcome in the other three. There are plenty of interesting days for the family with children ranging between 6 and 15.
“Things around the house are always changing,” Lisa said. “You can see it in all of (John’s) new drawings for the cabinets I want to have around the house to help make more room for the kids. It helps keep everything fresh around here.”
John said he couldn’t imagine living anywhere but his home of four years in northeast Sparks because of his love of the Nevada landscape. He has seen the city evolve from his early days at Reed High to the development of his backyard entertainment at Golden Eagle Regional Park.
“It’s funny because you leave and go somewhere where it is all green all the time — and that is all it is. There is no character to it,” he said. “The weather is perfect here. We have some fires and flooding every now and then, but for the most part it is the perfect area.
“We like living out here because you are far enough away from everything, but we have the convenience of Home Depot and Costco and everything right there, which is really nice. We can be back in the quiet area out here, but we can walk to the back of our yard and see all the baseball fields and everything but we can’t hear them. It’s funny.”
It’s safe to say that Nevada is going to be part of John’s life forever, and that goes deeper than the navy blue ‘N’ tattooed near his ankle bone. Lisa said she knows not to make the mistake of buying red again.
“He is always wearing blue,” she said. “I bought him a red shirt and all it said was ‘Big John’ on the front. I don’t think he’s even worn it once.”