'Top Gear's' Richard Hammond Talks 'Crash Course,' Operating Beastly Machines

The six-episode series sees Hammond, who told THR he had to climb a tree that felt "15,000 feet high," learning the ins and outs of lumberjacking, demolishing buildings and working in the military.
Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images for BBC Worldwide

Top Gear favorite Richard Hammond is hitting the road for BBC America’s Crash Course.

The six-episode series, debuting on the cable network Monday following the Top Gear: India Special, follows car enthusiast Hammond as he travels across the U.S. learning how to operate large pieces of machinery, including a tree harvester, trash-handling equipment and several devices used to demolish buildings, in just three days each.

As someone who’s sat behind the wheel in some of the world’s fastest and most sought after cars, Hammond was ready to experience something different.

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“The idea did kind of grow organically as the best ideas do. The more we thought about it, the more [it made sense]. I have driven every kind of luxury performance car you could find but these are working vehicles with a job to do,” he told The Hollywood Reporter last week over a sit-down in Los Angeles. “That was a good way into talking to the people who do the job.”

The lack of familiarity Hammond had with the different facets of American machinery proved to be beneficial.

“Because we were looking at it through the eyes of a Brit rather than an American, I get a different take on it so I can happily ask the dumb questions or the obvious questions,” Hammond said.

The most challenging vehicle Hammond had to manage was a dangle head operator, which “is used by foresters and lumberjacks in Oregon.” (That episode airs next week.) The most difficult jobs, however, dealt with people expected to take part in pressure situations, like the military.

To hear Hammond tell it, the most surprising aspect of Crash Course was people’s willingness to show him the ropes. If that didn’t happen, there would be no show. “They were all working while we were there and yet they found time to welcome us in to make the show, to let me have a go, to be patient and teach me – and that was surprising,” Hammond said.

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During the course of the series, viewers will see the TV personality take part in some surprising activities.

“I had to climb a tree during one program that we made,” Hammond told THR, joking that the tree was about “15,000 feet high.” “We could’ve cut that in the edit to make that far slicker and me to look much braver but I’d rather we didn’t because we have to look honest. If something goes wrong, if I find something to be difficult and challenging, then that has to be part of the show.”

“It was horrible,” he said half-jokingly of the tree climbing, “but great that we did and makes for great TV. I was scared and they showed that.”

In another episode, Hammond gets his hands dirty when he meets a man whose job it is to wreck buildings.

“He can look at a building totally differently to the way you or I might and actually see where to attack it,” he recalled. “And the joy he went about his job; I’ve never seen a grin that broad. He just tore into it, absolutely a man in his element.”

If the time came when Hammond had to give up his career for one of the jobs on Crash Course, which one would he pick? The question was more difficult to answer than anticipated.

“I’ve managed 20-odd years of working without actually having to do an actual job. Why now?” Hammond joked. “It would be logging, lumberjacking because I’m a country guy and the landscape is beautiful. I don’t think I’d be very good at it but I’d like to be able to do it.”

Watch the Crash Course trailer below:

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course debuts Monday at 10 p.m. on BBC America.