Conversations with Big Rich

Industry icon, Clayton Walters, in Episode 39

December 31, 2020 Guest Clayton Walters Season 1 Episode 39
Conversations with Big Rich
Industry icon, Clayton Walters, in Episode 39
Show Notes Transcript

Clayton Walters is an industry icon, building Clayton Off-Road from the ground up. He is the name in long-arm kits.  Listen to his story and how it began and where it’s headed next. There’s a lot of laughs with a guy like Clayton..

3:22 – always had a knack with mechanical stuff

6:26 – lifting Grand Cherokees, “it’s just terrible”

9:48 – I’ll build this for $1500, but I gotta have ten orders

11:40 – my lousy pick up line “I can put a long arm kit on that”

14:14 – we had a one-car garage with a portable garage beside it

17:07 – I can’t send the government a bunch of control arms

20:58 – how’re we going to save money? (listen up as Clayton explains their process)

27:30 – adding value for our customers 

31:13 – it was a rude awakening with football

33:26 – don’t let the Night Rider get ya

40:54 – is my 25 year old mind having issues with my 58 year old body? Or vice-versa?

44:19 – the wet t-shirt contest

46:20 – building Erik Miller’s first Jeep

51:49 – racing the Rausch Creek qualifier…and the expensive piss


Clayton Off Road, the premium Jeep Suspension Company. 


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[00:01:20.190] - Big Rich Klein

Today on this episode of Conversations with Big Rich, we have Clayton Walters. Clayton is Clayton Off-Road.



He's the founder, got started in the nineties with with building parts. And we're going to find out from Clayton where he got started. Clayton, thank you for coming on board. You're looking good. How are you feeling?


[00:01:42.900] - Clayton Walters

Good. Good. It's been I feel blessed this year. It's been a great it's been a great year, despite of all I know, some people have had some rough times this year, but I feel really blessed that we we've been doing well this year. Feel good. We just had a big snowstorm today and a little bit tired from all the snow blowing. But things are good. It's good to be here with you.


[00:02:11.850] - Big Rich Klein

Well, thank you for coming on board. Let's get started and jump right in. Where did you grow up? Let's let's give the audience the background.


[00:02:23.130] - Clayton Walters

I grew up in a little town called Prospect up in Connecticut. It's a suburb of Waterbury and. It was such a small I was a small town, I think when I was growing up, there was only about 10000 people and we didn't even have a high school. So I went to Waterbury and we were the farmers from Prospect and it was kind of funny.



And so I kind of grew up on a of half assed farm. My grandfather was an electrician and my dad was like he was a draftman that was more of an engineering background designer and he was in the rolling mill industry. So we were always like playing around with tractors. And I had motorcycles and I always had those apart. And I was fixin' them. and I can remember, like, playing around with wires and popping circuit breakers in the house all the time, you know.



So I always had like a mechanical background, I kind of felt gifted. I know a lot of kids nowadays, they don't know what they want to do. They don't know what they want. And I just always had this knack. I feel blessed that I was always had an ability to do the mechanical stuff. So when I was in college, you know. I didn't really know what I wanted to study, and I got recruited to play football for division 2 school in New Haven, and so I'm going to go go play football.



And I want to make a study, I'll take engineering. My dad takes is an engineer. And so, you know, I played around with that for three or four years on and off. And I have one hundred and five credits and never finished my degree. I just couldn't stand it stand go in the class. And they're like teaching the theory about stuff. And I'm just going like, no, what does it do? I want. Stuff I can do something with, how am I going to use this?



And and I think about the straw that broke the camel's back because I went in for my first class and I was like, oh, this is going to be great. And the professor starts fire by putting a calculus formula on the board. And I'm like, this is this is what I want to do, you know?



And. But when I was in college and my dad worked for a company that built a rolling mill equipment, so it's really awesome, I got to go in and I went to work for a guy named Timmy Mosher, and he was a machinist. I had his. He was. I don't know, whatever you call it, but he had you got to go for an apprenticeship and stuff, and so he just started teaching me how to run Bridgeport's and lathes.



And I was lucky we would get a pile of blueprints and we'd make all these parts and and we and we get to assemble the equipment and actually go install it at the customers. And these were, you know, big, you know, million dollar projects and stuff. And so I got a background in electrical and machining and welding and wiring and hydraulic lines and stuff like that. And then I left that company after a few years and actually went to work for was like a second cousin.



He's actually his dad and my dad were cousins. So I think they call it cousins once removed. And so I went to work for him. It's just fabricator building like equipment and stuff. And for for our own production in the plant, you know, I learned how to program PLC's and hydraulics and air controls and all kinds of stuff like that. And so I did that for a while and I actually became the plant manager. So it's a plant manager, plant slash engineer.



And I was there for quite a while. And then, you know, in nineteen ninety seven I.



I bought a ninety five Jeep Grand Cherokee. Got divorced that year and I started playing around with a forum called Grand Cherokee America, and people were like, oh wow, they lifted these Grand Cherokees, you know? And so I said, that's cool, you know? So I, bought proComp, two inch lifts for my Grand Cherokee, just like it just rode and handled like shit, and I was like, oh my God, this is awful.



It's just terrible. So, like, the next year I was like the first thing I built my own adjustable control arms. And there was this thing called that the front you would take the front springs and put them in the rear and buy so you could get about three or four inches of lift. And I did that and had to make my Grand Cherokee is on thirty twos and. The first grand slam event I went to was actually down at Big Dog in Virginia and first time I went down there, broke a rear axle, folded the front control arms over.



And I remember Skip that was running. He's like, you got to build. Things got to be built tough. You no down here. And I was like, all right.



So I was always playing around with this Grand Cherokee America forum. And I tell us, when I was a guy, Tony Karalis, I think he works for ARB or did after that, but, you know, he eventually lifted his Grand Cherokee like six inches and had it on thirty fives and he ended up totaling it out. And I remember reading this article how it wasn't feasible to lift your Grand Cherokee six inches. And so lo and behold, I didn't believe anybody.



And I, I actually built a six inch lift kit, made my own control arms, and I swapped in Wagoneer 44's at the same time. And I, I literally drove it the first time and sat at my kitchen table and started crying because it was just drove and handled so poorly. I is my old girl friend nicknamed it the Squirrel because when you drove it down the road it was like, you know, just back and forth in the road. So that was around 98 or 99, something like that.



And I remember Rubicon Express came out with the first long arm kit for the TJ, and it was actually a guy I got he had like one of the first kits down at the big dogs. And I looked at it and I was like, that's what I need on my Grand Cherokee. You know, before that, I was just making like rock rails and bumpers for the Grand Cherokees and. So I started designing this long arm, I called it a long arm upgrade kit, right.



And so I put it on it just to handling and everything was just so much better, you know, no rear axle steer. No, it just drove straight down the road. It was great. And just the climbing ability of it to get, you know, you had to push the tire up against something. The long arm would just climb or it's so much easier. So people started. Are you going to sell this around? Like, I know I was just playing around.



And so finally I like, added up the costs and I'm like, all right, there's like five hundred dollars in materials and I'm just going to triple the cost of that. And I put it on the forum and I posted "I'll build this for Fifteen hundred dollars and I need ten orders to go into production and in one week I have ten checks in the mail that was, that was off. And so that then from there went to the I got the Cherokee which was pretty much just the same arms, just a little bit different cross member.



And then we we did then we did the. The W.J., which was the next generation of the Grand Cherokee, they did a long arm with that, and it was kind of a funny story because on that Grand Cherokee America, you know, there was somebody made a post and it's like the race for the first long arm W.J. and I go on there and I'm like, I don't know how much of a race it's going to be. My buddy Adam's coming up from New York on Friday, and he's going to go home Sunday night with a long arm kit on his jeep.



And I was like, everybody was just laughing. You know, this is so funny. I like and sure enough, Monday morning my buddy Adam got pictures driving home. You had his long arm kit on, you know. It was pretty cool, it was a good experience I actually had when I did that first that first initial sell of the the Grand Cherokee long arm kits, I actually had three guys flew me to San Francisco, did three installs. And then when I released the W.J. Kit, I actually went to flew to Denver and had three installs to do there and got to go snowmobiling with one of the guys because he was like a manager at one of the resorts up there.



So that was pretty cool. And then we kind of went to things backwards, you know, like we did. I did the TJ Long arm kit, the last of the last know. And I was kind of a funny story. I was I was down at Big Dogs and it was this cute girl and T.J. and she's like, that's kind of like trying to talk to her. She actually was friends with my buddy. That was. And so my my pickup line was, you know, I can put a long arm kit on that for you on the jeep and.



Yeah, and she is she kind of thought I was kidding. And so we kind of like hung out at at the like the end of the grass and everything and this and that and didn't think much of it. She went home and and then Monday morning I guess she did some research. She calls me up and she's like, hey, I want to talk to you. And so, yeah, she she drove up from Virginia and put we put a TJ long arm kit developed, T.J. long arm kit, you know.



So that was kind of the way it went. And then around two thousand three, I had a friend who's in a Jeep club and Adam, who is actually my business partner now. He was finishing up college. It's kind of it's been a great relationship. He's a he's actually 17 years younger than me. But I was the best man at his wedding ten years ago, and he was the best man at my wedding two years ago. So it's been a great story.



But he was always. He competed with his T.J. and stuff and. He had like some of the original rock crawler stuff on his truck, you know, we ended up swapping it all out for our stuff and he was getting done with college like I want to buy half your business. And I was like, yeah, you know, finally I decided that, like, well, you know, he.



I was I still had a full time job, I was working plant manager, plant engineer at this company I was at. You know, I have been there like almost 15 years, you know? And so finally I was like, all right, you know, I don't have the time to make this business grow. So this is the opportunity. So I kept working at my regular job and he bought half the company. We we didn't even have a phone or anything like we just there was no phone or the email address and a website with no ordering.



You couldn't order online. And so we we gradually grew and grew, played around with, you know, travels around a lot in the early days doing shows and stuff and competing. And then, you know, we've been lucky it's changed. So now we're pretty good with where we are. But that's that's the way it all started. Just a one car garage actually is where I started in and I put a portable garage up side of it. And I had one of these quickie lifts and I could do installs out there.



And how do we actually just grew up step by step? But it was it was kind of funny. I was like thinking I was going to be rich really quick to find, you know, these kits only cost me five hundred dollars apiece and I sold ten of them. I should have ten thousand dollars in the bank. And when I'm all done and when I got done, I had almost nothing in the bank because I invested about twenty five hundred dollars in material or no in equipment and then had to buy the.



Five thousand dollars in the inventory to make the next ten kits, I was like, where'd my money go, you know, but so that's kind of where everything happened with as far as getting things rolling.


[00:15:35.680] - Big Rich Klein

One of the nice things is building it up. That way you get to learn a lot of the business aspects as well. When you when you started small like that and even with the ten kits. You started at a spot where you're still in your garage when you were back to being broke because you now invested in the next 10 kits and you bought equipment and tools and everything else you need, all of a sudden it was you really started a business, right?


[00:16:04.390] - Clayton Walters

And then the other big like going about the business, things like that. That's probably one of was my biggest weakness was just not being business savvy. I kind of really made an effort over the last three years to kind of try to change that. But, you know, the first couple of years, like once Adam bought into the business, we like you know, he bought when he bought half the business. I had done eighty thousand dollars that year out of my one car garage.



Right. And then we doubled the business for like three or four years in a row. But I can remember the first couple of years, like we're taking like, say, a thirty thousand dollar salary. Right. And we was an LLC. So when you're an LLC, you have to take the profits personally. Right. So what people don't realize is that, you know, so I think one year the like. Our accountant goes to us, he's like, well, you guys owe, like.



Thirty thousand dollars each in taxes, and we're like, what? And they're like. Because, yeah, you're not you know, you had a profit and you you have to claim the income from it and we're like, we don't have that kind of money in the bank. So what I was was all of your profits went to putting in stock. Right. But I can't send the government a bunch of control arms.or



, Coil Springs, you know, but so you see all of your profit that you got, you put in the inventory or invested in machinery and they want you to pay tax.



And I was like, Holy shit, you know? So that was kind of a big learning curve there. But it takes a while. It's it's it's you know, it's not easy. It's not easy. You know, this year's been very successful for us, so we have plans to buy it. We're going to buy the ten to ten thousand square foot building. I think we're going to at we're going to buy it add on three thousand square feet and keep renting out half of it.



Feel like I always had, you know, like. It had this unique ability going from that when I worked at that manufacturing company with my original job, we worked. It was a polystyrene plant, right? So it was the old dump foam, the old Dunkin Donuts foam cups. Right. That's polystyrene. But we did it on a bigger volume, if you could imagine that stuff, about one pound per cubic foot. And I would expand and ship about twenty five thousand pounds about a day.



So I had about seventy five people working for me, two or three shifts a day. It was it was a lot. We always were like we wouldn't just go out and buy our own equipment. We had these laminating lines to glue foil back craft paper to the foam to make a leveling board for the retrofit siding industry. And we we built all our own equipment to do it, you know, so I learned that. Things like like, for instance, a couple of years ago, that's probably like four years ago now we change the design of our track bars.



We started drilling and tapping the end of. Instead of welding an insert and because the diameter a little bit smaller, use a thicker wall, and instead of going out and buying a 40 or 50 thousand dollars CNC. machine, I bought an old turret lathe for thirty five hundred bucks. And it works, you know, and it cranks out track bars and or. No, I had a milling machine and nothing we do is really that critical. And when the CNC control, I thought I was able to retrofit a new centralized control system on it.



Right. That again, saving a lot of money. And as far as that, go and look back that story of like three or four years ago, I just was like we were stumbling along and we were making a living and decent money, but we weren't making what we wanted to. And I just said we got to do something different. So we started with I hired a friend of ours. It was a girl that we knew from the Jeep.



And she was in marketing all our life. And we tried to have her do some stuff for us from home, but that didn't work out. And then just by chance, I ended up hiring this marketing person. And that's made all the difference in the world. In my mind. That was the first thing of the business thing I said. Adam, we just we got to do something different. We got to try to try something, you know?



And then I started doing some research about where we're spending all of our money and where we can save. And part of it was, was we just looking at the joints and the bushings. You have the Currie Johnny Joints. It's an amazing product. You know, it's I think almost all those type of joints are spinoffs of that. But like up here in the Northeast and in the Rust Belt, they're very susceptible to getting rusty and creaking and popping.



So that Red Ranger approached us about using their gyro Bushing, which is the duels around the bushing it's maintenance free and it's a lot less expensive. So we did some research, we tested them out, and so we switched over to that. So we were able to come out with lower costs, lift kit. Right.



But in plus add some quality is that people want like nowadays, not everybody is that hard core rockcrawler. There is the overlanding weekend warrior type stuff. Right. They don't want to be under the. Rebuilding Johnny joints and greasing them and stuff, right? So that was a big savings and a big success for us. Then I started looking at I found out about a program in the state of Connecticut. They have this it's Connecticut. It's the manufactured innovation program.



And so what they do is they'll loan or they'll give a grant to any manufacturing business in Connecticut, 50 percent of a project, up to fifty thousand dollars over a lifetime. So I did a study on we were spending about one hundred and thirty thousand dollars a year having our parts laser cut and bent. So I figured out that because I can get a week out of SolidWorks and I had figured out that I was only using about fifty thousand pounds of steel, which is about twenty five thousand dollars worth of steel of steel is around 50 cents a pound.



So I was like I did it. I did a little bit of study. I sent patterns, flat patterns to my steel company just and I would do my own bending. And I figured out that I could save about fifty thousand dollars a year. So I bought a I bought a CNC press brake and started doing my own bending right. And I was able to get the state to give me twenty six thousand dollars towards that new machine. Right.



And then another bottleneck we had was just R&D time when I had to develop a part in Solidworks. By the time. I sent it to my laser cutter, had it. That was part of the whole thing about getting a press brake, right? I could so now I had the press brake so I could get a flat pattern, but it still took two or three weeks to get a flat pattern. And you paid, like through the nose, right. You paid one hundred dollars for a ten dollar part.



Right. To get a couple of a made.



I couldn't really afford laser cutters are very expensive, they are a lot of maintenance, so I ended up buying plasma table, just a star lab from Minnesota just uses the Hypertherm torch and is able to make my patterns close enough to test my, you know, my products really so that my R&D time went to almost nothing that I could design something. Cut it. Yep, it works good. And then send it off to production like and then I would have it laser cut.



And it's it's kind of funny, like Dan down at Motobilt and he's actually doing all of my laser cutting for me now. He he was always posted up on Facebook and I was like, he actually kinetic expensive of the electricity and stuff. But he's actually doing this all my laser cutting and shipping it up here cheaper and I can buy it from my steel supplier. That's a half hour down the road. So it works out good. You know, I think we're going to you know, we've we we have a line of skid plates and stuff for the TJ's and the JK's .



And we I was looking into developing them for the JL and the JT. And I think we're just going to just team up with Motobilt and just like start using their stuff rather than me spending hundreds of dollars developing something. And they're going to be cutting it for me anyway. So I just tried to like that.



So you'll you'll relabel or just, you know, we're just going to be a part of your kit. With that, so there will be a lot just so we're we're kind of like China this year is kind of one of our. Theories is just like, you know, it's been an interesting year and this is how I know that like a finally after all these years get some recognition, you know, Teraflex actually approached us to sell their Falcon shocks with our lift kits.



You know, we've been fox dealers for years. And they actually I met I forget this thing. Mark was there. I met him out at Terra del Sol one year and he's like, hey, you want to start selling our stuff, you know? And it's like, all right. And so he hooked me up and we got started and we didn't have a buy in and stuff. So that's like a little things that happen in the industry that make you feel good about it.



But no, I think I think what we're trying to do, I think, is just focus on our suspension components. And, you know, if we can up sell like we sell a lot of lift kits, we sell all our lift kits without shocks. Like we don't have a package because we know that people like to do different things. But we do sell a lot of kits, lift kits without shocks. Right. Because people might they shop around, they can get them here so they can get them from Quadratec and they can get them from Northridge or they can.



So we're going to just try to attempt to, you know, add more value to our kits. So it's like, OK, hey, you know, you bought a lift kit. Well, you know, we can get you a deal with shocks and we also have skid plates that we can, you know, you could you could sell to or like instead of giving away. Free shipping and 10 percent off rate, we can we can afford to give people like a deal on the shocks, right?



Oh, by liftgate, we'll give you a free set of shocks. That or we can give you 20 percent off or twenty five percent off the shocks. Right. So it's bringing in more money. And I've always been a firm believer in. I mean, I remember back in the early days, like people were there was no stealing and theft going on with people, designs and stuff. And, you know, when you look at the knockoffs of, you know, the Johnny joint and stuff like that, I've always we've always used like I started using Currie Johnny Joints when they had just come out.



I was waiting for them. You know, I remember called up there to try to get a handle on. It's like somebody salesmen's like John developed this new thing and they're they're they're like three or four weeks. Like I have some of the first Johnny joints I was when they just had the barrels and I had to weld, the adjuster to start using them. And we've had the opportunity. We've been approached by people to, you know, they can manufacture for us.



And we've just I'm just a firm believer in letting Fox make shocks. They know what they're doing. I want to use the same thing with Falcon and we sell Bilstein too, you know, the same thing with the Johnny Joints. And then we had to come out with our dual durometer gyro joint. We did that from just. From a cost standpoint to offer the consumer a little bit more choice, right, the same thing, we still sell a lot of JKF disconnects with our kits because that was their product and they did it.



You know, things things of that nature, you know, never really got into, you know, like making our own stuff that the JL's and the in the gladiator's right. Because there's so many Rubicons out there like. So many people don't need disconnects anymore. So so we make our own links, but they're fixed, right. They're not disconnects, you know.


[00:30:03.510] - Big Rich Klein

Right. Things of that nature, but let's back up and touch on some things that you mentioned and just went right on into the business. You played football at Division two. Yeah. What position did you play? I was an outside linebacker. Yeah, nice, OK. And I'll be excellent. And I take it you you must have played the farmer kids that that came into Waterbury were were better players than the city kids. Is that what it was?


[00:30:42.950] - Clayton Walters

Well, I started playing football when I was 10 years old in that little town I was in. And it was it was very difficult to get enough kids to put a team on the field. And then I when I played in high school in Waterbury, you know, we didn't have a very good team and stuff, but. It was still fun, but when I went away to college, that was a rude awakening with football, you know, I was I was I went away to football camp.



You know, you started like two or three weeks before school. And I was like, I think I was having weighed about six feet tall, you know, one hundred eighty five pounds or something. One hundred and ninety pounds and, you know, bench press like three hundred pounds and, you know, ran like a 5-0 40 and I got to the camp and there's these, these linebackers they're, they're six foot three, they weigh two hundred and twenty pounds, they bench press four hundred fifty pounds and they run like a four, eight forty you know.



And I was like holy shit. You know, people think oh big dumb football players. Well it's not true anymore. So these guys, they're fast, they're strong, but they just could not play football like, you know, but.



And that was but I have to say, like as far as like discipline and toughness and stuff, I learned that early on. And in Pop Warner we had a really kind of a hard ass coach that really pushed people and made them work hard. But college was just a rude awakening, threes, three practice sessions a day and then film that night and. I went there was Division three school, and they changed to Division two, they recreated, they recruited 80 freshmen.



There was 80 of us on the team, right.



And so I went on I went there steady for a couple of years, and then I started doing co-op and petered out. But by like. Senior year, there was only four of us left from those original 80 kids in that class, you know, and it was funny, like we lived in.



It was crazy. We lived in a coach. We had an apartment building that was adjacent to the campus that was just football and hockey players. And it was not pretty, it was bad. It was bad. Like after two years, I said I got to get out of here. I'm not going to live.



You know, it was pretty crazy, but it was it was a good experience. But we used to have this the saying, like there was a be like. In camp that freshman year, kids just disappear. We would get up in the morning where's Johnny? He's gone, if you like, so there were the saying like don't let the Knight Rider get ya



Yeah. and they would be gone, nobody would ever hear from them again.


[00:33:56.210] - Big Rich Klein

So they would just end up quitting school or whatever and be gone.


[00:34:00.620] - Clayton Walters

Everything's gone. You never hear from him again.


[00:34:04.520] - Big Rich Klein

I had a landscape construction company back in the mid 80s and I would hire these guys out of high school during the summer and most of them were ballplayers. I wanted athletes because a little more discipline. You know, they weren't afraid of hard work supposably. I can't tell you how many hours I got out of kids that I never had to pay. Because they come out for three or four days and then they leave at lunch and I'd never see him again, and they were too embarrassed to come get their three or four days worth of pay if they all showed up in the morning together, like four guys in a in their car.



I knew that by lunch they'd be gone. They wouldn't come back from lunch. It just it just would happen that way.


[00:34:53.840] - Clayton Walters

Yeah. I mean, in all the years I've worked. All the people I've had work for me, I mean, I can count probably on two hands of all the people that actually like said, I want I want to do more. I want to make more. I want, you know, what do I need to do, you know? So it's tough, I said, like, you know, everybody wants a job and nobody wants to work.



And more so nowadays than 20 years ago. Oh, yeah, I mean, I'm blessed with my two older kids are both very successful and it's just, you know, I hear other people tough stuff, you know, so but I was probably I was pretty my daughter was pretty easy. She she was always a straight-A student. She struggled actually. She struggled later in life. My son my son was the one that had growing up, was tough on him.



And but he's doing really good now to actually just bought a house around the corner from me so I can literally walk to his house, you know. So, yeah.


[00:36:05.060] - Big Rich Klein

So what's the future like?


[00:36:08.480] - Clayton Walters

Well, we're finally at the point where we have some money and some capital behind us to take the next step of like, you know, Adam and I, we just have been adamantly involved in the day-to-day operations of the company, has probably been not good, but we just never really had the money to go out and hire somebody to fill every position.



So we're we're gradually we're at the point where we feel like we can invest in people and not have what it takes a year for a return on investment. I think if people like employees the same as a piece of equipment, right.



You're going to hire them. And especially if they're like in a key role, say, marketing or something like that or sales, it's going to take a while to get them to earn their keep.



So we have to and I still feel we need more help to get out of our way from the day to day operation so he can focus more on, like dealers in promoting sales and stuff like that. And I still do all of the R&D work and stuff like that. It's a huge amount of time that. It's funny, it's like, you know, years ago, you just you develop a product, you snap a couple pictures, you post it up on the forum and good to go right now.



It's like. All right. model it in solid work, get the drawings done, get the coated powder coating in this and up on the website, the instructions and like the amount of time it takes to get a product to market. There's a lot. Right. So but so we need to get some more horsepower in that so that I can start focusing on some other projects on the horizon. I was working on the JL long arm kit before this Covid thing hit. And I'm just we've been so busy that I haven't gotten back to it.



But that's my next project. We just finished up. We revamped our TJ short arm kits. We always we had like three levels of it and we just made one. We made our own track bar for the rear brackets and stuff for Shock Shifter's. So we're going to release that shortly.



There's still a ton of products in the Jeep market that I'd like to get onto and people talk to me about the new Bronco coming out and stuff like that, and I don't know that I'll get into that or have the time for it. But I do like from my background, from building industrial equipment and stuff.



I enjoy that. And I do some of it a little bit. But from a business standpoint, like you see all these fabrication and machine shops, right, that they don't have a product line that they're selling. So it makes it difficult. Right. So for me, I have a product line that's supporting all this equipment and stuff. So if I could do out of industry work or get back into building machinery and stuff like that, kind of diversify my stuff a little bit.



I would enjoy doing that a little bit. So we'll see. We'll see what happens. Right now, we're so cramped with space, kind of one of the big things of getting into that is just getting more space to do that kind of thing. But primarily, I still love designing the Jeep products. And it's it's always been a passion of mine. Going back to when I was a kid, I had this little tiny white jeep that ran on batteries that was modeled after a CJ2a and it was four wheel drive and it could just climb over anything.



And that was kind of like the start of the whole Jeep thing for me. And I bought a, I bought a brand new 1984 CJ7 left over in nineteen eighty five. And I still remember vividly the sticker on it was ten thousand dollars, even the sticker price you know, and I love that jeep and the joke that I traded it in a minivan you know.



But I love that minivan. It was awesome.



Yeah. So but that's where we're going you know. And in. The whole other thing of like I always kind of joke around about retiring, I'm I am going to be. I know, I know I look like I'm in my forties, but I'm actually going to be fifty eight in January.



And you're still a young kid.



Yeah. I say I don't know whether my twenty five year old mind is having issues with my 58 year old body or my 58 year old body is having issues with my twenty five year old mind, but. Not I don't know that I would actually ever really retire. I do we stop doing installation work and custom fab work About almost five years ago when Ryan Fuqua left and he bought he actually bought out Larry Nickels out of Vegas 4x4 Ryan Ryan was a kid that like that used some of our parts, way back in the day, he was my shop lead guy for like four or five years.



And, you know, it's kind of funny. It's ironic because, like, he he went out the Hammer's with me and that's where he met Larry Nickel. And he ended up, you know, Larry wanted to get out and retire and Ryan ended up moving out there. It worked out. Ryan's doing very well. We're still pretty close. He's supposed to be actually coming out for Christmas.



But, yeah, he he just wasn't he wasn't like a production guy, you know, like, he he he just didn't want to be doing the same production. He he was more of a Hands-On installation. So that's why he likes it. He's doing very well with Vegas. I'm happy for him there, but it's been good. But I do miss that install work or fabrication or building stuff. And but it was very, very stressful when you're trying to run production and do that at the same time.



But I joke around with my wife is like some day I want to.



When I have a shop at my house where I can kind of do some of that stuff on the side a little bit here and there, but you never know.



But as far as retiring, I don't know if I'm ever going to have to like that whole thing of like, you know, I think when I'm ready, you know, it's you know, it's it's five years, 10 years down the road. You buy that motor home. I'm never really going to have to retire from Clayton off road. Right. I'm going to be able to go out, be where I am. I can promote the business.



I can do design and R&D work. And, you know, so so I feel I feel blessed about that. It should be good.



Excellent. So is there anything that we haven't hit on? You said you've done a couple of other outside of the industry. Podcast lately, is there anything that you learned in those are questions that they threw out at you that you'd want to discuss?



No, it's it's what it was funny at the end of the show, they did a couple.



It's going to be up online. You'll be able to watch it. But no, they were more interested in the business end of it, more than the story of it. So that's that's it. But some of the, I just start when you were talking and you started about history of it, like, you know, I can laugh. Some of the best times I had was like, I mean, we're going down to the WE Rock in Tennessee that when your son was there, I don't think you were there.



And the wet T-shirt contest turned into the wet boobie contest. The girls are ripping their shirts off.


[00:44:30.180] – Big Rich Klein

And so I have a good story about that. We get done with that Tennessee event. I get an email from some lady that was very upset that her, like five year old or six year old son, came home and said, I saw boobies.



And I and she goes, I'm really disappointed.



I thought this was a family type event and I'm really disappointed in that. Your events are not family as you express that they were. And I responded to her and said, well, let me explain something to you. The event ended at one o'clock at night or 12 o'clock at night, right, shenanigans didn't start until two. So there was a two hour period where your your your your son could have gone home with your husband if your husband was interested in going home, if your son saw boobies, it was because he was there after two o'clock in the morning with your husband.



So I think it's more of your husband that you need to be disappointed in instead of me.


[00:45:47.100] - Clayton Walters

That was funny. And I, I got to see I broke a rim and Randy Torbet welded it up for me.  you know, but yeah, it goes back along with, you know, Kyle with, you know, Paragon and you know, and Badlands and all that stuff. But it's funny. That's. The only the other the other thing, like I always I laugh. I look at why I don't laugh, I, I always.



I built Erik Miller's first jeep that he competed in, we rock with he it was a funny story. He like, you know, he comes up, he he has Currie axles shipped to the shop, and we do a long arm kit. And I built a roll cage and. Thirty five and all tired everything show that gold jeep and like, you've got to have it done, he's going to Moab with it and he so he comes up and we're like finishing up, putting the thing finally together.



I'm leaving for Moab. His is and he leaves for Moab.



And we're know what the I guess the funniest part was. He's like, so we load the jeep on his trailer and he's like, he's like he goes oh my dad will send you a check. And I was like, oh, OK. All right.



You know, so it's like, you know you know, he's got twenty thousand dollars worth of work and I always figured, you know, he was going to give us a credit card or something. You know, he's like, oh, my dad'll send you a check. Adam and I are standing there like, well, all right.



I hope he does. And he did. But yeah, but, you know, he get, he calls us, he's out in Moab and that's where the picture was. He actually made the cover of some magazine with it when he was out there with it. But he's like he calls me up. He's like like two or three days, he's been out in Moab, the rear end is making like this really bad squealing noise. And I was like. Really can.



We probably forgot to put oil in it is like rushing around, trying to get out of there, you know, and yeah, we never put any oil in ten thousand dollar rear axle.



So, you know, those kind of funny at least it didn't seize up.



Yeah, I think it may have seized up Put some oil, maybe maybe be all right. I had to fix it for him, but yeah, him and I go way back. It's so funny. Like we compete at Paragon and now I admire him.



I never, ever imagined, like, him taken that to that extreme with the stuff, you know, and he the first year we raced in 2010 out there. Right.



He so I had no way of like a qualified at Rausch Creek. I had no way of getting out there, like, you know, and I had my old buggy. I used to WE Rock compete with. That's what I raced in. So, Eric, so what happened was we had I had a 40 foot aluminum trailer. So Eric actually came and picked up my buggy, and that's what he took out to race the first time at KOH, you know, he he pulled my buggy out so I could race and he put his in, you know, so, yeah, we go back a long ways.



We've, you know, I still get his Christmas card from him and stuff. I actually I was kind of this guy didn't get to go to I got invited to his wedding. I didn't go. I didn't I didn't it didn't work out to go, but I haven't seen him always. I touch base with him once in a while and he has his new baby now stuff. So we got cards. But it's it's it's it's something to see him what he did with that stuff, you know, so.


[00:50:05.390] - Big Rich Klein

Yeah, pretty phenomenal. I remember the first time he showed up to one of my rock crawls, his dad had to sign his waiver for him. Yeah, he wasn't of age. So I know.


[00:50:18.710] - Clayton Walters

I always thought I'd say I admire your ambition, the ambition. You know, it's like.


[00:50:27.040] - Big Rich Klein

So so. So you competed. Did you compete during Paragon the or The Days in Paragon



Adam had the TJ that we competed in at Paragon. Right. And then we went to a couple, we went to Jellico twice and competed, you know, but when we went down to Tennessee that was in my unlimited buggy. And then I competed once at WE Rock at Rausch Creek and then once in Tennessee and then. Yeah, that was the. So I yeah, I won I it was the unlimited champ at Rausch Creek for three years in a row in that buggy, and then it's so 2009 I went out and I watched the king of the Hammers, and that's when Adam called.



We should go race. We should go race that at Rausch Creek. The you know, the qualifier there and no intensions of I never race or anything, you know, I mean, I didn't have a pit crew.



I went down there and we. I had air shocks on my fourth stock four-liter, right now. It was so funny. We so Adam with my co-driver and we're all right. He's like, we should go do it and out. What the hell? We'll go do it, you know, and.



We take off and I was like fifth or sixth off the line and I don't know, I went around and there was this one big hill jotters. And like when I got to it the first lap, I was like, I think I was like one of the first people to it. I got there and went right up it and around and come back in the next lap. And it's like there's like a big line of people waiting to go up it.



So I was out at King of the Hammers. I watch those guys race and they just go. So I, I pull off to the right and start passing people on the right and Adam's going. He goes, What are you doing? You can't. I'm like this. We're racing, you know? So I go and I, I got hammered up the hill, bounced off a few people and keep going, you know, and like we didn't even have radios in our helmets.



I was winning the race the whole time and I had no idea that I was. and. Bruce Bruce at Rausch Creek, is like Dave Cole was so upset, he's like, he's got to be short coursing and he's cheating because, you know, like Adam Woodley's there in his V8, Will Carters there like. And I'm just like him. But like everybody was getting all those hill climbs and they couldn't get up them up, get up when they were so muddy and messy, you know?



And so the joke in that whole race is finally I pulled into the pit and the last lap and I'm like, fuck it, I'm getting out. I got to piss and took out, got out to complete Adam's go our we're going to qualify. Don't worry about it. And we get back in. We go again.



And I lost that race by like 19 seconds my boss is like you lost that. That was an expensive piss.



Yeah. So then I went and then in 2010 I went out and raced the Hammer's for the first time and then I, I was like that then that was right before then.



My little what. My little bit. My girl was born right. She was born in April. So we raced and I sold my buggy to Adam and I just kind of haven't really done anything.



And I had I had a pile of parts to build something new for like ten years. And finally I just got rid of it all. But my aspirations are to try to when we buy this building and I have some more room to set up, a new place to build something. I want to I want to I miss doing the competing and going to those events a little bit. I'd really love to. Just be able to leave a buggy parked out west somewhere like at Ryan's at Vegas, four by four, just leave it there and fly back and forth and be able to compete a little bit with you.



That would be fun to do again.



So we'll see.


[00:54:52.880] - Big Rich Klein

But, you know, the rock crawling scene is exploding again. Yeah, that's going on the West Coast.


[00:55:00.890] - Clayton Walters

Yeah, I, I just don't have you know, if I wanted to like the ultrafast stuff is cool and stuff, but I don't have the time for it. I just don't have the time for it. I would love to. I would love to go race there one more time with. But you know, like I think if I ever do that as kind of a bucket list thing, I would just try to find somebody. How much is it going to cost me to have this race car, the lake bed?



I need a pit crew, everything. I'm just going to come get in the car race and then. You know, that that would be that would be the only way I would do it. I just don't have the time to do anything other than that, you know, so but but yeah. The rock crawling I miss, you know, so it'll happen someday.


[00:55:56.600] - Big Rich Klein

We'd love to see you back out there. Yeah. Clayton, I want to say thank you very much for coming on board and sharing your story with us.



I think I pulled out some good things there, especially at the end. I appreciate all the stuff in the business because I know there's a lot of guys out there that. Have started or are at the point where you are when you started working out of the garage there. They've created a lift kit or done something, a piece of product for themselves. And they they just don't know where to go with it. And every time I talk to somebody like that, I said, you know what?



Find one person to buy it. Then that person will tell somebody and somebody else will buy it. And eventually, you know, maybe you can be in the industry as well. But it's perseverance. It's you know, you've got to you got to stick to it.


[00:56:49.410] - Clayton Walters

Yeah, the one of the biggest things and this is kind of interesting was probably the guy that got me to. I had some products I was building for myself, and I remember this is the first time I talked to Tom Woods when he was still at six states, he said to me, Do you own anything? I was like, no, I just got divorced.



And he's like, incorporate and run, Bare said. He goes, first of all, they have to prove negligence for you to be sued. That's one thing he goes. Secondly, if you don't have anything, nobody's going to get a lawyer for you and you don't have anything to lose. You know, I was like, OK, and yet Tom and I go back a long way. He's funny. He's. Anything else? Nope, I think that's it.


[00:57:53.310] - Big Rich Klein

So, again, thank you so much for. For sharing your your story and we'll get this edited and it'll be out in a few weeks and I'll let you know when we're going to air it.


[00:58:06.150] - Clayton Walters

All right. Awesome. Good. Good being here. I'm glad you got in touch with me. And hopefully we'll get to see you at some point. Thank you.


[00:58:16.020] - Big Rich Klein

We'll talk to you down the road. I appreciate it. All right. Great. Great. Thanks, Rich. Bye bye. Like. If you enjoy these podcasts, please give us a rating, share some feedback with us via Facebook or Instagram and share our link among your friends who might be like minded. Well, that brings this episode to an end. OK, you enjoyed it. We'll catch you next week with conversations with Big Rich. Thank you very much.