Living life on his own terms, Randy Ellis, on Episode 94. From tearing up trucks to building them, Randy is chasing sunshine in Mexico now on Simplify. Listen in as Big Rich and Randy share what it was like in the Phoenix desert when rockcrawling was still new.
5:06 – vroom, vroom dad
14:04 – at 16, I started flipping cars
17:56 – If you boys are going to play, you got to learn how to fix ‘em
23:02 – I messed up so many things, but that’s how you learn
32:35 – you started out building your own everything
38:52 – we learned real quick to put on a show
46:23 – we started building parts for everybody
53:22 – the name of my baby girl is Simplify
We want to thank our sponsors Maxxis Tires and 4Low Magazine.
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[00:00:01.150] - Speaker 1
Welcome to The Big Rich Show. This podcast will focus on conversations with friends and acquaintances within the Fourwheel drive industry. Many of the people that I will be interviewing, you may know the name, you may know some of the history, but let's get in depth with these people and find out what truly makes them a four wheel drive enthusiast. So now's the time to sit back, grab a cold one and enjoy our conversation.
[00:00:29.430] - Speaker 2
Whether you're crawling the red rock of Moab or hauling your toys to the trail, Maxxis has the tires you can trust for performance and durability, four wheels or two, Maxxis tires are the choice of Champions because they know that whether for work or play, for fun or competition, Maxxis tires deliver. Choose Maxxis tread victoriously.
[00:00:55.990] - Speaker 3
Why should you read 4low Magazine? Because 4low Magazine is about your lifestyle. The four wheel drive adventure lifestyle that we all enjoy. Rock crawling, trail riding, event coverage, vehicle builds, and do it yourself tech, all in a beautifully presented package. You won't find 4low on the newsstand rack. So subscribe today and have it delivered to you.
[00:01:20.230] - Big Rich Klein
On today's episode of Conversations with Big Rich, we have Randy Ellis. That's right. Randy Ellis, the man, the myth, the legend. We are going to talk to Randy about his life in off road and what he's doing nowadays. Randy, thank you for coming on board and sharing your history with us.
[00:01:42.670] - Randy Ellis
Right on. Rich. Thanks for having me on. It's been a long time since we talked. This should be a lot of fun.
[00:01:49.970] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. I will let everybody know that I did screw up this one. I was so excited to talk to Randy, I forgot to hit the record button. And we talked for probably ten minutes already. So a little bit of this I've already heard, but nobody else out there has heard it. So let's start over again. And Randy, you did say that you were born in Tempe and grew up in that area. So let's go from there.
[00:02:16.930] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. So I was born in Tempe, Arizona, which is basically Phoenix. It's one big Metropolitan area and even much bigger now than it was back then. My parents moved me out to Gilbert when I was about five years old. And it was rural, mostly cotton fields and dairy cows and a lot of dirt. There's only one street light. When I say streetlight, I mean like a red, green, yellow light. It hung from a wire back. One street, main street of Gilbert Road. But it's a lot different nowadays.
[00:03:04.330] - Big Rich Klein
It sure is. It's not rural so much anymore.
[00:03:09.530] - Randy Ellis
No, not at all.
[00:03:11.570] - Big Rich Klein
So when you were growing up there and being in a real rural area, you were able to play in the dirt a lot. And that started off with bicycles or what'd you start with well.
[00:03:27.100] - Randy Ellis
Probably like a lot of us in our age group, Tonka trucks.
[00:03:33.240] - Big Rich Klein
There you go.
[00:03:33.750] - Randy Ellis
I'm sure you remember those right? Oh, yeah.
[00:03:36.710] - Big Rich Klein
The metal ones. Not the plastic.
[00:03:39.350] - Randy Ellis
No, the metal ones where you could actually sit on them and I mean, you could beat the heck out of them, but scratch them up, and then I'd fix them up, put some paint on, make it a different color, make it pretty, and then go tear it up again.
[00:03:55.490] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. And then from there?
[00:04:00.290] - Randy Ellis
Well, I moved on to BMX and bicycles and did a little freestyle with bicycles, and I raced BMX and, of course, three wheelers and dirt bikes. And I'm sure you grew up with some three wheelers in your time.
[00:04:19.760] - Big Rich Klein
Absolutely. I was more pavement. Yeah. I didn't have a chance for a lot of dirt when I was a kid. I grew up south of San Francisco on the California. San Francisco Peninsula there. But it was a lot of pavement, bicycles and motorcycles and skateboards, that kind of thing, right? Yeah.
[00:04:47.300] - Randy Ellis
Well, I guess I was lucky to have a lot of dirt. Maybe it steered my ways.
[00:04:53.520] - Big Rich Klein
There you go. The bicycle/motorcycle/threewheeler. Is that what sparked your interest in off road?
[00:05:06.110] - Randy Ellis
Well, I really don't know. When I was I'm talking, like super young, two or three years old. My dad had a Jeep and my mom used and he'd get up and go to work and drive that Jeep, and she said I would get up, and after I heard it started, it would wake me up and I'd be like, vroom vroom dad. So my dad actually think started me kind of with the four wheel drive thing. As soon as I was big enough to sit on his lap and hold on to the steering wheel, he was letting me try and steer the non power steering thing and told me to keep my thumbs and fingers out of the wheel and crawl around in granny gear.
[00:05:59.510] - Big Rich Klein
Was that flat Fender or five?
[00:06:03.110] - Randy Ellis
It was a CJ five. Okay. I don't remember the year, but I think my mom's got pictures of me sitting in it when I was two or three years old.
[00:06:13.550] - Big Rich Klein
[00:06:15.170] - Randy Ellis
So that's probably where it started. My dad, he showed me a lot of stuff as I was growing up and how to work on things and the correct tools to use things like that. So I'm my dad always had projects and things that I learned from.
[00:06:45.740] - Big Rich Klein
Okay. What did your dad do for work?
[00:06:49.870] - Randy Ellis
Well, he actually kind of started as a draftsman. He had an engineering degree, and he started as a draftsman for a window company, and he kind of moved his way up there to kind of management position. And then at some point, he got the opportunity to buy this business, this custom window business for residential homes.
[00:07:18.370] - Big Rich Klein
[00:07:19.130] - Randy Ellis
And he got the opportunity to buy it and kind of take it to the next level. So he's been pretty much in the custom home window business his whole life, although he always was working on vehicles and his thing was kind of Corvettes, but he taught me how to paint and how to work on fiberglass. And we built my first car together and taught me a lot of stuff. Definitely got me on my way.
[00:08:00.120] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. What was your first car?
[00:08:04.250] - Randy Ellis
Actually, I still own my first car. It's Rs Camaro at a young age. I started working when I was real young, had my own little lawn mowing business and worked at a tropical fish store. And this is around eleven or twelve years old because I wanted cooler bicycle parts. So I needed to make some money. Right.
[00:08:38.530] - Big Rich Klein
[00:08:40.150] - Randy Ellis
And I had saved a bit of money, and my dad and me went over to Pomona, California. I don't even know if they still have the Pomona swap meat, but it was quite the big thing for many years and ended up at one point buying this old 69 Camaro. And it was pea green but pretty free of rust, and most of it was there. And it was a 307 car, but it was the Rs, and it had most of the parts and took it home. And I took some painting classes at a local paint supply store, and my dad had taught me a little bit. So we did all the body and paint and it was a frame off, sub frame off, I guess, and learned how to build a motor and learn how to kind of put a whole vehicle together, cleaning and making parts as pretty as I could.
[00:09:46.810] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. And then while you were in school, what kind of classes did you take? I know everybody takes the math and the reading and that kind of stuff, but like elective wise.
[00:10:01.730] - Randy Ellis
Right. You know what? I keep kicking myself, I think, a little bit because now I'm living in Mexico for a good part of every year, and I never took any language classes. It was always wood shop or metal shop or mechanic shop or anything to do with working with your hands.
[00:10:23.180] - Big Rich Klein
Right. Well, I took two years of Spanish, two years of German, and the only thing I can do in either is order beer and find the bathroom, which I figured if you can buy the beer, order the beer. You better know where the bathroom is at.
[00:10:39.860] - Randy Ellis
That's right. You didn't do very well with your what were they called?
[00:10:47.210] - Big Rich Klein
The foreign languages?
[00:10:49.070] - Randy Ellis
Well, yeah. Those kind of classes.
[00:10:50.970] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. My thing was I did really well in them, but I don't think my retention was really good.
[00:10:59.270] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. It's not something you wanted to retain.
[00:11:03.860] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. I think it had something to do with growing up in the early 70s and being near a big city like San Francisco and some of the things that came along with that.
[00:11:18.230] - Randy Ellis
Right. Yeah, I get that. So that kind of just added to what my dad had been teaching me and what I'd been learning on my own. And so I took those types of classes in high school anyway, right.
[00:11:39.110] - Big Rich Klein
Did you do any College?
[00:11:41.370] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, I did some College, but I never got an official degree. I just took the classes that I thought were going to forward me into what I was interested in welding and mathematics and some engineering stuff and AutoCAD and things like that.
[00:12:08.920] - Big Rich Klein
Right. And in school, would you consider yourself studious or were you more do any organized athletics or did you kind of do your own thing? You said you skated, so I figured that if you did any skating, then you probably were, like, doing your own thing.
[00:12:34.090] - Randy Ellis
Well, I did baseball and soccer, and I did wrestling somewhere shortly around there. I started getting into girls, and that changed everything, right? Yeah. Now after you get into girls, then you're like, well, now I got to do this to be cool, and I got to get more girls. I got to do more of this. So it veered off from sports to girls.
[00:13:10.830] - Big Rich Klein
Did your grades suffer going from sports to girls?
[00:13:19.750] - Randy Ellis
I always thought school was kind of easy so I could make any grades I wanted. Really. And I think I graduated with 3.5 out of 4.0. But yeah, school. I wasn't super interested in school, but, man, girls and cars that I was interested in.
[00:13:44.710] - Big Rich Klein
Perfect. So then you were mowing lawns to get to where you could work on your 69 at that point, did you continue doing that through that time, or did you find other jobs to do?
[00:14:04.990] - Randy Ellis
Well, I was very fortunate that my parents had a home with an extra single garage that my dad had turned into a paint booth. And since I had learned how to paint on my car and went through some painting classes, auto body and stuff, I started painting cars, doing body and paint so I could make a good money doing that, I guess. At 16, I started buying and selling vehicles. I'd buy something an old turd and Polish it up. I don't remember how many I turned, but I always bought and sold a vehicle, and I'd make it cool where people wanted it, and I'd sell it before I crashed. It usually perfect.
[00:15:08.550] - Big Rich Klein
I can't say that I did that. I normally crashed them.
[00:15:13.710] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. When I got into Jeeps, I could crash them. And I'm sure all of you guys know Shannon Campbell, but we kind of grew up together, and we'd get a bucket of chicken and a case of beer and we'd look at the maps and go out for the weekend, and we'd usually roll a Jeep over at least once and tear shit up. And then we'd come back and patch it back together so we could get to school or hand our jobs and learn how to fix them pretty quick.
[00:15:51.510] - Big Rich Klein
So you and Shannon both went to Gilbert High together?
[00:15:56.230] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, we did.
[00:15:58.010] - Big Rich Klein
Awesome. And how far behind was Nick is the younger brother, right. So he's a couple of years behind you guys.
[00:16:09.130] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, he's a couple. I guess that sounds about right.
[00:16:14.420] - Big Rich Klein
Okay, so Shannon Campbell, as a high schooler, I haven't had a chance to interview Shannon yet. I've got to ask, what was he like?
[00:16:30.430] - Randy Ellis
Man, back in the day, I think all of us were wild, right? All we wanted to do was have fun, get loose on the weekend, make more money so we could fix up our rigs. We were all pretty wild, that's for sure.
[00:16:50.810] - Big Rich Klein
Now I know Don was racing.
[00:16:54.230] - Randy Ellis
[00:16:54.730] - Big Rich Klein
And Shannon got into it around that age. Did you do that as well?
[00:17:05.070] - Randy Ellis
I did get into racing also pretty early. Don. It was nice to have him around and teach us. I remember one of the first times I met Don. I had earrings in my ears and long hair, and he said, Let me get a hold of that hair. I'm going to rip those earrings out of your ears.
[00:17:27.150] - Big Rich Klein
[00:17:28.770] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. But it was a good influence on teaching us how to do some of the racing stuff. Great guy.
[00:17:41.790] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. I will say that Don is poisoned to me a few times with his love for whiskey. Yeah, but Don's a great guy.
[00:17:56.590] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. But one of the things that set early was if you boys are going to play, you got to learn how to fix them.
[00:18:03.220] - Big Rich Klein
[00:18:04.980] - Randy Ellis
So we did a lot of playing and a lot of fixing.
[00:18:09.370] - Big Rich Klein
So back in that time, you're flipping cars. You had a Jeep then as well, four wheel drive, or was it truck?
[00:18:21.670] - Randy Ellis
Well, so I had a 69 Camaro.
[00:18:24.850] - Big Rich Klein
[00:18:27.190] - Randy Ellis
And I didn't have it too long before I went to a desert party. And it got all dirty. And I thought, man, I want to go out here and play in the dirt. So I ended up buying an old let's see, what year was it? Actually, it wasn't that old at the time. It was a CJ five, and it had the straight six in it. First thing I did with that thing pretty much was lift it and put bigger wheels and tires on it. And the second thing I did with it was to learn how to drive it on two wheels. And the third thing I did with it was roll it over.
[00:19:16.210] - Big Rich Klein
Did that learning to drive on two wheels and rollover all happen within like a couple of hundred feet, or was it a process?
[00:19:26.410] - Randy Ellis
It was a process that I don't know. I guess you got to take one with the other, right.
[00:19:36.550] - Big Rich Klein
So what was the area that you guys went looking for, those trails or roads and stuff? Was that in the Gilbert area, or did you guys get out past Apache Junction at that point?
[00:19:49.390] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. I mean, we had desert parties, kegger parties out in the desert. And so we'd go out and have some beers and we'd have our Jeeps and trucks. And then it was. Well, let's go play in the dirt. Let's go play in the desert, have a few beers under your belt, and you go out and you do stupid things and you get them stuck and tip them over or whatever, and then you figure out how to get them unstuck because you got to get back home. So it kind of started there, and then we'd have a weekend off and we weren't working, and we just look at a map and we go, Man, let's see if we can see if we can make it to here. And we'd go and sometimes we drive in circles. But yeah, it was always just exploring further and further. As much time as we had before, we had to be back to work or back to school or whatever. It was.
[00:20:48.730] - Big Rich Klein
Nice. What was the transition from those days and painting cars to fabbing? Or did it just happen from, like, doing the body work and then it just started getting deeper and deeper?
[00:21:07.570] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. Well, when you really tear stuff up or you want something to do what you can't afford to pay somebody to do, you kind of figure out how to make it happen. My dad had an old buzz box Arca welder, and I'd learned how to arc weld. And then at some point he bought a MiG welder, and I wasn't really allowed to touch that, but I did when he wasn't looking. Right. So you kind of start by repairing what you're tearing up. And then if I could just make this go this. And so you start cutting, you got a torch and chop saw and a welder, and you start making things and figuring out how to do things, and you go, take it out. Oh, man, I got two more inches of lift or whatever. You cut things to make bigger tires and then take it out and see that it either worked or it didn't work. So it kind of started just by trial and error, but trying to make stuff go as good as I wanted to, I guess, or go where I wanted to go.
[00:22:37.290] - Big Rich Klein
Say like that CJ five, it's leaf sprung. When did you go from the stock suspension to start cutting things up and trying different things Besides just lifting them? Was it on that vehicle or a different one?
[00:23:02.050] - Randy Ellis
Well, no, actually, on that one. I owned many CJ five s, actually, but the first one I did a spring over on it, which causes all kinds of other problems. So we have to figure out how to work with those because a spring over was cheaper than buying Springs and a lift kit. Right, right. And you'd find some shocks somewhere or something and make shock mounts, and it just kind of progressed. I mean, we messed up. I messed up so many things, made so many mistakes, but that's how you learn. And then somebody else would say, I got broken this. I got a broken frame or I got a broken this and I can fix that for a case of beer or I can fix that for $25 or fill my tank full of gas. Pretty soon you're the guy that knows how to run a welder. I don't know. You kind of make it up as you go and some of it works and some of it doesn't.
[00:24:18.890] - Big Rich Klein
I want to get to the red racer, but I want to know the progression to that. And I think others would want to know your progression from the CJ five and sprung over to getting to a full independent car. That was kind of to me. It's the first one I could remember.
[00:24:47.150] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, it is correct. That is the first front and rear independent suspension rock crawler that was competing. As far as I know. Shannon had a front independent suspension one and then shortly after Walker had a front and rear independent suspension one. And so we're all playing with whatever we could, coming up with different ideas and trying stuff. But yeah, way before that it was kind of trying to perfect just the spring over, figuring out what works best in the front, whether the shackle in the front or the shackle in the back and how to get the steering geometry correct. We didn't have bump steer, so building knuckles for crossover steering and making pockets in the frame for different mounts. And then this would get in the way and so you would change that. And of course, the whole time you're going from you start with 31s and then you're at 32s and then you're 33s. And then man, they came out with these Super Swamper boggers 35s. And I think me and Mike Flores and Shannon Campbell and Ned Bacon and Jeez, I don't remember there was in Rick Pewe, we all had these boggers and man, those tires tore up more crap.
[00:26:34.270] - Randy Ellis
So we all kind of tore up a lot of stuff and learn how to keep that stuff from breaking. And of course, then it progressed to I started with just a flat four by eight table and tubing Bender and some inch and three quarter 120 wall mild steel tube and started from scratch. And at first I bought a flat Fender. It was an early CJ two A. It was the only thing I used from that Jeep was the title and the Vin tag and ended up putting a CJ seven body on it. That Jeep is still floating around somewhere. But it was probably, I don't know first that I knew of that was four link coilover suspension. I had custom coilovers built. I started working at a place in Phoenix called FST. And those guys that worked there, they were all desert racers and they were like, you rock crawling faggot. What are you doing? Well, I'm playing in the dirt, playing in the rocks, going slow. But anyway, I learned a lot from those guys. And that was Rick and Jeff Geiser brothers. We all kind of work together back then, but it was fun.
[00:28:20.740] - Randy Ellis
I learned a lot from them and kind of tailored things to what I was doing with my vehicles. And I did some offroad racing at the time as well with that vehicle. But yeah, they just progress and you learn from your mistakes, of course. But by that time, I was also working at a place we built. It was called Capital Vans and Equipment and a guy named Ken. And he was a real neat guy, and he taught me a bunch about metal and what you could and couldn't do with it. Basically we take brand new trucks, cut the frames, extend them, and put tow truck beds on them. We built wheelchair vans and pretty much anything he could take in, but it was mostly wheelchair vans and tow trucks. And then I was working at that FST place kind of as a second job, but just learning. And anytime I had time off, I'd take my shit out and tear it up.
[00:29:46.690] - Randy Ellis
This was mid 90s, let's see, with my sprung over, I guess as far as I took a CJ five, I did top truck in. I think the first top truck was 93 or 94, and I did it in 95, and that was a lot of fun. And that introduced me to a lot of the guys that I'm still friends with today that were judges at the time or been working with the magazines or stuff like that. But that was a great experience. But that was as far as I took a Leaf Spring vehicle. And after that it was, I think, exactly after that, I already started on the chassis for my tube chassis. Call over four link Jeep. And the next year they invited me back as a judge. And I drove that Jeep from Phoenix up to Hollister. And then we all played and then we judged the thing and had fun. And I think that was the year that Shannon entered in it. Anyways. Then it went from, I guess, that vehicle, that tube chassis Jeep. I competed off road desert racing with it. That's kind of when rock crawling started. I think the first big one I had entered was, I think it was called the BFGoodrich Rock Crawling Competition, and that was in New Mexico.
[00:31:36.150] - Randy Ellis
And I think that was like 98 maybe.
[00:31:41.210] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, I think that was the very first one. That was the Las Cruces or Farmington.
[00:31:47.900] - Randy Ellis
Well, you know what? It kind of runs together. It was one of those two, but it was in New Mexico, so it was definitely one of those two places.
[00:31:55.610] - Big Rich Klein
The first one was down there in Las Cruces.
[00:32:00.990] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, I don't really remember where it was at, but it was one of the first ones. And then before that, we had tough truck competitions and whatever. I guess I could get into to go race and compete and tear stuff up from the seven built chassis.
[00:32:21.410] - Big Rich Klein
Put it all together. What kind of components did you run back then? I know most of the stuff was things that you would pick up in salvage yards or.
[00:32:35.670] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, or we could buy a vehicle and salvage it ourselves, sell off the parts or use some of them because I think I had another truck by then. They called it the Tube Terror in one of the early magazines. But it was really the only custom high end parts. And they were two inch coilovers with I had 17 inch travel shocks built, and everyone thought I was nuts. They're like, what are you going to do with a 17 inch travel? How are you going to get the coils to stack? I learned a lot about how to do well, then we called it triple rate, but it was a dual rate coil with a very soft, small one at the top just to keep the coils from being loose extension. But, you know, the rest of that Jeep was it was built parts or salvaged parts. I mean, I was using Dana axles. I had a semi float Dana 60 in the rear and Dana 44 in the front. It was a 205 transfer case, a turbo Hydromatic 350 transmission, and a small block Chevy. And I don't remember the first motor that I had in there, but I had a couple of different ones.
[00:34:12.840] - Randy Ellis
And I think the last one was probably a little over 400 HP or something like that, fuel injected. But you started off building your own everything. But to go to racing, we had to do a couple of things. We had to have a fuel cell, which you could buy from stock car. You could buy a fuel cell pretty cheap. And we had to have good seats and belts and a few things like that. But, man, we use factory gear boxes and mounted them in strange locations, try to get geometry correct, and you kind of just built everything.
[00:34:57.970] - Big Rich Klein
It was so much experimentation back then because there was nobody I mean, it was the beginning of it all. It was the cutting edge, so to speak.
[00:35:10.030] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, I don't know how cutting edge it was, but we were experimenting.
[00:35:15.470] - Big Rich Klein
[00:35:17.230] - Randy Ellis
There was a handful of us. And when we get a chance, we'd go out and we'd go to the Hammers or way before it became the Hammers. But Sledgehammer was the first trail out there. And a bunch of old guys and CJ's kind of opened up this trail and they were hardcore rock crawlers on 33 inch tires. And then we showed up. I don't know who all a handful of us showed up with these 35 inch boggers. And we all had pretty beat up in the body anyway, beat up sheeps by then. And these old guys kind of looked at us and said, go ahead and give it a shot. So we kind of started with Sledgehammer and then helped open up. I think it was Jackhammer or something and just out doing the most extreme things we could find. Shortly after that is when the rock crawling competition started.
[00:36:30.230] - Big Rich Klein
You started competing back in those days? The very beginning. And were you running the seven, your two Buggy seven then?
[00:36:42.530] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, I don't really remember, Rich. I think my first competition was probably top truck challenge in 1995 with my leaf sprung CJ five.
[00:37:00.930] - Big Rich Klein
[00:37:03.630] - Randy Ellis
But I already had the tube chassis Jeep. I had already started that, but that was the one that I started competing with was the tube chassis Jeep. It kind of just took off from there. You know how everything is now.
[00:37:21.350] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. Who spotted for you back then?
[00:37:27.290] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, it was whoever my drinking buddy was at that time. It was kind of whoever I could get to go with me and could take a weekend off. I've had so many good friends that spotted for me or Co drove for me and we were just learning as we went. But it was fun, right.
[00:37:57.010] - Big Rich Klein
Those early days you were at the Cedar event? I think it was I want to say it was 99 Arca event. The first event they did was down there in Arizona or no, excuse me, Farmington. And then they did Arizona and then Cedar City or something like that. What did you think of that Cedar event? Because I was at the Arizona event there on upper and lower woodpecker and there was a lot of people there, but not like Cedar and Cedar. All of a sudden, the Sheriff estimated 10,000 people at that first event there. Did that kind of blow you away that it was how big it got so quick?
[00:38:52.170] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. You know, it did. It was like, wow, where did all these people come from and why are they here watching us try to crawl over these rocks? And then we learned really quick. Well, I guess we learned from the very first competition put on a show. So that was kind of the inside joke between a lot of us guys were like, whoever puts on the best show wins. Not necessarily. Whoever wins wins. Right, right. So I don't know. I mean, it was peeling out and making dust and rolling over. We tried to do good too, but it was about putting on a show. It was fun in front of me and all those crowds like that. Right. So you were there to entertain and that's kind of what we did.
[00:39:52.470] - Big Rich Klein
How did you get started at was it four wheel Supply?
[00:39:57.210] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, four Wheeler Supply.
[00:39:58.610] - Big Rich Klein
Four Wheeler supply.
[00:40:00.690] - Randy Ellis
Well, I had already been working at SST part time and then I was working full time building tow trucks and vans and things. And I was also doing painting and whatever I could do to buy more parts and build more Jeeps and trucks. But one of Brian Brian was managing the place and one of Brian's friends came over to FST and he talked to me and he said, hey, Randy, why don't you come over and look at this place and see if you think you might want to kind of get a Fab shop going here and work for Brian? And I said, all right. So I went over to Four Wheeler Supply and talked to Brian. And he's like, yeah, I kind of want to do some of the stuff you're doing. And we've got this barn over here, and I've got a guy over there, he's got some equipment and he's got some things going on. And I think the barn had man. I think it had three light bulbs hanging from cords on the top of the barn. And it became called the Dark Side. But anyway, we did get some more lights in there, and there was a guy named Steve, and he was they had a race truck that they had bought, and he was working on that kind of his own deal, just kind of stay on that race truck.
[00:41:41.930] - Randy Ellis
And I went over and started working for them. And just Four Wheel Supply was they were the Jeep guys. And I had had many jeeps and been working on a lot of jeeps and been fabbing on jeeps and kind of knew a lot of the tricks, I guess, with them. So I started kind of their Fab shop for them over there, although Steve had already been out of Fab shop there, but they were just kind of just taking care of the race truck. We worked on anything and everything over there but a lot of jeeps.
[00:42:21.430] - Big Rich Klein
So who are some of the guys that came through there and worked in the Fab shop that you basically started there?
[00:42:30.610] - Randy Ellis
Well, I think a lot of you guys probably know Steve Nantz, Ian Liljiiblad, Rob Bonney. Wow, there were so many guys. But those are the guys that come to my mind first.
[00:42:49.850] - Big Rich Klein
Some pretty good names.
[00:42:52.070] - Randy Ellis
Yes. Every single one of them are still playing with metal and jeeps and trucks.
[00:43:02.070] - Big Rich Klein
So then wheeling, competing, building, painting, kind of doing it all. And for how long did you continue doing that?
[00:43:20.230] - Randy Ellis
I stayed at Four Wheeler Supply. I really enjoyed working there. One of the last guys that was kind of working with me there was Rob, Bonney and Rob's a great guy, and he was doing a really good job. And I told Brian, they said, I think it's time for me to go on my own. And this was in like 2000, late 99, 2000, something like that. And Brian wanted me to stay. And of course, it was a great opportunity to stay there, but I knew that I couldn't push myself any harder working for somebody else. And I already had my own shop. I had a house in Tempe and I already had my own shop. And I was running myself ragged working at Four Wheeler Supply. And I go home every night, and I'd work till midnight working on other people's stuff. And then at some point, it was just like, you know what? I think it's time for me to go on my own. And Brian was understanding, and although he would like me to stay there, but he was understanding, and he said, all right. And I said, you know, Rob, he's doing a great job, and I'm pretty sure that he can handle everything that's going on here.
[00:44:46.470] - Randy Ellis
And of course, Rob did. And I left and went on my own. And I worked out of my house until, I guess, 2000 or so to six when I was so busy. And it was so crazy out of my house. I had semi trucks coming daily, picking stuff up. We were doing production work for KC Highlights. We were doing production work for construction companies. We were doing full chassis, full builds. I even built a monster truck out of my house. It just got kind of crazy. The whole inside of my house, Rich, was I had a kitchen, a bathroom in my bedroom, and this was a three bedroom home. And all the rest of the house was packaging shelving for all the parts we were building. And I don't know how many guys had working for me at one time. Many guys. And this was out of my house. This is on a quiet neighborhood street. No HOA, but I had forklift. I was Loading and unloading semi in the front, and I had alley in the back and 30 foot gate. And we'd unload the steel truck in the back or sometimes in the front.
[00:46:23.010] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. We're building trailers. I mean, you name it, we build it. And finally it got so crazy that I decided to step up. And I bought 11,000 square foot facility in Phoenix. And that's when things got real, right? Yes. So business went to the next level, and we stepped up to production. KC Highlights was a huge customer of ours, and they really supported us and helped us out. And, of course, we reciprocated and built a lot of neat stuff for them. And other companies started coming online. I don't want to just name a bunch of names, but we started building parts for all the biggest places in the States. They wanted to concentrate on one thing, but they saw this other product line going, or they wanted new products made for this, that and the other thing. And so we started building parts for everybody.
[00:47:42.670] - Big Rich Klein
So you were basically like a job shop as well?
[00:47:46.270] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, we private label for them. I would do all the engineering, the drawings, the prototyping, me and my guys, and then they kind of at the end, depending on the deal, they would own the stuff, but they would have us produce it. And so we did everything. The powder, coating, packaging, labeling instructions, where they just pick up pallets, and their parts were ready to go. And of course, we were still doing custom builds, custom whatever, whether they were full builds or just bumpers or cages or whatever, but whatever we could do, but we really ramped up the production.
[00:48:33.490] - Big Rich Klein
Was that Randy Ellis Design?
[00:48:36.970] - Randy Ellis
Yes, that was Randy Ellis Design. I guess it started as Randy Ellis Design in about 2001 when I officially paid taxes under the name Randy Ellis Design.
[00:48:50.470] - Big Rich Klein
Okay. And then you ran that business for how long?
[00:48:59.870] - Randy Ellis
Up until 2017 till 17. Yeah.
[00:49:06.570] - Big Rich Klein
I heard you got into boats. Was that correct?
[00:49:14.350] - Randy Ellis
I guess I've always been a little into boats. I remember being a kid and going out on a Lake in Arizona with my grandpa and my family and catching fish. And my dad had a boat now and then I've had a few speed boats, and those were always Lake boats. 2014. I was married to a wonderful lady named Sabina, and my idea was to get a sailboat, and at some point down the road, we just set off into the sunset, do something different, go travel the world. And so I said, let's buy a sailboat and go sailing. And she said, well, you probably should learn how to sail first. And I thought, no, that's silly. Just get on the boat and figure it out. Right. Well, she actually talked me into doing the sailing course in out of La Paz, which is Southern Baja.
[00:50:27.330] - Randy Ellis
And it was a ten day course where we learned all about sailing and we got some certificates, I don't know, 101, 102, 103 and something else, but it was actually a great start give you enough to hurt yourself, really, and kind of know what you're getting into. But then I did. Shortly after that, I Chartered a boat in Europe for ten days. And then I ended up buying this old boat from this couple. They were in their 80s and they were just done, and they kind of let the boat go. And I bought it cheap and of course, had to learn how to work on a sailboat and all its systems and everything like that. But. Yeah. So the first time I went sailing was 2014.
[00:51:26.770] - Big Rich Klein
Nice. Have you ever seen the movie Chasing Bubbles?
[00:51:32.770] - Randy Ellis
I have. I'm not sure that's a movie, though.
[00:51:36.370] - Big Rich Klein
Well, I guess it's more like a documentary, but isn't it a YouTube or something?
[00:51:43.320] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, on YouTube. And I've seen that more than once. That's a good documentary, right? For sure. Have you seen it?
[00:51:55.550] - Big Rich Klein
Yes. I suggest for anybody that has that wandering gene, I would say that wants to maybe get away from it all at some point and to explore that, they should watch that.
[00:52:15.790] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. You know what got me kind of attracted early on was there was a. Oh, I forget what they call them now. But you read on the Internet and it's like a blog. A blog? Yeah, it's a blog. It's called Bum Fuzzle.
[00:52:35.230] - Big Rich Klein
[00:52:35.920] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. And it was early on before they had kids. That was just amazing. And that kind of was like, yeah, that's what I want to do. And it's about a guy and a girl that go out and they're eating pizza and have too much to drink and say, you know what? Screw this. Let's buy a boat and sail around the world and not knowing anything about it. That's what they did. It was pretty cool.
[00:53:04.350] - Big Rich Klein
So you're now living for part of the year. We had this conversation before we started recording even the first time we tried to record that you're living about eight months a year on your boat. Is it still the same boat?
[00:53:22.950] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, it is. Same boat I bought in 2016. The name of my baby girl here is Simplify.
[00:53:31.310] - Big Rich Klein
Simplify. There you go.
[00:53:32.950] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. She's a 36 and a half foot cutter rigged mono hole sailing boats, old heavy fiberglass boat. And I've been living on her for eight to ten months a year sailing around all the Pacific Coast of Mexico and the Sea Cortez in Baja since 2017.
[00:54:04.470] - Big Rich Klein
Awesome. You said you were down as far as Guatemala. Have you left the West Coast, the Pacific?
[00:54:16.510] - Randy Ellis
I have not.
[00:54:17.480] - Big Rich Klein
[00:54:22.310] - Randy Ellis
Everybody knows things got a little crazy the last couple of years and Central America shut down. And I kind of I waited it out for a little while to try to get into Central America, and it just wasn't looking good. So I ended up buying a truck. And I've been just driving all over Mexico for the past four year and a half or so. And then I'm in the Puerto Vallarta area right now in a place called the Cruise. I'm in a Marina actually right now, which I don't spend a lot of time in usually, but right now I am. And so I flew back down to my boat and sailed it back up from Chiapas up to the Port of Yard area. And that's where I'm at now.
[00:55:15.090] - Big Rich Klein
And what's the next step?
[00:55:18.150] - Randy Ellis
Well, that's the best part. I don't know. I really do want to go and explore Central America, Panama and then probably through the canal, play around in the Caribbean and who knows? But I still spend four months a year in the States in my truck, four wheeling and camping. When it just gets when I get done sailing, I'm just tired of it or it's too hot. That's kind of what I do is go get in my truck and go four wheeling.
[00:56:02.890] - Big Rich Klein
Well, we'll need to stay in touch so that when you get to where you're heading down to Latin America, down Central America. If you get into Costa Rica. I've got some friends in Capos, and the big Marina there is run by a friend of mine, Carter and Sam Munford. She runs the prop shop there for some of the big fishing boats and charter boats where she's got the only computerized drive shaft and prop balancer in that all of Central America. And so you get down that way. They're good people to know that's for sure. Great people, you know, all expats down in that area. And then Sam's, Samantha's husband, is a charter captain down there on a fishing boat charterboat. So pretty cool.
[00:57:05.700] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, that's great. Yeah. I will definitely be spending time in Costa Rica as I go down for sure. So I'll definitely look you up and get their numbers.
[00:57:19.740] - Big Rich Klein
[00:57:21.850] - Randy Ellis
I understand that we talked a little bit that you're living on a boat part of the time now.
[00:57:28.580] - Big Rich Klein
We have a power boat. We're not into sale yet. We are on our starter boat or beginner boat, I guess you would call it. We really like it. Love the layout and the design and how much room we have. We're used to living in kind of a small space with the last 10-11 years living in our semi truck converted RV. So living small works really well for us. So we are looking at possibly like a cat, something in that line instead of a monohole. Or we'll find something like what we have but with diesel engines in it instead of the gas Motors. It was one of the things when we decided to buy a boat, it was kind of last minute. Three weeks later we had a boat. It wasn't like a long drawn out process.
[00:58:30.490] - Randy Ellis
Right. Well, I guess if you thought about it too much, you might not do it. But man, how do you like living on the water?
[00:58:38.190] - Big Rich Klein
I love it. Absolutely love it. Yes. It's relaxing. There's still a lot we're in a Marina. There's a lot that goes on around us, especially with all the charter fishing boats that go out and the tour boats and the shipping channels right here for Corpus Christi. So there's just a lot of activity yet. We don't have to. And then right across from the Marina is the row of bars and restaurants and everything. So we can hear people having a good time and the girls that are drunk that are Woohoo and all that kind of stuff. But we don't have to worry about getting thrown up on right, exactly. So that's kind of nice.
[00:59:25.910] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. How's the weather there? Where you're at right now?
[00:59:30.160] - Big Rich Klein
The weather has been good. Every Thursday we've been getting a small cold front that comes in and knocks 20 deg off of our typical temperature of like 70 deg. And we got another one coming in this Thursday. But our whole idea was trying to just chase 70. We like this area because it's middle of the country. We can jump in our pickup truck or the semi truck that's parked 4 hours away and go anywhere we want really quick where if we were down in Florida, we'd have a lot longer trip to get there. But I do like Florida. We went through that area last year during covet, during November and December of 2020. And it was the first time I'd been down to the Keys and all that. And that's when we decided once we bought the boat, it was like, okay, we're going to go do the loop. So we want to do the Great Loop here in probably 2024, and then we'll head from here down around Catch, around the Keys and then up this Eastern seaboard into the Great Lakes, across the Erie Canal and then down the river systems. And that will probably take we'll probably do it in like two sessions.
[01:00:57.810] - Big Rich Klein
I don't want to rush any of it. That's the whole idea to take time. These guys go, yeah, I did it in 46 days. Congratulations. What did you see?
[01:01:08.250] - Randy Ellis
Right. Take at least a couple of years to do that.
[01:01:12.930] - Big Rich Klein
[01:01:13.670] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. Oh, man, that'll be a great adventure. I hope you get to do that soon.
[01:01:19.710] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, we will. So then you're just living the life that the name of your boat is. You've simplified that's right.
[01:01:33.960] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. I'm living a pretty simple life now, and I don't have much of a schedule, although I have been still racing the Baja 1000, driving for a guy that I sold my last race car to. But, yeah, not much else on the schedule. I kind of do a lot of exploring. I've got a truck here that I do a lot of inland and exploring and hiking and surfing and just, of course, a lot of sailing and fishing and having a good time. It's basically summer here is all winter. It's summer. And then I call my winters when I go up in the mountains in the summertime in the States, I go up to Colorado or Utah, Idaho and things like that and go ride dirt bikes and go four wheeling and do a bunch of camping. But that's my winter couple of months doing that.
[01:02:45.570] - Big Rich Klein
That's awesome. I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying life and doing it your way.
[01:02:54.590] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. Thank you. And I am. It's awesome. Sorry. Not sorry.
[01:03:01.330] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, exactly. I mean, I'm going to turn 64 in March, and the last 21 years have been spent putting on events. So I've had a lot of time to travel, but not necessarily the way I wanted to travel. I got to see a lot of things, got to meet a lot of people. But the time is coming here real soon where we're not going to have that kind of schedule. At least the schedule I had, I made, you know, it wasn't somebody else dictating what I had to do. But I want to go without a schedule.
[01:03:42.470] - Randy Ellis
Yeah. I really don't know what today is of the week, which is pretty cool. I kind of say every day is a Saturday, but Rich, don't wait, man. Don't wait until it's too late.
[01:03:59.190] - Big Rich Klein
No, not going to. We've brought a partner in that purchased half of We Rock and with the intent that they're going to take it over in the next year or two. And so we'll be working more from the background after this next season, which will be nice. It'll be able to free us up to do more of what we want to do. And yeah, it's time.
[01:04:30.570] - Randy Ellis
Heck yeah. Good, good deal. Man. That's kind of strange to hear that you're also doing the boat thing and he probably remembers Sonny Hondur.
[01:04:43.970] - Big Rich Klein
[01:04:46.530] - Randy Ellis
He's in the Azores right now. He's also doing the boat thing. He's got 1898 wooden gaffrigged boat that he's bringing across from. I think he brought it from France. He's bringing it across over to he's going to end up in the Northeast, I think somewhere around there.
[01:05:09.150] - Big Rich Klein
[01:05:13.450] - Randy Ellis
Team 98 is when this boat was commissioned. Yeah. It's an old wooden boat and hopefully in a few months I'll go sail with him from. Yes, it's Azores over to Iceland. So we'll see what happens about that. But that'd be pretty cool.
[01:05:33.130] - Big Rich Klein
Wow. That's awesome. So when you're talking to Sunny next time, tell him that I would love to have him on the podcast and talk to him about his history as well. He's one of those that a lot of people mention. And I knew that he was going to be pretty difficult to get hold of, but I didn't know how to chase him down. Now I do. So that's awesome.
[01:05:59.350] - Randy Ellis
I can give you his number. Yeah, we still talk all the time. Perfect. And son, he's a real innovator, so he's definitely somebody that I'm sure a lot would like to hear about.
[01:06:10.760] - Big Rich Klein
Absolutely. Well, Randy, I want to say thank you so much for spending the time and being patient with me for screwing up the first ten minutes of our conversation.
[01:06:23.650] - Randy Ellis
Yeah, man, no big deal. It's actually been great kind of talking old times. And I'm sure we could go on for hours, actually.
[01:06:35.530] - Big Rich Klein
[01:06:36.730] - Randy Ellis
Because the more we talk about it, the more you start thinking, oh, yeah, I remember this. And I remember that as soon as we hang up, we're both going to go, oh, shit, we forgot to talk about that.
[01:06:50.950] - Big Rich Klein
True. Thank you for coming on board. Let's stay in touch because I would like to if you get over to the Caribbean, that would be awesome. And maybe we could hook up and enjoy some time together and maybe drink a drink or two with those little umbrellas in it. Although it doesn't have to have the umbrella.
[01:07:14.600] - Randy Ellis
Right. Wouldn't that be fun, though?
[01:07:16.380] - Big Rich Klein
[01:07:18.550] - Randy Ellis
Alright, well, all we got to do is make it happen.
[01:07:20.940] - Big Rich Klein
That's true. Alright, Randy, thank you so much.
[01:07:24.120] - Randy Ellis
Thank you so much. Alright, you take care, buddy.
[01:07:26.440] - Big Rich Klein
Alright, talk to you later. Bye bye.
[01:07:28.300] - Randy Ellis
[01:07:30.190] - Speaker 3
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 likeminded, well, that brings this episode to an end. Hope you enjoyed it. We'll catch you next week with conversations with big rich. Thank you very much, bye.