Twisted Customs and the Black Hills
Pictures by Brian Errea, Jason Paule and Nolen Grogan

The name Twisted Customs is synonymous with style and quality in the world of rockcrawling. What started out as a one-man-band garage fabrication business has blossomed into one of the premier crawler/racer building businesses in the country. Inspired by founder Jason Paule, the business is located in Box Elder at the foot of the Black Hills in South Dakota.

Although I had traveled to the Black Hills to wheel, I was never able to make the trip to visit this renowned shop and see what was cooking. This trip, however, was a little different as I was actually visiting Jason and crew to take delivery of a turn-key crawler of my own. Needless to say, I was stokd to be making the 1600 mile journey.

I arrived late Thursday night to find Twisted Customs partners Jason Paule, Brian Errea and Joachim Schwiesow busily putting the last touches on my buggy. It was really cool watching these guys work together. They literally read each other's mind and finish each other's sentences like an old married couple. Each person had a part in the reconstruction of the buggy and they knew what they were doing. My wheeling buddies Carl McIntyre and Jim Alexander had been there most of the day and they too had put in their time getting the buggy back together after disassembly for paint. Knowing I was just going to be in the way, I rescued Jim, Carl and his wife Anna and we headed for the hotel.

The next morning we were greeted by the finished product of a long night. The buggy was ready for seats and skins and we were ready to wheel. Now that I was sorted out, the guys turned their attention to their own buggies to get them ready for the "hills". Brian and Joachim had a super hard roll on their last gate at Cedar City WeRock the weekend before and had crushed the A pillar on their Yellow YJ based competition buggy. Although it was a nasty roll, they still took first place, so they did not mind too much.

Jason would be using fellow competitor Hal Frost's buggy to lead us around to his favorite spots for the weekend, but it too needed a lot of TLC. Hal put the buggy on its lid 3-4 times at Cedar and it looked rough. These guys make a tough buggy, and their knowledge of their tried and true design made it look like childís play as they cut, ground and zip tied their buggies back together to use for the weekend.

A quick look at the shop while the guys were getting ready brought back lots of memories of the past buggy skins Jason has sported on his venerable Matrix chassis that he sold back in February.

Chassis of every form of completion fill the shop. The guys have recently turned out 3 turn-key 3 seat buggies, one that my buddy Carl drives and 2 others for competitors. Lately, they have been working on 4 seat chassis like I was buying. Mine was the first to be finished with a roller and another turn-key on deck.

Brian, Joachim and Jason also make up the incredibly successful Rock Runner Racing team. Brian and Jason are the rock crawlers and Joachim is the rock racer. To list out all of these guys accomplishments would be an article of its own, but needless to say, they have had their share of victories.

As I mentioned before, these guys are down to one buggy between them. Brian and Joachim share the YJ buggy, swapping axles and third members to make the buggy more versatile for crawling and racing. stacked in the corner of the shop however is a nice pile of parts that will be 3 brand new Rock Runner Racing buggies for 2009.

After all the repairs we were off to the hills. Jason wanted to take it easy on me on my first trip out and decided to keep it simple with a trip up Hal John. This trail is in a dry river bed and stretches about 3 miles up a beautiful deep-walled canyon. The trail is great from the first section and gets better the higher up it goes. Our group was 4 Twisted Customs buggies and Jim Alexander's sick Sunray Engineering buggy.

The last time I was at the Black Hills I was fortunate enough to wheel Hal John trail. Back then, I was driving a full bodied Cruiser with 42" tires that tipped the scales at around 5000#. What took our group 2 full DAYS to do back in 2002 only took our group 2 hours to do in 2008. Amazingly, the trail has changed very little in the time I was away, but the equipment that I used this time was quite superior. Jason actually got a little seat time in my new Station Wagon.

The cool thing about Hal John is that it goes on forever.

That is, until you run into an obstacle that you cannot overcome.

The trail ended with this wicked climb that everyone crawled but me until I simply turned left and went right up.

Since the trail had been done so fast, we jumped into Full-size and Kong for a little more challenge.

The day was over and we headed back to Brian's house in the hills outside of Deadwood. The evening was beautiful and we enjoyed watching the deer in the field and the water flowing by as we relived the day on the trail.

The next morning, Jason decided to turn up the heat on us. I knew I was in for a treat when he and Brian suggested I leave my skins in the trailer. The trail for the day was called U-bolt. Like most of the trails in the Black Hills, it was an old mining trail that was reopened by the wheelers. You see, the Black Hills is one of the last National Forests in the US that is open to wheelers. That is, until 2009 when the only trails that will be open are those that have been used and approved by the Forest Service. Jason has walked hundreds of miles and has worked tirelessly to keep these trails open and recognized when the new system takes effect. U-bolt is one such trail that will be open, but it is so difficult that it gets very little traffic. We were about to solve that problem.

The end of the trail puts you into a box canyon with an old mine shaft. The trail is 5+ in difficulty, but the vehicles we brought all made it through with little more than scratches.

The thing about a box canyon trail is that once you go in, you have to come out. Other than a little more paint on the rocks, we finished the trail in just under 3 hours.

Feeling the 1600 mile trip home calling, we packed it in for the weekend. There is nothing quite like the feeling of picking up a new vehicle, wheeling some of the top trails in the country and not having one single issue. Not only are the guys at Twisted Customs some of the top competitors in the world, they are also on the tip-top of their game in building chassis that perform as well as hold up to serious abuse. It was a blast. I can't wait until the next trip out!

See you on the trail.

Nolen Grogan aka The Rock Midget