John F. Kennedy was President, Marilyn Monroe was still alive, John Glenn was the first American orbiting the earth in space, and a postage stamp cost four cents—that’s what was going on 50 years ago when Four Wheeler printed its first issue in February, 1962. It’s hard to put it in perspective, especially when you consider that the iPhone in your pocket has more computing power than John Glenn’s entire spaceship.
Even back in 2006 it was said that roughly 1,000 new magazines are launched every year. Nine out of ten of them fail, and 70 percent of those that do fail never make it past their first issue. So being a 50-year-old magazine in today’s high-speed digital environment is a big deal. People still like magazines though, including me.
My first encounter with Four Wheeler was in the early ’80s. I was sitting in Mrs. Barr’s social studies class and it was time for silent reading. I didn’t have a book (what normal kid would?), so I sifted through a box of old magazines that she kept on hand for just such occasions. I pulled out a few different magazines, and a truck on the cover of a Four Wheeler caught my eye. I wasn’t old enough to even have a driver’s license at the time but I was absolutely nuts about bulldozers, semi-trucks, tractors, and other heavy equipment. The 4x4s on the cover and inside the pages of Four Wheeler had big, aggressive mud tires that looked similar to what you would find on a piece of machinery. I was sold. Amazingly enough, from this point on I actually looked forward to silent reading time in Mrs. Barr’s class. Every week I’d dig through the box of tattered magazines looking for one that I hadn’t flipped through yet. I was fascinated with the huge early monster trucks sporting then 48-inch tires, and I marveled over the Predator carburetor ads wondering what the heck that polished aluminum box was. Eventually I had flipped through all of Mrs. Barr’s Four Wheeler magazines, so I started actually reading the stories. Some of the adventure stuff was my favorite because at the time I had no idea what any of the technical jargon meant.
I went on a short hiatus from reading about 4x4s until just before I got my driver’s license in the late ’80s. Four Wheeler was one of the magazines I returned to when I bought my first truck, a used ’82 Toyota 4x4. I did all sorts of terrible things to that truck both from behind the steering wheel and from behind a wrench. It wasn’t until I got my first Jeep in 1994 that I really wanted to learn about tearing things apart, properly rebuilding them, and fabrication. I latched on to pretty much anything written by Jimmy Nyland and Ned Bacon because I could relate to that kind of tech and wheeling style. Their Four Wheeler stories inspired me.
By 1995 I thought I was in the big league and I entered my Jeep into Four Wheeler’s Top Truck Challenge. Of course I didn’t get voted in by the readers, and maybe that was for the best. I would have had to drive my ’48 Jeep 400 miles to the event because I didn’t have a tow rig at the time. It certainly would have made the trip up to Hollister, California, no problem, but my Jeep would probably have been on the back of a tow-truck coming home. Admittedly, I still had a lot to learn.
In early 1996 I tore the ’48 Jeep down, swapped in a V-8, an SM420 transmission, heftier axles, and built my own flexy suspension. I entered Top Truck Challenge again in 1998, but failed to garner enough reader votes to allow me the privilege of destroying my Jeep, which I would have gladly done, just to be a part of the event.
In 1999 I started working for Four Wheeler’s direct competition, Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road. So I forgot about Four Wheeler and Top Truck Challenge, at least for a while. Eventually, the company that owned 4 Wheel & Off-Road purchased Four Wheeler. By that time I found myself at Jp magazine (also owned by the same company). At this point I had built a truck that could at least be somewhat competitive in Four Wheeler’s Top Truck Challenge, so I entered in 2005 and I was voted in by the readers shortly thereafter. My performance at TTC 2005 was lackluster at best, although my co-driver Clifton Slay and I managed to win the Trail Repair competition and the Mud Bog event. We timed-out and didn’t quite finish the coveted Tank Trap event due to some driver error and technical difficulties. Overall we mustered a pathetic Eighth Place at TTC 2005. I could come up with all kinds of excuses about how we had the least expensive truck, smallest motor, the power steering belt fell off, I swallowed a bug, and so on, and obviously I didn’t go to all the trouble of showing up only to lose. Truth is, we didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but in the end I really didn’t care. I was mostly there to have fun and I was just thrilled be a part of the event. To this day the ¼-mile Tank Trap is one of the best trails I have ever been on, and someday I’ll drive it again.
Four Wheeler was the first and is the oldest 4x4 and off-road-specific magazine. It has been a big part of my life and has a lot to do with who I am. It’s not that I think about it often, but when I do, I wonder how many other people have been positively influenced by the writers in these pages over the past 50 years. I feel fortunate that I have the opportunity to be one of them. I’ll do my best not to blow it like I did at Top Truck in 2005.