Eikermann examines his twisted ’78 Ford Bronco as it climbs a 6-foot rock
ledge. The obstacle, dubbed Baby Bear, is one of the “Three
Bears,” a set of challenging rock climbs at Flat Nasty
The group had been
driving only 15 minutes when the first breakdown occurred. The ear-splitting
sound of metal scraping rock pierced the night air. The driver stomped
the pedal of his ’95 Chevy S-10
to the floor, and the motor’s roar echoed through the dark valley
like some great, maimed animal crying out in the night. But the white
beast remained stuck in the dried-up creek bed, its front tires dangling
just above the ground.
Neil Pickett got out of the cab and bent down to see a large boulder
had snapped the truck’s drive shaft. He sighed deeply. For the
next hour, he mended the damage with only a set of pliers and a ball-pein
hammer by the soft glow of a flashlight. Slowly, tediously, he reassembled
the truck’s running gear like a surgeon performing an emergency
operation without the luxury of a hospital room.
of the Capital City Crawlers off-road vehicle club chat at
the base of Get It Billy, Flat Nasty Off-Road Park’s
most challenging trail.
After an hour, the truck fired up again and inched forward another
50 yards only to drive into a deep hole and lodge its thick tires into
a fallen limb that busted the drive shaft again and disabled the power
steering. This time it would take more than two hours, a dozen men
and a tow from two Jeeps, but the truck would finally emerge from the
creek bed at midnight.
Standing in a field
afterward, dripping sweat, dirt and grease smeared across his white
T-shirt, Neil smiled widely and muttered what would become a mantra: “It’s too bad about the truck, but we’ll
fix it in the morning. It’s all in good fun.”
It was the first night of the Capital City Crawler’s Carnage
Crawl, held May 5-7 at Flat Nasty, an 858-acre off-road vehicle park
in hilly Ozark terrain near Salem. Earlier that afternoon, 17 die-hard
off-road drivers made the two-hour trek from mid-Missouri to a section
of land housing steep hills, rocky creek beds and off-kilter dirt paths — an
Upon arrival, 30-year-old Bob Adamik, the owner of an off-road shop
in Tebbetts, unloaded his forest-green ’98 Jeep Wrangler Sahara
from its trailer and announced, “Now the testosterone really
Like many other
dedicated club members, he wore a T-shirt with the group’s
logo emblazoned on the back.
Bob is one of “The
Three Bs” — Bennie
Necaise, Brad Gilmore and himself — who formed the Capital City Crawlers,
off-roading club, in early 2000. Today, the group consists of 48 mid-Missouri
men and women, ages 18 to 65, who drive all makes of four-wheel-drive vehicles,
from bone stock to heavily modified rigs. They rarely hold meetings, ride
as often as possible and share an appreciation for rough terrain, big tires
and four-wheel drive.
right, and Neil Pickett make repairs to Neil’s truck on
the morning after a brutal night run that damaged the truck. “Repairs
are just a part of off-roading,” says Bob, a founder of
gives you the chance to get away from it all,” says
Bob. “But the carnage and the camaraderie keep you coming back for
In the world of
serious off-roading, there are three unofficial rules: 1) No terrain
is too tough — the bigger the rock, the better the
challenge; 2) Damage is inevitable — repairs are a fact of life;
and 3) Safety is paramount — a
seat belt is mandatory and a roll cage is strongly advised. Over time,
these rules become second nature.
When it comes to driving styles, however, there are two schools of thought:
The School of Finesse and The School of Hard Knocks.
“I’m a finesse driver myself,” says Bob. “I go slow and
find the right angle to avoid tearing up my Jeep. Other guys just gas
it to make it over a rock or whatever.”
convoy of off-road vehicles make their way to the trails of
Bob’s explanation became apparent as a seven-rig procession crept
along on an overcast Saturday afternoon. In many cases, the rigs’ thick
tires, inflated with just 2 to 5 pounds of air pressure, molded to the
terrain and allowed drivers to cross turf average vehicles wouldn’t
dare. But some places required more skill.
rough spots, where a large boulder or fallen tree blocked the path,
drivers looked for the correct “line,” or approach
route, to clear an obstacle as spotters helped direct them. Some drivers
eased over the rocks slowly while others reached a certain point and
gassed it, desperately spinning the tires until the vehicle continued
down the path.
“It’s just amazing how these vehicles can make it up some of these
rocks,” says Bob. “You look at it at first and think, ‘No way.’”
In off-roading, such challenges separate the skilled from the timid.
And Flat Nasty, in particular, offers more challenges than most.
hammers away at his ‘86 Toyota 4Runner’s front end
as his dog, Doc, looks on.
The off-road park
opened on Memorial Day of last year after an extensive search by
two out-of-state off-road enthusiasts, Ron Maximoff and Bryan Hamilton.
The pair had gone so far as to offer a $500 reward to anyone who
could find a piece of land fit for their needs. Finally, they discovered
a spot near Jadwin that offered everything from steep hills and dry
creek beds to green valleys and large boulders. They snatched up
the land and began building trails, marking them in three levels
of difficulty: green for easy, yellow for intermediate and black
for difficult. They then christened the trails with names like White
Throat and All-Day Sucker.
such as the Crawlers, heard about the park and couldn’t
resist seeing whether Flat Nasty lived up to its name.
“Flat Nasty? There’s nothing flat about it,” Bert Shaw, an
off-road driver from Columbia, told Ron after making a steep climb
Pickett’s ’95 Chevy spins its tires, sending
up a shower of mud, while it attempts to climb an 8-foot
rock wall. The effort would snap the truck’s drive shaft.
Ron, a retired
commercial airline pilot and former professional off-road racer from
Michigan, delights in hearing such comments. He is constantly searching
for ways to make the paths more difficult, whether by bulldozing “bunny
hills” in a dry creek bed or placing a downed tree in an
So far, Ron’s
proudest accomplishment is Get It Billy, a long, steep hill that
only four vehicles have ever cleared. He offers a bounty to anyone
who can climb it. Many drivers, like Vince Pamperl, a fiery red head
who laughs maniacally when attempting a rough patch, have tried and
failed without reaching the halfway point.
Along such difficult
trails, drivers often get stuck, which requires others to winch them
out. This is not always simple. During night runs, it can be especially
difficult to see the paths ahead and vehicles can rack up costly
are great because you can’t see the
what the morning after is for,” says Neil.
throws a tow line to Bob Adamik after lodging his truck on an
8-foot rock ledge. In off-roading, pulling another vehicle out
of a tight spot is a regular occurance.
Repairs can cost
cost thousands and have upset countless drivers’ spouses.
But a true off-roader doesn’t know the meaning of quit.
On Sunday morning, after a weekend spent largely under his truck,
Neil sat next to his wife, Pamela, in his Chevy’s cab and stared down
Papa Bear, a steep 8-foot rock wall that rises out of a 2-foot-deep
mud puddle. After a moment of hesitation, he slipped the transmission
in drive and crept forward. The grill scraped against the rock before
the front tires caught. The truck’s nose
lifted in the air but stopped just as it reached a 45-degree angle.
Neil stomped the gas, and a shower of mud rained in all directions.
After a few moments, the truck came to a standstill, and Neil decided
to winch it out. Several men strapped a steel cable to the front bumper
and began to reel it in. As the truck rose, its undercarriage dragged
against the jagged rocks, and various shades of fluid began leaking
onto the ground.
Finally, the once-white Chevy reached flat ground. Neil got out to
survey the damage and discovered the drive shaft had snapped for the
third time in three days, and the truck had a whole new set of problems.
Neil shrugged. “Well, at least we tried. We’ll go home, make repairs
and be ready to run again by Memorial Day,” he said. “Besides, it’s
all in fun.”
For more information, visit www.capitalcitycrawlers.com.