Hammer Stories: The Offroad Enthusiast and His Ram

Words and Photos: Jason Stilgebouer of Dusty Summit

We teamed up with onX Offroad to bring you stories surrounding the culture of the King of Hammers from the lakebed of Johnson Valley. We used the offline maps to navigate around the lakebed and help us mark our locations and waypoints for our projects throughout the time we were out there, and along the way, we met some incredible people: this is Hammer Stories.

What makes an offroad enthusiast? Is it someone’s love for offroad? Is it their car? Is it the spirit of adventure, knowing they can get through the roughest terrain? Or it sharing the experience with others and meeting new friends along the way? I believe it is all of those things combined into one, and no better person we met at the King of the Hammers reflects that than Ruben Clark and his 2001 Dodge Ram 2500 Cummins.

Ruben is an automotive repair shop owner in Ventura, California, and purchased the Ram in 2015 as a daily with no real intentions to turn it into a rock crawler. It was nothing more than a shop truck and a daily driver that he take for weekend adventures. The setup was simple at the time – a mild lift and 37″ tires. As years progressed, he thought he would try and go the overland route and outfit it with gear for longer trips, include rooftop tent, but that didn’t last long.

It wasn’t until 2017, while the Thomas Fire broke out, he would find himself using his truck to help in any way possible – towing trailers, helping retrieve boxes, and evacuate people to safety. He helped people every day since the fire had broken out. The fire would rage go on to rage through Santa Barbara County, burning a total of 281,893 acres, destroying 1,063 structures, and taken the lives of two people. Ruben put himself in danger to help people out in any way possible; at one point, he had driven so close to the fire that it had left scorch marks on his truck. These selfless acts were just one small part of his efforts to care for his community, and the Ram was only a tool during it.

Years later, the Ram had finally taken shape to where it is today. Starting with the bed, he completely removed it and built a bed cage to stiffen the chassis and add 16″ King Bypass shocks. One of the biggest issues when taking on this project is that there is little to no aftermarket support for this Ram. Ruben had to fabricate most of the parts on it to get it to where it is today. This is something that excited him, he wanted a challenge, and this challenge would be a way to showcase his fabrication skills.

This daily driver has turned a full rock crawler sitting on a locked axle, a Dana 70 axle in the rear, and a Dana 60 in the front. A full custom hydro assist helps steer the 40-inch tires. It even has full bumps stops and an integrated roll cage. This 24 Valve Cummins has affectionately been named the Millennium Falcon; it is old, it is beaten up, but it gets the job done when it is time to go off-road.

Often times we get wrapped up in modifying cars; some want to build the best vehicle possible out of love for engineering and design. Some want to build a vehicle to look cool and post it up on Instagram, hoping it gets them followers and likes. But Ruben has built this Ram as a truck that can go up the craziest obstacles possible. It is beaten up, bruised, and honestly looks a little ugly, but that is what makes it beautiful. It is a truck built to do whatever offroad; it can be seen going up some of the craziest trails in Johnson Valley, Chocolate Thunder, Turkey Claw, and even Sledgehammer. If that is not enough, he isn’t trailering it; he is driving four hours on the highway, running the trails, and then driving home. That’s more than most people can do out there. In fact, it is his daily driver.

Ruben has gone above and beyond with his Ram; it has been called to the line of duty when Ruben and his community needed it during a crisis. Now it can be seen in the rocks in Johnson Valley or hitting the local trails near Ventura in its beaten and battered self. It isn’t pretty, and Ruben may never want it to be a show car. One thing is certain; it is used by someone who loves the spirit of taking the less-traveled path for the sheer pleasure of adventure. Ruben is the true definition of an off-road enthusiast, and we can’t wait to see where he takes his Ram next.