Sometimes you see a rig and instantly feel that you need to know more about it. The history, how many owners, how many miles – all those little details tell a story. When you see something that was built and rolled off of the assembly line 40-plus years ago, you know there are bound to be some pretty amazing stories that come with it. When I see those rigs out doing what they were meant to do, I tend to introduce myself so I can learn the story. Everyone does that, right?
As a perfect example, recently we were at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary to spend a weekend off-road at the 2019 Tennessee Gambler 500. For those that are not familiar, Gambler 500 events are typically weekend events that challenge participants to acquire a vehicle for approximately 500 dollars or less and then wheel that vehicle to established GPS coordinates that are primarily off road or have off road routes available to get you there.
Extra cool points are provided to those that create an especially different or impractical rig. The off-road event was originally started by Tate Morgan as a challenge to see how far $500 cars could go. The focus has always been on the idea that there doesn’t need to be a set of rules that everyone has to play by. Instead, creativity and fun are emphasized far above any specific dollar amount spent, or adherence to any specific rules of participation.
That means that any rig you can put together can be a participant. Any condition or wacky idea you can come up with is acceptable. For participants Tyler Brown and Aaron Heckman, that meant that they had to get a 1979 Scout II ready to ride. Tyler and Aaron have been friends for over 13 years and when they found out about the upcoming Gambler event, they had to get involved.
“We found out about it from Dave Mactavish, who is also friends with Matt Faust. I had sold Matt Faust a part-out Scout and when Dave told me that they were going to use it to put together a Gambler, then I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m in,’” Tyler explained.
The unlikely foursome then completed their Scout builds separately, but attended the Gambler event together in one camp. This is partly what drew us to their camp. The vision of two classic American rigs was too good a draw for us to pass up. The roaring fire campfire didn’t hurt either; this particular weekend, Tennessee was seeing historic rates of rainfall and a good campfire was kind of hard to come by.
Tyler had owned the Scout for a few years prior, but it had been parked for over a year, and if they were going to get it going for the event, then some major engine work needed to be done in a hurry. The original 304ci engine had been hydro-locked during a past adventure, and it was parked after that.
New head gaskets and a full rebuild was completed to get the motor restored. No porting, polishing, cylinder honing, or other machining was done, so it was a gamble how well the engine would run. This is a wildly accepted method of preparation for a Gambler, considering that the motto of the event is “Always Be Gambling.”
This build exemplifies that motto and it paid off, as there were no major engine issues all weekend. After the engine was up and running once again, the pair turned their attention to the rusted-out rockers and the virtually non-existent body mounts. “These trucks had rust recalls the day they rolled off the assembly line,” Tyler said with a smirk. “It’s amazing that when you bring the truck back to stock height after you fix the rusted body mounts, you actually gain about three inches of lift. If you look at the other Scout, you can see how much lower it sits. That’s because when those body mounts go, the body actually sits down onto the frame. It twisted so much out there on the trails that the door opened,” Tyler confessed with a laugh.
Once the rust was handled, the pair set to work on installing a new ignition coil, alternator, tires and wheels, leaf springs, and a whole lot of welding material to reinforce the deteriorating body. With all the work that needed to be done, I had to ask: Why bother to get this particular rig back up and running? Why not just purchase something that was a little closer to functional?
Tyler explained, “I used a chainsaw and a backhoe to get this thing out of a creek when I first bought it. It had a tree growing up through it. I paid $300 for it. The owner was originally asking $2,000. These are tough trucks and they’re reliable. They’re actually more capable than they should be for out here. We were able to walk over pretty much everything on the route. We also will use it after here. Every year we do a canoe trip, and we’ll tow all our gear for the trip with it”.
You can tell that Tyler loves his Scout and the friendships and family memories that it has brought him. “I first met Matt at the grocery store. He had an old Travelall and we would often see each other at the store. We’d get to talking about Internationals,” Tyler said. “We only live about a mile away from each other, but we probably would have never met otherwise,” Matt added.
It’s the ability of rigs like this and the stories about how they bring people together that are truly interesting and fun. Coming to a Gambler event is an experience all by itself, but being able to do it with additional friends makes it just that much better.
“We knew that neither of these trucks were nowhere near 100-percent ready for something like this. That’s part of the gamble of coming to the event though is that you just take a chance,” Tyler said. “We put a ’50’ on the side of our truck because we figured that if we made it for fifty miles, that would be doing pretty good. Well, we made it more than 150 today, so we’re really happy with it. It ran great out here,” Matt added.
As far as future upgrades go, the only plans at this time are to get new seats with some original plaid coverings. The rig was used as a daily driver for years prior to its encounter with the wet stuff that left it sitting for a year. Now that it’s back up and running, it will be a daily driver again. “My wife loves this stuff,” Tyler said. “She is a teacher and she always likes to say that she has like 130 kids. So really, we don’t need any of our own. That leaves us open to travel and rebuild motors and take gambles.”
The whole group agrees that they will definitely be back for the next one. They may even be back with a different build. We look forward to what they come up with. If you want more information about the Tennessee Gambler check out their Facebook page. The next Tennessee event is coming in September.