The saga of Dylan Heiser and his prerunner is one we’ve all heard of or experienced for our own: growing up in a family that enjoys off-roading, getting the itch to work on a project, putting all sorts of time, sweat, and money into it, and reaping the fruits over and over every time we head to the desert. But Dylan’s story took a wrong turn along the way.
To offer you some background, back in August, we picked up on an ongoing social media push about a certain green Ford Ranger prerunner that had been stolen along with the trailer it was parked on. As sad as it is to hear, car theft is a pretty common occurrence, and off-road rigs are no exception.
But what this theft produced was one of the most remarkable reactions we have ever seen. Starting with Dylan’s friends, word spread to dozens and soon hundreds of social-media-savvy off-roaders. United in their focus to find the thieves and recover the stolen Ranger, this was a heroic tale that was worth investigating and sharing.
Our interview with Dylan was one that we wouldn’t soon forget.
Dylan Heiser is a resident of Sacramento, California, and a dyed-in-the-wool lover of off-road. “I got a Jeep when I was 14 and my dad and I worked on it,” he said. “I had friends that got into rockcrawling, so I got a Samurai and made it work on the rocks. Then I traded the Samurai for the Ranger and got into the desert.”
Prior to Dylan buying it in 2013, the 1988 Ranger already had some prerunning characteristics. Dylan opted to start from scratch, and cut off the modifications less than a day after taking ownership.
“I did a back-half cage,” began Dylan. “It’s got link and equal-length one-inch kingpin beams, dual swing steering, King 3.5-inch bypass shocks up front, and King 4.0-inch bypasses in the rear. I have 19 inches of travel in the front, and 26 inches of travel in the rear.”
The drivetrain is a 6.0-liter LS V8 with a 4L80E transmission, going to a rearend with a 5.13:1 gear ratio. “It screams off the line for sure,” said Dylan. “I’ve gotten it up to 106 miles per hour before.” Gripping the earth are 35-inch BF Goodrich All-Terrain KO2s with 15-inch American Racing Outlaw II wheels.
“I’m not sure what my favorite part of the vehicle is,” Dylan said. “I just did the V8 swap and that was a lot of fun, having that much power go to the wheels.” It was a lot of work to get the truck built to his standards and expectations, but Dylan made it happen.
The Fateful Weekend
Thursday, August 12th, 2016, was a day like any other. Dylan had driven down from Sacramento to the Stoddard Valley SVRA to do some shock tuning and meet with the folks at King Shocks. “I did some revalving and other adjustments,” he said.
I walked over to the window and I saw the trailer was totally gone. I woke my buddy up and say, ‘The truck’s gone!’ He goes, ‘What do you mean?’ and I say ‘Exactly what I mean. It’s not there!'” – Dylan Heiser
After the shock wore off, Dylan grabbed his phone and called the police, who arrived in a matter of minutes. “I filed a police report for the trailer and the truck,” he explained. “They said they had been doing stings in that parking lot for the last several weeks, and the hotel had no security cameras covering the parking lot for some bizarre reason. It was crazy, because I’d spent probably 10 nights at that hotel over the last year and had zero problems or worries.”
Needless to say, the incident threw Dylan for the proverbial loop. He called his family to let them know he would be staying in the area until further notice, in the hopes that he would be local when the truck was found. Afterwards, he called his good friend, Ryan Piggott, and the search began in earnest.
“Ryan made a picture of the truck to share,” said Dylan. “Then my other friend, Kyle Wilkinsen, went all-out and got a reward going for $5,000 to the person who found the Ranger.”
Posts to Instagram were just the beginning. Soon, people began reposting the image over and over on their personal accounts, and the “search party” began to grow in earnest. From businesses like 928 Powersports to racers like BJ Baldwin, the grapevine got to work in the best way possible – helping out their fellow man in need.
As Friday came to a close, Dylan decided to simply head home. Nonetheless, calls and text messages came in from all over – a freeway sighting here, a gas station sighting there – pointing east toward Laughlin, where someone claimed to have seen the Ranger. People parked along the 40 Freeway from Barstow to Laughlin, essentially offering to “stakeout” the road and keep an eye out for the truck, should it pass by.
Nothing happened Saturday or Sunday, but that Monday, the 16th, prayers were answered. “A guy texted me with a picture of the truck parked in a house garage, saying he lived in the same neighborhood,” explained Dylan. “I texted back, saying ‘Stay there, call the cops, make sure nobody leaves or anything.’ I called 928 Powersports and talked to Eric, whom I had only known for two days but I trusted him. I told him to go to the address and not let anyone else leave. He got there and confirmed it was there.”
Somewhere along the way, the door to the garage was closed. By the time the police had arrived, it was up to Eric and the other man to convince them that the truck was inside. Hemming and hawing ensued with the police questioning the people at the house, and while no arrests were made, everything was left as it was to give Dylan and his friend enough time to make the 10-hour from Sacramento to Laughlin.
A Bittersweet Reunion
At long last, Dylan was reunited with his Ranger, though the latter was certainly worse for wear. “The truck had definitely been ransacked and taken for a few joy rides,” said Dylan. “The trans was slipping, all of the electronics and radio equipment were gone, a couple of the tires were flat, and the seats had been torn up. I looked in the back and saw a gigantic 36-inch set of bolt cutters and a bunch of black clothes, which must have been used in the robberies. Finally, the underside was all messed up and looked like the drivers had plowed through fences and other stuff.”
It was a sorry sight, to say the least. Not to mention, Dylan was facing the bitter prospect of having to get the truck fixed up out of his own wallet. Thankfully, however, he got a little help from Rugged Radios.
5 days till the green flag drops. Finishing up the dash today. The billet @ruggedradios intercom/race radio mount looks killer. After that, new gears and shafts, then some more wiring and she will be ready to be let out of her cage. #crunchtime #lostandfoundracing #team1422 #ruggedradios #vorra #fallon250
“They offered to replace all of the electronics in the truck,” said Dylan. “I graciously accepted, and they sent me all of the items I needed, from intercom to radio and so on. NV Motorsports also stepped in and fixed a rear shock for me, which was wonderful.”
The episode did nothing to quash Dylan’s love for off-roading and off-road motorsports. In fact, he fixed up the Ranger in time to enter the VORRA Fallon 250 on September 3rd and 4th. “We lost the trans, a fuel pump, and a bunch of other stuff,” said Dylan. “We completed four of the six laps and had to throw in the towel, we were all so exhausted.”
Nevertheless, looking back on everything that happened, it was a mind-blowing experience for the young man. Indeed, for many of us here at Off Road Xtreme, it was quite intriguing to see just how tightly bonded the off-road community could be when one of our own was in trouble.
Even after the dust had settled, Dylan still received the odd tip or comment from someone he had never met before. “One kid was from Florida and said my truck was found in a robbery,” he laughed.
Vigilance, patience, and empathy were the key components of this whole ordeal, and such traits were excellent to see in our brothers and sisters in off-road. We hope this story has brightened your day; as for Dylan, he’s come away from it all with a greater appreciation for everyone involved (except the thieves, naturally).
“It was just cool how everyone in off-road came together like that,” offered Dylan. “I got support and shares from so many incredible individuals. It spread like wildfire. I’m very grateful for how it all turned out.”