Interview by: Harry Wagner- 6/2003
All photos courtesy of Off Road Solutions
Editor's Note: The following is the latest of our new feature focusing on the talented people who run shops specializing in Toyota 4x4 components. Mike Caskey recently took time out of his busy schedule to speak with 4x4Wire's Harry Wagner.
|ORS owner Mike Caskey getting out of the shop to do some wheeling on Indy.
4x4Wire- How did you get involved in four wheeling?
Caskey- My father took us on backroads when I was a kid, but nothing hardcore. I grew up in Colorado and my first vehicle was an '85 4Runner. I started doing harder and harder trails with it, breaking more parts, and got hooked.
4x4Wire- So that was your first trail rig then?
Caskey- Yes, the 4Runner. It was stock with 31" Mud Terrains at first and then I lifted it and modified it over time. Eventually I took it to Moab and it got dented up so I sold it to a friend and bought an early truck that I wouldn't feel as bad about smashing up.
4x4Wire- How long has your shop been in business?
Caskey- Two years and three months now, we opened our doors in February of 2001.
4x4Wire- So is that what prompted you to make the transition from enthusiast to businessman?
Caskey- I used to work on many friends' trucks and wasn't making any money at it. We would work on our trucks all week during the evenings to be ready to hit the trails on the weekend. It eventually evolved into the desire to do it professionally.
|Mike's white '82 pickup was well used before it was replaced by the '95 4Runner.|
4x4Wire- Do you ever miss that though, wrenching with friends?
Caskey- Sure, I miss it sometimes. The stress level is higher but the rewards are greater. You have to take a risk when you go into business, but I love what I am doing. I saw a market in the Denver area for fabrication and repair work that focuses on Toyotas and took the opportunity to fill that niche. I think that we are unique in that we have ASE certified technicians that perform anything from top-notch fabrication to routine maintenance. Every customer's need is different and we really make an effort to listen to the customer and try and fulfill their individual needs. We strive to be top quality in every aspect of this business.
|ORS staff members Grant, Kevin, Mike and Hans (from left to right).|
|ORS webmaster Kevin Turner in Lefthand Canyon.
4x4Wire- What sort of background do you have?
Caskey- I went to CU for a year and spent some time figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I then went to OSU for a degree in automotive service. After that I went to work as a technician at a Toyota dealership for a couple of years and then at a local 4WD shop in Boulder. In 2001 I went to work for Chris Rayburn as he opened Off Road Solutions and appointed me his "main man". Shortly after, I acquired a loan to buy the business. We would not be here if it weren't for Chris' ambition.
4x4Wire- How many people work for you?
Caskey- There are six of us, including myself and our accountant. Hans does the fabrication and wrenching, Grant works as his apprentice, Kevin does our website, and Leif handles the sales counter and shipping. I fill in the gaps, wrench, and work on new ideas. We would not be here if it weren't for my awesome employees, family and friends.4x4Wire- Do you carry other manufacturers products, or only the Off Road Solutions product line?
|Custom coilover conversion on a customer's truck.
Caskey- We are building our own product line, but also like to carry the best parts in the market. We carry Yukon gears and set up a lot of differentials. We also sell a lot of Front Range Off-Road Fabrication products, Marlin gears and transfer case adapters, and Alcan springs in addition to Rancho shocks, Warn winches, Detroit lockers, ARBs, and more of the standard equipment.
4x4Wire- Do you do fabrication and installation, or just sell product?
Caskey- We do a great deal of custom work, such as motor swaps, and a lot of tube work like coilover suspensions, roll cages, and bumpers. Service and repair is also a large part of our business.
4x4Wire- Any new product ideas you would like to share with us?
Caskey- We are working on a complete 3.4L conversion kit for pickups and 4Runners. The kit is designed to be all inclusive and come with the necessary wiring, hoses, oil pan, clutch parts, and all of the other odds and ends a customer would need in order to perform this conversion. The prototyping was all done on my 4Runner, I like to test things thoroughly before introducing them to the market.
|Note the clean motor swap and tube work on Mike's 4Runner.
|The suspension travel on the 4Runner is measured in feet, not inches.
4x4Wire- Tell us a little more about your personal rig.
Caskey- I wanted a vehicle that was all Toyota to show off our shop's talent. As I said before, it has a 3.4L motor with exhaust and intake modifications. Behind that is a R151F transmission from a turbo truck and dual transfer cases with a Marlin adapter. 4.7:1 gears are currently on order for the rear case. The cases are supported by a Front Range Off-Road crossmember that has been raised six inches to be flush with the frame rails. This required a lot of sheetmetal cutting, but several of the modifications on the truck resulted in cut sheetmetal. The front axle is an FZJ80 model and the rear is a T-100 axle with a custom Front Range Off-Road full floater kit. Both axles feature Air Lockers and 5.29 gears. The front suspension is a three-link with a panhard bar and the rear is a true four-link, both with 17 inch Bilstein coilovers. The front suspension is built off of the tubular clip and the rear section of the frame was removed and replaced with tube also. The tires are 42 inch Super Swampers on beadlocked wheels.
|Mike's 4Runner is a test bed for new ORS products.|
4x4Wire- Do you have any interest in competing?
|Mike has never shied away from Moab's toughest trails.|
Caskey- Actually I just competed for the first time recently in the Kremmling Krawl, which is an amateur event that raises money for the Colorado Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs. We placed pretty well on the first day and on the second day we decided to have a little fun and rolled the 4Runner a couple of times and broke an axle. Competitions aren't even really four wheeling, they are totally different than crawling on the trails. As much as I like the 4Runner it is too big to be competitive at a high level even though it is great on recreational trails. I am planning on building a buggy specifically designed for competition in the future.
4x4Wire- Where can people find you besides the Kremmling Krawl?
Caskey- We were at the Easter Jeep Safari and I am going to try and make it out to South Dakota for the Black Hills Cruiser Classic. I also enjoy going to the Chili Challenge in Las Cruces and try to attend every year. Beyond the large organized events, people can find us on the local trails around Denver on any given weekend.
4x4Wire- So how often do you get out of the shop to wheel?
Caskey- I try to get out every weekend, but it usually is every other weekend. There was a time when I was starting the business and building the 4Runner that I hardly ever got out on the trails, so I am trying to make up for lost time now. Getting out there and wheeling is what it is all about.
4x4Wire- Off Road Solutions leads its own trail runs also, correct?
Caskey- That is correct. We lead informal runs about once a month, they are usually posted on our website or you can come by the shop and find out when the next one is. These are typically easier runs that are close to town and anyone is invited. The idea is to get people involved who maybe are just on the periphery and are not part of a club. Let them come out and see what it is all about and meet some new people. We had a barbeque last summer to try and achieve the same results and it was very successful. We had a raffle and a ramp and helped sell tickets for the Colorado Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs raffle vehicle, which we set up the differentials for.
4x4Wire- You mentioned the Colorado Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, are you active with any other groups?
|The ORS sponsored barbeque.
|Off Road Solutions' Wheat Ridge facilities.
Caskey- In addition to CoA4WDI we support the Colorado chapter of the Tacoma Territory Off-Roader's Association and offer a discount to all TTORA members.
4x4Wire- Where do you see the sport heading?
Caskey- I think that it is branching off into two separate directions. The extreme, competition side of things will continue to be more high dollar and eventually become the exclusive domain of the professional, high dollar guys. The more mainstream recreational four wheeling will continue to exist though much as it always has. I think it is a wonderful sport and hope that it holds a great future.