Interview by: Harry Wagner- 12/2002
Editor's Note: The following is the next of our new feature focusing on the talented people who run shops specializing in Toyota 4x4 components. 4x4Wire's Harry Wagner spoke with Inchworm owner Jim Christiansen after he recently returned from Moab, Utah.
|This is who you talk to when you order parts from Inchworm.
4x4Wire- How did you get involved in four wheeling?
Christiansen- It seemed to me like a natural progression from the BMX, go carts, and motorcycles that I enjoyed growing up. I had a friend in high school with a Toyota pickup and I helped him work on it. I guess that had something to do with it also. My friend's truck had a blown motor and he purchased a rolled truck for the motor. I helped him put the motor in and got to keep the rest of the truck, which now belongs to my brother and is still on the trails.
4x4Wire- What was your first trail rig?
Christiansen- I had a '77 2WD Datsun pickup that I did plenty of off-roading in! Datsun didn't come out with a 4x4 model until 1979. I found a burned '80 4x4 and put the body from my 2WD on that. I drove that for quite a while before I bought my Suzuki SJ-410 [now owned by Darren Seabass Sinkey] in 1991 with a 3.8L Buick motor in it. It was too tall and skinny, so I put the body on a shortened Toyota frame and used the Toyota running gear. I eventually built my own frame for it in 1997.
|Jim taking his old dual case'd Suzuki through the Little Sluice.
4x4Wire- What prompted you to make the transition from enthusiast to businessman?
Christiansen- I wanted a dual transfer case adapter for my Samurai but I could not afford one. This was about ten years ago when there were not many options out there and adapters cost over $1000. I was taking classes at Diablo Valley College to become a machinist and I had a lot of equipment at my disposal. So I ended up taking some measurements and making my own adapter for my rig and my brother's truck. My friends saw how well the dual cases worked and wanted their own adapters. Since I had already done the tooling and measurements it was not hard to make more. Things just took off from there.
4x4Wire- So how long has your shop been in business then?
Christiansen- Inchworm has officially been in business for three years, but I have been making adapters since 1995.
4x4Wire- You mentioned taking machinist classes, what sort of background do you have?
Christiansen- I am a certified machinist and I also have business experience from a previous venture that I started with my father.
4x4Wire- How many people work for you?
|One of the pieces of machinery found in Inchworm's new facilities.
|Inchworm's shelves were nearly bare after the Christmas rush.
Christiansen- I don't have any full time employees, so in that sense Inchworm is a one man show. When customers call or e-mail the shop, I am the one who answers all of their questions and takes care of the orders. I do, however, get a lot of support from my family and friends on a part time basis. My wife, Kate, does the accounting for the shop. My brother, Kevin, manages the website and makes all of our stickers. My other brother, Rob, helps to maintain our computer systems and is a great salesman out on the trail. My good friends Clint Borel and Matt Stoffregen help to get the product put together and read to ship when we get busy.
4x4Wire- How do you find the time to do it all?
Christiansen- I focus on taking care of the customers first and foremost. I find that my customers tend to do all of the advertising for me. I've never paid for publicity, my business has always come from word of mouth.
4x4Wire- Where do you see the four wheeling heading in the future?
Christiansen- I see a wider gap forming between recreational wheelers and extreme competitors. Though the competitions started with normal trail rigs, they hardly resemble them these days. Most people wheel their daily drivers and I hope that people who are first exposed to our hobby by competitions realize that you don't need a tube buggy to hit the trail and have fun.
4x4Wire- How do you think rockcrawling competitions have affected four wheeling?
Christiansen- Competitions have resulted in a lot of new technology, some of which is applicable to the rest of us. It has provided a lot of publicity to our hobby too.
4x4Wire- Would you sponsor a competitor?
Christiansen- I actually help out a couple of local guys already. Doug Kennedy had an Xtra Cab Toyota, but he is working on a new buggy for new season. Matt Padgett and I went to school together at Diablo Valley College and I help him out when he needs something.
|After swapping a solid front axle under the 4Runner, Jim headed to Moab to test the results.|
4x4Wire- What about competing yourself?
Christiansen- Unfortunately I do not have time to do everything and in my limited free time my preference is just to relax on the trail with my friends and family.4x4Wire- So you have family that is interested in four wheeling?
Christiansen- My father, two brothers, and five of my cousins are all involved in wheeling. We could have our own club!
|Inchworm's new location in Pacheco, California.
Christiansen- It would have to be my father. If it were not for him, I would not have the knowledge or even the interest in manufacturing and four wheeling. He deserves a lot of credit for what I have accomplished. My dad always provided me the tools and encouragement that I needed while growing up.
4x4Wire- How often do you get to wheel?
Christiansen- I wheeled a lot in the summer of 2001 before I sold the Suzuki. Business has kept me busy lately, but I've still found time to go to the Rubicon and Moab. I only bought the 4Runner in June and it was stock at the time. I didn't have it trail worthy until August, so I missed a big part of the summer wheeling season.
4x4Wire- What are you driving these days?
Christiansen- I've got a clean 1986 4Runner that I am using for my daily driver for the time being. I aslo have a stock 4WD Toyota pickup for a parts truck that I will be using for a daily driver soon. The 4Runner has Inchworm dual cases, of course, plus crossover steering, a Budbuilt crossmember, rear springs in the front, and Chevy's in the rear. I just took it out to Moab and it worked very well for me. The 4Runner also has 35 BFG Mud Terrains and our new TIG welded nerf bars. It will be sporting electric lockers front and rear as soon as I have time to install them.
|Jim always has plenty of transfer cases in stock for those that want a complete bolt-in crawler.
4x4Wire- You mentioned your nerf bars, are there any other new product ideas you would like to share with us?
Christiansen- Inchworm is looking into producing a lot more tube products in the future; items such as front and rear bumpers and cage kits. I am interested in making more Tacoma products too, but I have not started development on anything like that at this time, they are still in the idea stage.
4x4Wire- Do you do fabrication and/or installation work in addition to selling products?
Christiansen- I build dual transfer cases and do all kinds of installs. I can do fabrication work and I don't want to rule it out, but typically I am busy trying to fill orders and bring new products to the market. Lets just say that there are other things that I would rather focus my time on.
4x4Wire- What other product lines do you carry, or do you just sell Inchworm products?
Christiansen- I stock BudBuilt crossmembers, OTT steering arms, and Advance Adapters transfer case gears. I can get nearly anything for your truck that you want though. I'm also starting to carry more differential parts like ARB Air Lockers, Detroit Lockers, spools, and Precision Gears.