Building on a Dream

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Story and Photos by Shelley Krehbiel
Additional photos by Rich Klein

Hotrods, motorcycles, trucks, and off-road aren’t usually on the same runway unless Jessi Combs paved that path. The iconic Jessi Combs was the only one to cross all of those off her list successfully.  She headlined at events all over the states, making an impact on people she had never even met.  Pete Watkins was one of those. He’s the force behind Hammers & Hops, an event created to bring like-minded talent together in the metalworking/automotive world. The first Hammers & Hops was an after-party at a Vegas Bar during SEMA for master metalworkers held in 2016. In the following years, SOSA Metalworks in Las Vegas offered to host the party. What started as a few people getting together went viral in 2019 when Hammers & Hops was hosted to benefit The Jessi Combs Foundation that had launched just the month before. Over $12,000 was raised to give the Foundation a jump on its mission.

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The Jessi Combs Foundation’s mission is “to educate, inspire, and empower the next generation of female trailblazers & stereotype-breakers.” Founded in 2019 after the death of Jessi Combs in her world record-breaking attempt to become the Fastest Woman Period. The Foundation offers scholarships to help women blaze the trail to their dream career in the trades. Many fundraisers are held each year to support the mission.4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 665

Now that you’re up-to-date let’s fill you in on a major fundraising effort that will be two years in the making before completion at SEMA 2022.  As with most things Jessi was involved in, it started small and exploded into something worth talking about. The initial pitch had been to create an art piece that traveled among talented metalworkers to be built into something big. When that was suggested to Pete Watkins of Dexterous Engineering, he didn’t disagree but suggested something bigger keeping in line with Jessi’s visions.

4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 647Picture a 62-year-old truck that has been sitting in a field in Kansas for years.  Last registered in 1994, the 1959 F100 with a home-built (as best we can tell) utility bed.  The source of contention between Terry Madden, Jessi’s boyfriend, and Jessi – he wanted to sell it, she wanted to rebuild it into her personal shop truck. She loved the idea of the utility bed. Over the course of the last few years, the truck got moved out of that Kansas field to behind JT Taylor’s barn near Colorado Springs. In November 2020, Foundation board chairman Steve Elmes and Foundation advisor Matt Howell met Watkins at the barn to look at the donor vehicle. There were two there – an old Hudson, Terry and Jessi had previously driven across the country and the ’59.  Both seemed like viable candidates, but the ’59 had an appeal because it would be useful. Everyone needs a pickup truck.

The trio talked about the possibilities, and Watkins drew an initial idea. Next up was sharing his ideas with Dave Kindig of Kindig-it Design. Kindig, host of Bitchin’ Rides on Motortrend TV, took the initial drawing and completed the rendering of the 1959 F100 in true style. There are subtle hints of Jessi in the design, but nothing over the top. The rendering represents the best of combining styles into something practical and show-worthy.

The current utility bed will be discarded, and a new functional bed will be built from scratch.

It will include a utility box and style sides. The truck will be a performance truck, from wheels to cab to bed. Because the wheels are larger than the originals, the sides will be flared to accommodate them. The car will be stripped down to bare metal and rebuilt from the ground up. The goal: SEMA 2021 to have a bare metal roller completely fabbed and in the Foundation booth; SEMA 2022 to have the truck complete in all ways, from the performance engine to all the design elements and paint to be given away in a Sweepstakes managed by the Foundation at Hammers & Hops at the close of SEMA, with a burnout by the winner preferred.  The value of the truck is expected to be $350,000 at completion!

This is where you come in.

Dexterous Engineering is located at the old Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah – now called UMC, the Utah Motorsports Complex. The 1200 square foot shop is home to the JCF build, among other custom projects. Each month between now and the SEMA show is a dedicated weekend to work on the project truck. The general public is invited to attend. You don’t even have to have skills; Watkins will teach you all you need to know.4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 666

The weekend of May 14-16 was dedicated to dismantling the truck. Every bolt was unbolted or cut-off, as necessary. Each piece of the truck was bagged and tagged for future use. From the dash gauges to the gas tank; from the door handles to the front clip. Everything came apart. The doors were stripped, the fenders removed, the grill and hood and interior dismantled. In addition to dismantling, we talked about design and function. Discussed how to appeal to broader audiences and recognized that metal is metal – it doesn’t matter what part of the industry you come from.

In addition to the work taking the truck apart, we fabbed a roller cart to hold the cab while it goes off to media blasting while practicing our TIG welding skills. Watkins was a fabulous teacher.

Each planned three-day weekend moves the truck forward in the process:

May: design and teardown

June 4-6: blasted, start bed fab, mounted to new chassis

July 16-18: metal fab and mechanical, utility compartments/tailgate, custom firewall, fix chop, install Warn winch

August 13-15: finish bed, flares on fenders, wheel fitment, changing the grill

September 3-5: replace roof skins, window door frames, raise windshield, mold scallops

October 8-10: final class for 2021, bed floor, recessed railing, replace bumpers, bead rolling class

Watkins recognizes that there is a skills gap and not a lot of places to learn new skills. Rather than going off to school to learn, he offers an opportunity to learn and do good simultaneously. There is a fee for each class of $1200 per person. That money helps to fund the build and materials. While a number of items have been donated, there have been no cash sponsors, and we all know how much cash it takes to do anything.  Estimated materials for the build are $80,000, not including labor. That’s for all of the consumables, paint, replacement items that aren’t specialty items that could be easily donated. Watkins isn’t taking any funds from the tuition; any excess will be donated back to the Foundation at the end of the build.4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 652

There is room for 12 people in each class; you will get a custom shirt from Off Grid Surplus at SEMA to commemorate your participation on the build.  In addition, you learn new skills, get fed lunch daily, and meet new people. Each class has celebrity guests providing instruction. The days are long, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; there is much work to be done, but the atmosphere is relaxed and enjoyable. Watkins and his helper, Nate Eppley, make you feel welcome and provide patient instruction. Men and women of all ages and skills are encouraged to participate.

4x4 Magazine 4WD how to article 663Many of the sponsors are providing tools and machinery to use during the build. Companies like JRM Tool Company of South Dakota donated a specialized Plein hammer. Lincoln Welding is bringing in MIG welders. CK Worldwide provided a TIG welder, Baleigh Industrial has offered additional machinery. On the vehicle itself, Warn Winch provided a winch for the bed of the truck. This ’59 F100 dubbed the JCF 100, has garnered a lot of attention from companies worldwide, but more is needed. An engine and transmission are high on the list. The chassis is a Porterbuilt designed by Fat Fender Garage.

The JCF 100 will even sport a custom badge for the side of the truck. The gunmetal gray will be highlighted with gold touches. The build will feature a Ford 9” 31 spline rear-end from Currie and a Ride-Tec suspension.

No matter what part of the industry you come from, Jessi united us all. Watkins is doing the same on this custom build for the JCF Foundation. Don’t look back a year from now and think, man, I should have gotten involved. Get involved now, sign up for a class, be hands-on, meet some fabulous people along the way. Perhaps your tribe is waiting to meet you too.

IG @hammersandhops @dexterouseng @thejessicombsfoundation

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