- Associated Press - Sunday, August 6, 2017

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Jamie Bowling goes to work every day at Big Snatch Off-Road with his business partners Kenny Gaumer, Cody Girard and Dale Skidmore, as well as mechanic Will Morehead, and retrofits vehicles to turn them into massive off-road machines.

But you can’t forget the heart of the team, he said: Madeleine, Rube and Dirty Darla_their Jeeps. They’re the ones that can handle the rocks, sand and mud that go along with the off-road lifestyle.

“Every Jeep has a different personality, just like everyone who owns one is different and wants to do something different with their vehicle,” he said.

Madeline is a 2000 TJ Jeep, wrapped in an orange-and-black spider theme, and customized from the suspension to the dash. In all, she carries about $60,000 of customized equipment.

Rube is Bowling’s every-day driver. She’s red and always a work in progress. He’s poured $120,000 into after-market alterations, including a 3 1/2 inch lift.

And Dirty Darla is the Jeep they park in front of their Spotsylvania County shop to draw in new customers. Lifted 4 inches, custom wrapped in green with the Big Snatch logo and capable of both off-roading and driving around town, she’s one of the jewels in their crown.

Bowling said the typical person who comes in to customize their vehicle spends about $10,000. And he works with everyone’s specific needs, like a recent customer who needed a Jeep to handle rugged, icy terrain in Alaska.

The company, founded two years ago and as the economy recovered and people returned to high-cost hobbies, has seen consistent growth.

Bowling retired from the Marine Corps and partnered with Gaumer, who has been in the automotive industry for more than 20 years. They found a local business opportunity for people who were going far out of town to get their custom off-road work done.

To celebrate that, and to bring a larger group of Jeep and off-roading enthusiasts to the region, they held an event called the Old Dominion Jeep Fest from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Meadow Event Park on Saturday.

There will be more than 40 vendors showing off new equipment for off-roading enthusiasts and a Jeep show, which will draw up to 300 custom cars.

The owners of Big Snatch are also embarking on a new business venture. This month, they founded Snatch Wagon, which makes custom camper trailers for Jeep enthusiasts to haul on trips or to off-road camps.

Bowling already made one with a tent that pops up and can hold three people above a storage trailer. He said the trailers made with high-quality tents sell for $6,000. Gaumer said the trailers are the next natural evolution for the company, as is branching out to new types of trucks for alterations.

He has been involved all his life with auto sports and has watched trends come and go. Gaumer said drag racing is on the way out, with people involved in the sport aging but no one new getting involved.

He said the typical off-roader is 35 to 40 years old with expendable income. But some teenagers have begun frequenting the shop after getting their first Jeeps and looking into how they can customize them.

Bowling said when his shop plans a trip to large off-roading parks in the western portion of Virginia or Pennsylvania, often 30 people will follow.

Gaumer attributes the store’s recent growth to the economic recovery. But the down-to-earth shop atmosphere doesn’t hurt, either.

“We have a lot of people come in just to talk,” he said. “We want to share what we know and make relationships with people.”

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Information from: The Free Lance-Star, https://www.fredericksburg.com/


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