Tin Benders Jamboree Shares the Love of Johnson Valley
The 2014 Tin Benders Jamboree took place at Johnson Valley over a recent weekend. Priding themselves in being an “un-club”, this self-described loosely organized group of friends and family who just like to hang out and wheel together. They've managed to pull off one of the most highly anticipated off-road events of the season for nine out of the last ten years - and it’s always for a good cause. The Jamboree got its start in 2005 when the Tin Benders, who were based in Ridgecrest at the time, were asked to join in the fight to re-open Surprise Canyon, a favorite trail in the Panamint Valley area of Death Valley that had been closed under pressure from an environmental group. About that same time, the annual Toyota Jamboree hosted by All-Pro at Johnson Valley was getting so big that it was coming under scrutiny from the BLM and All-Pro was looking for someone to take it over. The timing was right and the Tin Benders decided to take over the Jamboree and use it as a way to raise funds toward the fight to save Surprise Canyon. They purchased a 1987 Toyota and brought it to Tierra del Sol’s Desert Safari, and in two days turned it into a serious trail rig to be raffled to raise money. The raffle raised more than $15,000 for Friends of Panamint Valley toward the fight to save Surprise Canyon. A tradition began and in subsequent years the Jamboree raised close to $50,000 toward the fight. Ultimately the lawsuit was lost and Surprise Canyon remains closed. While the Tin Benders Jamboree got its start in the fight to reopen Surprise Canyon to off roaders, over the years the proceeds raised by the Tin Benders at their annual Jamboree have gone to many local land use groups, including the recent fight to save Johnson Valley, home of the King of the Hammers race. “We prefer to keep the cash close to home and donate to the causes we care most about, rather than donate to large land-use organizations where we have no control over where the money is spent,” said club member and Ultra4 racer Eric Anderson. With Johnson Valley successfully saved (as well as it could be), the group turned to another cause near and dear to their hearts and for the first-time donated the proceeds to a cause other than land use. The club’s origins in Ridgecrest, California had brought them in contact with many military members over the years - also several Tin Benders are former military members or have family with a military background. From among the many military organizations to choose from, Tin Benders decided to support 4 Wheel To Heal, a 501c3 non-profit organization that takes wounded and disabled service members out wheeling and camping to take their mind off what they are going through in recovery. Many Tin Benders members told me that what impressed them the most about the group was that it was entirely volunteer driven; no one takes a salary, volunteers drive their own rigs and pay their own way to events. All money donated goes directly toward taking Warriors out off roading. You’ve heard me mention 4 Wheel To Heal in the past because when I met with them last October to do a story about their efforts I was so impressed that I decided to get involved and volunteer with them myself. When I asked Anderson why they chose to support 4 Wheel To Heal this year, when there are many other land use battles still being fought, he replied, “Comes down to our club - this group of families, that is one family, are to-our-core true patriots and we believe in and support our Nation’s military members to the end.” The weekend-long Jamboree kicked off Friday afternoon with a lot of socializing and casual trail runs followed by a dinner for the 4W2H Warriors hosted by the Tin Benders. The club actually hosted all meals through the weekend for 4 Wheel to Heal and also provided motorhomes for those with the group. Means Dry Lake looked like a mini-Hammertown, taken over by motorhomes, rock buggies, Ultra4 rigs, trucks, Jeeps, quads and every kind of trail rig possible. Saturday is when the official trail runs begin. You could feel the excitement as rigs lined up behind trail bosses before heading toward the mountains. Trail runs offered some of the most extreme wheeling the West Coast has to offer, including many of the same trails run during the King of the Hammers race – Clawhammer, Sledgehammer, Jackhammer, Aftershock, Outer Limits, Spooners, Turkey Claw, Sun Bonnet and an “SUV Run” for those not up to tackling the tougher trails. Knowing this crowd I have a feeling that the SUV run wasn’t quite suitable for stock SUVs! I talked to a few people who chose the SUV run and they said they had a great time. It was a very fun run hosted by a knowledgeable trail boss who showed them some really interesting places. Rides for everyone who attended with 4 Wheel To Heal were provided by Tin Benders members on the trail of their choice. Several Ultra4 racers were in attendance and I’m sure there was some pre-running and testing for King of the Hammers taking place over the weekend as well too. Weather conditions were typical for Johnson Valley – high winds and brutal dust storms! I had the pleasure of riding with Tin Benders member and trail boss Joe Lelah on Sledgehammer – look for my story about that awesome experience in my article next week! The Tin Benders hosted a dinner Saturday after all of the runs made it safely back to camp with everyone being accounted for... and then the raffle started. There were so many raffle prizes donated that hardly anyone left without winning something. The event raised over $6,000 for 4 Wheel To Heal and another $500 was donated directly by Extreme Wheelers 4 Christ. The Warriors and their care givers had an awesome time, and there wasn't a dry eye to be found after a heart-felt speech was made by one of the Warriors thanking the club for making him feel like family. Another year goes down in the books as being a great success - everyone was having so much fun that nobody wanted to leave when it was over. Many people stuck around and did more wheeling after packing up camp and cleaning up the site Sunday morning. 4 Wheel To Heal volunteers took one of the Warriors and his wife out for some fun on Backdoor and Chocolate Thunder for even more fun before heading home. While there is often bad press put on the off-road community by environmental groups, it’s great to see clubs like the Tin Benders doing so much to give back to the community and we need to help spread the word on this and other examples of positive impact made by such clubs.