Published March 04, 2010, 11:25 PM

Wrangling on the river

They’re not the rigs you see on highways, but you’ve seen the four-wheel vehicles driven by a local group dubbed the River Wranglers.

They’re not the rigs you see on highways, but you’ve seen the four-wheel vehicles driven by a local group dubbed the River Wranglers.

They’ve appeared in car shows, motocross events and parades, such as the Potato Bowl Parade in Grand Forks, as well as in Manvel and Hatton, N.D., and in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and even Moab, Utah. The team won Best Group Display at Prime Steel 2009 in Grand Forks. Their “bangin’ buggies” also are on the Internet with videos on YouTube.

“But we’re not a club,” said Roger Wald, Mallory, Minn. “We’re just a group of friends.”

In all, 16 friends who get together about once a month and welcome others to come out four-wheeling along 12 miles of trails on the banks of the Red Lake River. Some are farmers.

Leo Kuether is a third-generation owner of the Surplus Center in Grand Forks. He said four-wheeling has been a hobby the past 10 or 12 years.

“It’s gotten more radical,” Kuether said. “The rigs are bigger, stronger, better built, and wheeling is more extreme. You’re driving over rocks the size of minivans.”

Kuether’s rig, Fat Girl, is featured in the April issue of Four Wheeler magazine for the second time in two years. Kuether hopes this time to receive enough votes from magazine readers to get into the Top Truck Challenge 2010 in Halister, Calif., the first week in June.

Kuether said Fat Girl puts out about 560 foot-pounds of torque on a 502-horsepower engine. He said the amount of money he’s put into the rig is, “ridiculous, more than I should say. It’s an expensive hobby.”

“I had a Harley,” Wald said, “People ask me, ‘What’d you get rid of it for?’ I had to pay for this. We all started out with Jeeps about eight years ago.”

Scott Knox said he’s been working on his rig for about four years.

“The tires are $750 apiece, and the King Coil shocks are about $1,000 apiece,” Knox said.

But the Wranglers said the time spent getting together to ride is well worth the investment.

“There’s trails out here for everybody, from mild to wild,” Knox said.

The Wranglers also make use of about 1,000 acres of state-owned land made into a four-wheel park near Gilbert, Minn. Every year, they hold the River Wrangler Run, where Wald said they have had 30 to 35 rigs in an outing. This year’s run is set for June 26–27.

“It’s tough to get people up here at first because they hear the land is so flat,” Wald said. “Once they do, they have a blast. They get hooked.”

Wald said the Wranglers entered the mud runs at the Bad Boys Motocross at the Alerus Center in 2009.

“There were guys with 1,000-horsepower rigs, and I thought we might as well pack up and go home,” Wald said. “But the track was to our advantage, and we wound up taking a couple of firsts.”

Kuether said the seven events in the California competition will be more challenging.

“There’s a mud bog, rock crawl, obstacle course, pulling a fully loaded cement truck up a hill, climbing a steeper hill, the Tank Trap, where the water holes are four to ten feet deep and you have to wear a snorkel, and the Frame Twister, where the holes are filled with rocks and phone poles,” Kuether said.

Some prize money would likely go toward a Jeep Grand Cherokee that Kuether said he’s building for his fiancee, Gem. The River Wranglers will be rooting for him.

“One win, all win,” Wald said.

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1262; (800) 477-6572, ext. 262; or send e-mail to jjohnson2@gfherald.com.

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