FROM editing the famous Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine to fronting Dirt Every Day on The Enthusiast Network, Fred Williams has become quite the big deal in the American four-wheelin’ scene, as he likes to call it.
But far from letting fame go to his head, Fred remains a humble bloke with a great sense of humour and, you might think from watching his videos, just the one jacket.
FRED is no Johnny-come-lately on the four-wheelin’ scene; he has been an avid 4x4 fan since he was a kid growing up on the family farm.
“I grew up on a dairy farm, with a bunch of tractors and trucks, and that’s kind of where I got into four-wheelin’,” Fred explained. “I actually wanted a Jeep because I read the same magazine that I eventually worked for, Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine.”
The transition from magazine reader to magazine contributor was much easier than Fred expected it would be. In the late 1990s Fred had just quit his job in Colorado where he was building sets for shows at an art museum. At the time he was driving an XJ Cherokee, and he tracked down a bloke who wrote stories for 4-Wheel & Off-Road because he wanted to talk to him “about Jeeps and trucks and stuff”. Fred then popped the question: “I asked him ‘How did you get into four-wheeling? Into writing for the magazine?’ and he said ‘Oh, you want to write for the magazine? Call this guy, and tell him I sent you.’
“I really didn’t think I was qualified at all to be a writer, because I was an enthusiast but I was kind of in between jobs. I left Colorado and was just driving around out west and I ran into this guy and, the way he said it, it just seemed a lot easier than I thought it would be.
“So I called the guy that he had told me to call, and I said ‘Hey, I want to write for the magazine’, and he said, ‘Alright, write something and send it to me’. I think I probably spent about a month and a half figuring out how to try and write my very first article,” admitted Fred.
“I actually wrote about a Land Rover. They never ran the story, but then he had me doing other stories… he needed a technical story, then he needed event coverage,” recalled Fred of his early days in magazine publishing. “Back then it took me weeks to figure out which photo I wanted… plus back then everything was still on slide film, so you would have to sort the slides, pick out the best one and write a caption. And when you haven’t done it before, it just seems so hard to figure out. It has definitely become easier over the years.”
After four years as a contributor to 4-Wheel & Off-Road, Fred signed up for a full-time gig as Feature Editor in 2002. “So I was Feature Editor for quite a few years, and then other guys that I worked with either moved on or went to different magazines, so I became Technical Editor,” explained Fred, of what was essentially a promotion. “Basically you’re a Feature Editor, then you’re a Technical Editor and then you’re the Editor, or Editor In Chief.”
After several years as Technical Editor, Fred assumed the head honcho role of Editor In Chief in 2014. “I did that for about two years and, just recently because of my video show which is taking up a lot of time, my title is now Editor At Large,” said Fred.
A NEW MEDIUM
THAT video show is Dirt Every Day, and Fred has no one to blame but himself for the creation of this time-consuming beast which has grown in popularity at an exponential rate.
In addition to 4-Wheel & Off-Road, Fred’s publisher (The Enthusiasts Network) also produces a popular car magazine called Motor Trend, which had already started its own YouTube channel. “They were doing all these videos about cars, like two cars head to head or a car driving somewhere, and then they started a second show called Roadkill, which was kind of more of a hot rod, monster garage type thing, where they were modifying cars and doing shenanigans,” explained Fred. “But it was still all on the asphalt, it was all street-based drag racing and all that type of stuff.
“So one day I went to the guy in charge and said ‘You guys should do an off-road show’. Off-road stuff has this third dynamic where you have dirt and dust and hills, and the terrain isn’t always flat and it opens up a whole new perspective on something different for the viewers to watch. Plus we have a huge off-road group in The Enthusiasts Network, so I was like, ‘Why do we not have an off-road show?’
“They didn’t even respond; I sent this email and didn’t get any kind of response for about four to six months. Then they called me in and said ‘We want you to do this off-road show’, and I said ‘No. I don’t want to do the off-road show. I just think you guys should do it’, and they were like ‘No, no, no, we want you to do the off-road show’.
“I guess they figured because I wrote for the magazine I could do an off-road video show, and after a while I said ‘Oh well, okay, I’ll do it, but I don’t really have time to do it, so I’ll just do one video a month’, and they said ‘No, you need to do two videos a month’.
“So be careful what you wish for… and what you suggest,” laughed Fred. “The next thing I knew I was the Technical Editor and was doing Dirt Every Day, two videos a month, and I had no idea what I was doing! And they didn’t have any idea what I was doing either, they just said ‘Here’s a cameraman; figure it out’.”
At the start Fred admits to hauling said cameraman up to his workshop where they would try to nut something out to make a video. “It kinda drove him crazy because I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have a storyline or any of that… I just kind of winged it, and it seemed to work.
“There was a few times the cameraman wanted to kill me because I was so disorganised, but I also had no idea how it was supposed to work, or how to make it work better. I was just like ‘Show up, we’ll do car stuff, we’ll play with trucks’, and it just started to grow from there.
“When it really got crazy was when I was running the magazine. When I got promoted to run the magazine and do Dirt Every Day I was just pulling my hair out trying to get everything done. I mean, being the editor of a magazine is a full-time job, and doing the creative and hosting for a video show is also a full-time job, so I had two full-time jobs going on and not a lot of support, because we were kind of like the unknown off-road show and they just didn’t know what to do with us. So nobody really meddled with it, they just let us go off and do our thing, but it started to grow and grow and grow.”
THESE days Fred and his team put a hell of a lot more planning into producing Dirt Every Day, a show that is not afraid to broach any subject so long as it’s got something to do with off-roading.
“Dirt Every Day is pretty much anything off-road, from vehicles that we build and modify, to off-road adventures,” explained Fred. “We did a trip from coast to coast, border to border, in a brand new Toyota Tundra. We’ve modified vehicles like putting an ARB lift on a new Wrangler in the driveway, just to show people how to do it. And we’ve also done some more crazy stunts like where we turned a 24ft motorhome into a giant go-kart with 46-inch tyres on the back; you would sit on the rear axle, and this Chevy V8 gas engine was way up in the front and there was this giant steering column that ran the whole length of the thing… it was ridiculous.”
Other heavily modified vehicles that have appeared on Dirt Every Day include a twin-engine all-wheel drive Cadillac, an old Range Rover joined up with a Ford Ranger, and a Ford F350 that’s been transformed into a rock-crawling monster truck. And with a little help from his mates and industry contacts, Fred builds all of this stuff himself.
“Yeah, [I build them all] in my workshop and in my driveway,” Fred said. “I have a buddy, his name’s Dave Chappel, and he’s been on a bunch of the shows, but he also has a full-time job so every now and then we’ll get different co-hosts, we’ll bring people in who are my buddies who work on projects who are nearby that want to be on the show, or sometimes there will be somebody who’s a sponsor or an advertiser who wants to be involved and we’ll bring someone in to be a co-host.
“That [motorhome] episode, there was a local college, a university that had an off-road club, so I invited all of these kids over to help tear apart a motorhome; it was awesome, we had like 25 or 30 people just in the driveway ripping a motorhome apart. My neighbours thought I was nuts.”
It was that ‘Motorhome Mashup’ episode that really started to grow the Dirt Every Day audience. “That was our first one that took off, and we got a million views,” Fred said. “When [the show] started I had no idea what were good numbers – how many views meant that the show was doing well.
“One day we did this installation of an ARB suspension on a Jeep Wrangler in the driveway. I was going to do the install for a [magazine] article and I just said, well, bring the camera crew up, the cameraman, the one guy, and I said come on up here and we’ll just film me installing this and I’ll just kind of do it as an explanation, like a ‘how to’. And when Andy Brown, CEO of ARB, called me from Australia to thank me for running a video, I realised this show’s actually doing something; it’s not just my mum and my brother watching it, there’s actually people watching it, because we had got a few hundred thousand, maybe half a million views on it, so that’s when I kind of started realising this thing can go somewhere.”
“So this year we’ve done a bunch of shenanigans,” Fred told us. “We’ve raced a Volkswagen Kombi against a Ford Pre-Runner. And we put a Cummins diesel in a Jeep Wrangler, and in America you don’t get diesel Jeeps, so that was a big deal. After we did that we drove the Jeep underwater, like 12 feet underwater, and that show has just shot through the roof; I think we got over two million views in a week, which is definitely our biggest show so far.”
Fred said the audience for Dirt Every Day is not the same as it would be for a magazine such as 4-Wheel & Off-Road, and that a lot of kids watch the show on both The Enthusiast Network and YouTube, so he tailors it to suit. “We try to keep it pretty clean so that kids can watch it,” Fred said. “Because I’ll go to off-road events and families will come up and their little kids are stoked to ask me questions about Dirt Every Day, so we don’t curse on the show and we don’t swear and we try and keep it G-rated.”
FRED Williams is undoubtedly a charismatic character, and one of the main reasons Dirt Every Day has proven so successful is undoubtedly because he comes across as the genuine off-road enthusiast that he is.
“I’ve built lots of project vehicles,” Fred said. “Full-size Chevy trucks, Toyotas, Land Cruisers, lots of Jeeps, Fords, Dodges, gas engines, diesel engines… so I’ve got to build a lot of different project vehicles, I’ve met a lot of different people. It’s kind of cool because it isn’t life or death stuff here; this is people’s pastime, it’s all about fun and adventure. It’s not like we’re curing cancer or teaching kids how to read, what we do here is not needed, it’s all extra credit.
“So it’s kind of fun to have a job where most of the time people are pretty excited to talk to you because the people you’re talking to are other off-roaders, whether they’re in Australia or South America or any different part of America, whether they’re mud boggers or rock crawlers or desert guys or overlanders, it’s a fun occupation because it’s not really that important…
“That’s what’s cool about the whole off-road scene. We’re just out here having fun and we get to meet people who do really cool stuff, really awesome photographers and really great drivers and people that are inventing random little widgets to make their trucks work better. Then the next thing you know, 40 years later, they’ve turned it into a multi-million dollar business. It happens all the time.”
Fred and Red
FRED even met the girl of his dreams while four-wheelin’.
“One place we go every year is Moab, Utah, for the big Moab Easter Jeep Safari,” explained Fred. “I was on this trip two years ago and there was a girl who was working in the Jeep booth. I said, ‘Hey, we’re doing a night run tonight. Do you want to go along?’ and she and her sister both worked in the Jeep booth and they were like ‘Yeah, we’ll come.’
“So a bunch of us piled into Jeeps and headed out. I was leading the group and this girl Ashley was riding with me. We got halfway through the trail and it was really dark and one of the guys radioed to us and said ‘I’m runnin’ out of fuel, I gotta turn around’. So we turned the group around and headed back to town, but now I was at the back of the group.
“Then I heard a funny noise coming from my Jeep… the left front tyre has fallen off. So I’m out in the middle of the desert, I’ve got this girl with me who I hardly know, everybody else has ditched us. So we’re out there with this broken Jeep, no spare tyre, no jack, barely any tools and it’s getting dark.
“So I say ‘Here, hold this flashlight’, and I run the winch line up into a tree, winch the front-end off the ground, steal some lug nuts off of the other wheels, bolt the wheel back on with three lug nuts, and we start heading back into town. Eventually the rest of the group figures out we’re not there, so they turn around and come back, and when they get back to us the girl talks to her sister and then she ditches me, she gets in another vehicle and they leave.
“So I’m like, well, that goes to show, your Jeep breaks, the girls are gonna ditch ya. But it actually turned out for the better, because I spoke to that girl that night, and just about every night since then for the past two and a half years.”