When Eric Barker of Barker’s Fabrication in Lake Havasu City, Arizona heard the voice of Dave Johnson on the other end of the phone asking for a simple overhead storage rack on his Polaris Ranger Crew, he knew right away that there was no way this build would end with a simple roof rack, and Johnson knew it too. Anyone who has ever built a custom anything is all too familiar with the term “snowball effect”. Many a time has a simple wheel and tire upgrade turned into a full on show car or some gel repairs and a couple seat cushions on a boat turned into a full custom river hot rod the likes of which you would never tie up to a dock of any kind. For true gear heads and custom enthusiasts leaving well enough alone just isn’t in the DNA.
Never has this statement been more true than with Dave Johnson (aka River Dave) of Riverdavesplace.com. Having grown up with an engineer/inventor father and himself a machinist by trade, Johnson was never able to leave a build anywhere close to simple. From boats to golf carts, if it was getting one upgrade it was getting them all. There was no other way. So, when it came time to upgrade the family side by side there was a snowball waiting to happen.
The Polaris Ranger Crew is a great and capable ranch and trail machine, but performance has never been on the list of attributes to describe the utility focused workhorse of the Polaris line up. Truly, if you want a machine that charges hard in the desert and handles like it’s ready to take on Baja, the ever-popular Polaris RZR XP1000 has long been the obvious choice. When you have three small kids and a wife who want in on the off-road fun, however, your options become limited quickly. Yes, you can get a bench seat for the rear of the RZR, but not one that will accommodate three car seats the way the Ranger Crew will. It was for this reason Johnson decided that, for family fun, the Ranger would fit the bill nicely. The only problem for a guy who loves custom toys was that the ranger looked more akin to the Family Truckster than it did to an off-road assault vehicle. Enter Eric Barker.
Mr. Barker is one of those guys that exist behind the scenes, but if you are involved in desert racing, or drag racing you have likely seen his work. Having been involved and worked for the likes of Robby Gordon and Herbst Motorsports, Eric Barker is not exactly someone you would call a hobbyist when it comes to fabrication. Upon hearing Johnson’s vision for a simple roof rack for his Ranger, Barker’s mind immediately began discarding the original vision and replacing it with a much more impressive and functional idea. If having storage over the cab of the Ranger is a good thing then having storage over the entire machine must be a better thing, right? And that’s when the snowball started to roll downhill.
Once the snowball starts to roll it generally picks up steam pretty quick. Thus was the case on this build. A simple overhead storage rack quickly gave way to a full-length rack complete with all the goodies but the momentum didn’t stop there. No, once it was decided that the rack would extend to the back of the machine it was quickly decided that a rear bumper would be in order. And, if you are going to have a bumper why not incorporate a couple of spare tire holders into the back of the rig as well? Speaking of spares, how are we going to jack this thing up to change a tire? Well, we’ll just build a custom jack holder! You see how fast these things can get out of control. As the ideas started flowing, the scope of the build grew and grew until the machine you see on your screen emerged as the final result. And what a result it is! Let us take you through the details of this over the top build.
Along with the custom fabrication of the roof rack, spare tire holders, and trick hidden jack holder, Barker’s Fabrication also added a full length aluminum floor to the rack making it possible to stand on top of the Ranger if desired as well as providing much needed shade on sunny days. Custom rearview and side-view mirrors were built and installed by Barker complete with dimple die detailing. Trick pre-runner style front bumper was fabricated and installed by Barker’s as well.
With most of the custom fabrication out of the way attention turned to making the machine capable of handling the nasty terrain presented by the deserts of western Arizona. A solution came in the way of a combination of the Super ATV 6” A-arm kit paired with King Shocks 2.5 inch reservoir shocks which were sprung and valved for the weight of the big Ranger Crew. With the ground clearance addressed some new shoes were in order. MSA provided the new wheels a while GBC provided the new 30” Kanati Mongrels making the Ranger not only look great but able to handle whatever the desert might dish out as well. Spent exhaust now exits through a custom one off stainless exhaust from the guys over at Empire Industries hiding neatly just under the bed.
What good is having an all out desert machine if you can’t explore the under the starry night skies? Safeglo Whips came through with their 50” radius light bar mounted on the front of the rack and a 12” bar in the front bumper. The Safeglo light bars feature Phillips-Osram LEDs for a bright and even spread of light to keep you on the right trail. In addition to the front lights, Safeglo also provided 36” light bars for each side of the Ranger and two 12” single row lights for the rear along with an amber safety light on the rear as well. Safeglo handled the interior lighting with 4 white LED dome lights inside and 2 over the bed. 4 Additional white LEDs were also installed on top of the rack to illuminate cargo if needed. To top it all off, programmable LED whips were added from Safeglo and red LED under glow lights from Streetglow were installed to complete the lighting package.
No snowball is complete without a huge stereo and this build is no exception! For the stereo and electronics portion of the build, the call was made to Young Guns Auto Salon in Temecula, CA. With equipment from Kicker Audio the guys at Young Guns went to work on putting together a functional, hard hitting system that would stand up to the rigors of off-road while still providing excellent performance. With more than 200’ of wire and some of Kicker’s newest products installed this goes way beyond a simple stereo install. Let’s check out the details…
Kicker really came through with the trick gear for this build, not the least of which is their trick new head unit. The Kicker KMC10 head unit is a first for Kicker and features Bluetooth compatibility and also monitors input voltage so as to give you ample warning when your voltage is getting low so you have time to start the vehicle. Anyone who has been having a good time listening to tunes around the campfire and ended up with a dead battery will love this feature!
From the new head unit the signal is then handled by two PXA500.1 amps pushing through two 10” Comp R subs running at 1 ohm under the front seats with one PXA300.4 amp running the KM8LCW coaxial speakers in Kicker KMTES8 pods in the rear and two KM652c’s in SSV enclosures in the front. An Interstate SRM25 deep cycle marine battery was installed to run everything.
In addition to the audio equipment, Young Guns also designed and installed a custom center dash to house the head unit and all the switches needed to control the Ranger’s lights and systems. A tray to mount the amps was cut and bead rolled in house at Young Guns and stainless mounting hardware was used throughout for corrosion resistance. For communications, a PCI Icom 50 watt race radio was installed with 5 person intercom and car to car set up as well as 5 carbon fiber headsets to make in car conversations a breeze. To keep from getting lost in the desert a Lowrance Elite 7 Ti GPS with touch screen and mapping for Arizona, California, and Nevada was installed on the dash as well. When it comes to electronics on this build nothing was overlooked!
While not all builds are created equal, they all have one thing in common, and that’s the creative vision of the builder. It’s that vision that pushes the snowball down the hill and from there, who knows where the snowball could go! It’s safe to say that for Dave Johnson of Riverdavesplace.com his vision of a small roof rack for his Ranger was the pushing off point to build one of the most over the top Polaris Ranger Crews ever to roam the desert southwest. Who knows where the next snowball could form. There could be one forming in your garage right now!
Words & Photos by: Tom Leigh // Tommy Gun Images