Gambler 500 Van Dad: Alex Silleck
Gambler 500 Van Dad: Alex Silleck

When he’s not busy with his main job at Leatherman as a Product Design Engineer, Alex Silleck has been putting in many hours to get our new van ready for the Gambler 500.

Leatherman: So do you know why we’re here and what we’re going to talk about?

Alex Silleck: Yes. You’d like to know how I became the Van Dad.

Leatherman: Yes! So you are the official Van Dad for the Leathervan.

Alex: That’s what the team has dubbed me. I think it may have started with you but yes.

Leatherman: So for those that don’t know what the Gambler 500 is can you briefly describe it so they can get an idea of what we’re getting into.

Alex: Yeah. The Gambler 500 is an off-road competition. It is not a race. It’s not a rally. But the goal is to go 500 miles across Oregon in a $500 or less vehicle. It’s kind of a vague rule though. It’s not strictly enforced but most people go with a $500 vehicle or something that’s completely impractical. Another big part is that it’s also a trail cleanup. It started in central Oregon and now there are Gamblers across the whole country. It even looks like there’s going to be a Gambler in Iceland next year.

Leatherman: So if things go well this year we might be in Iceland next year?

Alex: We’ll have to see how the project funding looks like. But yeah that’d be pretty awesome.

Leatherman: So how much did we spend on our van?

Alex: We purchased our van for $500 and we probably overpaid.

Leatherman: What kind of van is it?

Alex: It’s a 2003 Chevy Astro. It’s all wheel drive and it’s the top trim. It’s got leather seats on the inside and all the bells and whistles. So we spent a little bit more than five hundred dollars on it to get it running but we purchased it from a guy in a kilt for $500.

Leatherman: Seems like a trustworthy source to buy a $500 van from.

Alex: Yeah we were driving down a road in the middle of Scappoose [Oregon] looking for this guy’s house and when we pulled up there were six other Astros in front of his house. So I figured he was probably a pretty trustworthy guy to buy a van from.

Leatherman: So what are the biggest things we’ve had to do to get the van ready for this event?

Alex: Well we’ve had to pretty much touch every system on the van. We have completely rebuilt the entire brake system; every single component on the brakes are new or from a junkyard van that was in better shape. There was a two foot hole in our front brake lines so there was just no pressure at all. We’ve done a suspension rebuild, we’ve replaced most of the suspension parts, we’ve serviced the engine and the transmission. We replaced the alternator, the battery, a couple of other electronic parts, and then we’ve cut out all of the air conditioning and some of the unnecessary heating stuff for the rear seats. So we’ve done some weight reduction for performance and speed.

Leatherman: *laughs* So just some minor work here there.

Alex: Yeah, pretty much every system on the van has had some work done to it.

Leatherman: What percentage of the work on the van would you say you have done?

Alex: I don’t know… I’ve been there for most of it and the things that are outside of my skill set I’ve been there for moral support. So I’d say I’ve morally supported 100% of the van. In terms of actual work? A bunch.

Leatherman: At this point the van is running and it’s relatively road worthy.

Alex:  It still needs an emergency brake so we’re gonna do that before the Gambler but when we bought the van it was running but it was puking oil. So now it runs, it doesn’t leak, and most importantly it stops. The brakes were the biggest concern and it took us far too long to get them working. But they work now.

Leatherman: So what is left to do on the van? Because we’re sitting at three days until the Gambler. What’s left on the tick-list?

Alex: A handful of little things. We need to paint it, which I think is the most important item on the To-Do list. We need to have style and panache. And then we’re going to do some off-road lights, probably some off-road bumpers, and then a CB radio. In the rare case that the van breaks down. Very unlikely.

Leatherman: So at this point we just get to do fun stuff.

Alex: Yup.

Leatherman: Obviously we’re gonna bring quite a few different tools with us on this trip.

Alex: Oh yeah.

Leatherman: Are there any specific Lettermans that you’re going to be bringing with you? You know, in case we need to bust them out and do some minor work on the van at any point.

Alex: I think every member of the team will have a FREE Series with them; probably a P2/P4. The team is made up of designers and a handful of members from the manufacturing team. So everybody who has worked on the van was involved in the development of the FREE Series. Pretty much everybody carries one. We’ll bring those, but the crowd favorite is the Crunch. Nothing like a pair of locking pliers to hold your exhaust on or to clamp a leak shut. So we’ll probably have a few Crunches, maybe a Signal because we’re gonna be camping, and then I think everyone’s got a Brewzer for some rehydration and maybe a little bit of celebration when we get to camp.

Leatherman: Yeah because we WILL get to Gamblertown.

Alex: Yes absolutely.

Leatherman: I anticipate maybe a small hiccup or two but, you know, it comes with the territory.

Alex: And there might be like one or two other automotive tools, but mainly Leathermans.

Leatherman: Yeah. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Brewzer can solve most of the problems we’re gonna have.

Alex: Yeah. Whether you’re sad or the van’s broken or you’re celebrating the Brewzer is very versatile. It’s an engineering favorite.

Leatherman: There isn’t a specific route you have to take while on the Gambler. Have you gone through any of the potential routes that we might be driving on?

Alex: So we just started planning that today and we’ve got a couple of ideas of where we’re going to stay on night one; and then everyone knows the end point for night two. There’s a couple of vague rules for the Gambler; one is the price of the vehicle. Another one is don’t be a jerk. And then the third one is “pavement is lava." We’re trying to spend as little time on paved roads and as much time on forest and fire roads as possible to get down there. We’re gonna be taking a look at some topo maps to plan our route so we can go through some cool creek crossings, get some good views, find a cool place to camp on night one, and then party down to Gamblertown on night two.

Leatherman: Awesome. Should I bring my water shoes with me?

Alex: I hope so. I’d really like to find a lake to camp at for night one. In addition to being Van Dad I’m part of the navigation team so I’m hoping to make that happen.

Leatherman: That’d be great. So I know the trail clean-up is a big aspect of the Gambler; the idea being that you’ll pick up trash as you’re driving along in the woods. If you were to guess, how many bags of garbage do you think we will pick up?

Alex: I’m hoping that we pick up enough trash that it’s uncomfortable to ride in the vehicle. I’d like to pick up 5 or 6 contractor bags worth of trash and I think that there is an award for weirdest or largest piece of trash found. So we’re definitely going to have an eagle-eye out for some crazy debris or something wild that we can take with us to the to Gamblertown.

Leatherman: Why do I get the feeling I’m I to be sitting in the back of the Astro Van with a big bag of garbage in my lap?

Alex: I’m hoping we find an anvil or a 55 gallon drum or something like that. I wouldn’t want to disrespect that beautiful steed too much but it is a competitive trail clean-up.

Leatherman: Totally. So if we don’t win the “weirdest piece of garbage picked up" are there any other awards you think we might win?

Alex: There is an award for the vehicle that most embodies the Gambler’s spirit. While we’re a little bit above the price range I’m hoping that the scrappy nature of the van and the last minute nature of our team will win us some some style points with the judges. And then there is an award for least amount of time on paved roads. I think there’s some pretty fierce competition so I don’t know if we’re going to win that. And then there is an award for first person the Gamblertown. I’m not sure we want to win that since we’re kind of in it for the overall experience and not just getting to the destination as quick as possible. We DO want to get to Gamblertown, but also want to enjoy the ride.

Leatherman: And it’s roughly 500 miles to get there?

Alex: Yup.

Leatherman: Dang. Okay so who all makes up the the Leatherman Gambler team?

Alex: So the Leatherman Gambler team, at its core, are the people who have spent time working on the van and then a few other members that are gonna go along for the ride. There’s three design engineers and then there’s a couple of members from our manufacturing team. So that makes about six of us on the team total.

Leatherman: It’s a pretty competent group of people that I think should be able to tackle any big issues that might come up.

Alex: We’ve got a couple of dead ringers who are gear heads from birth and then the rest of us have tried to play a little bit of catch up. I have a feeling that Matt and Andrew will spearhead any trail repairs that we might have.

Leatherman: Awesome. I think that gives people a pretty good idea of what we’ve got coming down the line leading up to Gambler.

Alex: Oh and one last thing! The most important team member that I forgot is Ben Rivera our CEO who has bankrolled the whole thing. He is our benefactor and kind of the impetus for this whole project so I wanted to shout him out as one of the team members. Because without Ben we wouldn’t have done this and he’s been our Chief of Moral Support and also our accountant throughout the project.

Leatherman: Definitely. Big shout out to Ben Rivera! Sweet, well we think Leathervan is in pretty good shape and look forward to cracking a beer with you when we get to Gamblertown.

Alex: Yup. Can’t wait.

***Update: shortly after this blog was made the transmission gave out and is currently being rebuilt. Stay tuned for updates post-Gambler from the Leathervan.***