Rimrock Ranch Is Where An Automotive Enthusiast’s Dream Property Is Taking Shape
Photography by Ted Gushue
Recently we wrote about a house that was on the market that was 90% epic garage just outside of San Francisco in Oakland. There were a few hints of some insane toys that lived there, but no real leads on how to track them down. Fast forward a few days, and I’m out in the desert visiting Joshua Tree for the first time and I get a message on Instagram from a guy who says I should hit up Eric Dean.
Lo and behold, it’s the very same guy that owned the Oakland house. Dean explained that he and his partner had moved out there just recently to launch a killer events business centered around the multi use Rimrock Ranch, and that I should most definitely drop by, especially considering it was only 5 minutes down the road from Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown.
So I do, and what do I find? A desert oasis that’s hell bent on becoming a motoring destination, filled to the gills with killer architecture, rentable cabins, and an amazing toy collection. I flicked on a recorder and sat down with Eric over a massive Michelada.
Ted Gushue: Eric, tell me, what the hell is going on here?
Eric Dean: This is Rimrock Ranch, and it’s a really special place. We’ve been here about five months. We bought it from a, now, dear friend of ours named Jim Austin.
TG: Stone Cold Jim Austin.
ED: Stone Cold Jim Austin [laughs] He spent about twelve years making it his personal oasis. Originally, he was going to retire and he was going to come up here. It was going to be a space for him and his friends, who are pretty much all musicians, to just come up and have their own little hideaway. He started doing events out here and then it just took on a life of its own. He was ready to move on and we were ready to move in.
TG: So we had just covered your wrench monkey’s dream house in Oakland. Tell me a bit about that house so that we can see how you ended up here.
ED: I grew up in Michigan and I lived around Detroit for about twenty years. I amassed a collection of motorcycles, race cars, cars, projects, things that I built. I have a hard time letting go of things that I’ve built or restored, so it just kept growing. I helped to open an advertising agency in Detroit for a company that wanted to open another agency in San Francisco, and I agreed to go do that. It’s a daunting move when you have a large collection of vehicles.
I started narrowing in on the East Bay and trying to find a warehouse space or something like that. Ultimately, after a year and a half of looking, I found the perfect spot for me which was a mid-century modern home with a five-car workshop. The house was perfect so I could just focus all my energy on making my dream garage.
TG: At this point what was in your garage?
ED: A couple of Merlyn Formula Ford race cars, about ten motorcycles, my 911, my old F-100, and then I kept the GT40 that I was building over at my friend’s shop about a half mile away at Alloy Motors. I kept my vintage formula vee back in Michigan to race with my old friends there.
TG: How did your collection start?
I think my car obsession started where a lot of guys does, that I had to have a 911. I was twenty-three and I was just dead-set on having a 911, and so I bought the only one I could afford. It was a ’81 SC, and it was really thrashed. Just like everything else, it’s never really done. I pretty much replaced everything except the engine and gear box.
I have a little bit more of a hot rodder soul. I’m sure that’s from growing up in Michigan and spending so much time in and around Detroit I don’t care about keeping things correct or pure necessarily unless it’s like vintage racing and it has to meet specs. I like making things a little bit more my own and just how I would approach it. I didn’t love the interior of ’80s Porsches and it was trashed anyway, so I tore it out and I made it how I thought it should look. There’s parts from ’90s Porsches and there’s parts from ’70s Porsches. I just made it how I thought it should be and it turned out to be a car that I love and I’ll probably always have.
TG: How did the transition to vintage Formula racing happen?
Then I started autocrossing and doing track days with the 911. I kept breaking it and I was twenty-three years old and twenty-four years old, and I couldn’t afford to do that. Who can when you’re that age? A friend of mine took me to Waterford Hills, Michigan to the vintage races, and I was obsessed. I probably watched Grand Prix early in life and that started it all. Then I saw these guys slinging Formula Vees around the track, and the idea of that was really romantic to me. I realized that it wasn’t a fortune to go open-wheel racing, and so I started doing that. I was lousy at it. My first year I was just an embarrassment. I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew.
I bought this car and it was just a mess, and I did everything backwards at first. I called the racing director after I bought the car, and I asked if he could put me in touch with any of the other drivers. He mentioned this guy named Garrett VanCamp who was a former SCCA National Champion still racing Formula Vee, and he lived twenty minutes away. I gave him a call and he picked up the phone. He was working at the time, he was an engineer at Ford. He says, “I’ll come over tonight,” which was great.
Guys that are into vintage racing are, I think, some of the best human beings on the planet.
TG: There’s just so few of us. We’ve got to stick together.
ED: Right. Yeah, and I think I was a young guy, and a lot of the guys racing when I first started were in their sixties. I was a twenty-something and super enthusiastic about it, and it was reciprocal. My excitement for it maybe rekindled theirs a little bit, and being able to pass things down to another generation was important to them. He’s like a second father to me. He’s a mentor to me on a lot of different levels. He came over and he just made a list of everything I needed to do to that car, and he wanted me to do all of that for the next racing season.
I had no intention of racing that next season. I thought it would be a couple of year project. I thought I’d spend more time learning about the car, get super-confident with it, and then I’d go head out on the track. He’s one of those guys that’s a true over-achiever. He’s great at everything he does and he does everything right the first time. It was absurd to him to think that I was going to have this car and not race it the next season.
He made a super-long list and he came back and he would check on me. When he saw I was floundering he would take on something to help me out. He was my driving instructor and coach on a lot of different levels. I went out and I crashed the car on my first qualifying, just fucking destroyed it, but not enough that we couldn’t put it back together. I didn’t think we could, but he showed me that we could, and then I was hooked. From that moment forward, I realized what it took to be a racing driver and be one that maintained your own cars, and I learned huge lessons early-on.
TG: Was your father into cars?
ED: My dad was into snowmobiles, mostly.
ED: Growing up in Michigan that was his thing. He’s a genius with small engines and he was always working on something. I’ve learned really valuable lessons from him too, like, if it’s broken, try to fix it. The worst thing that can happen is it will be more broken, but it might just be fixed. I kind of have always taken that attitude with everything. It doesn’t matter if I’m working on a cabin here at the ranch or a race car.
TG: Super-supportive dad.
ED: Yeah. Incredibly. He’ll come out to the races and really enjoys it.
TG: Do you have siblings?
ED: Yeah, I’ve got an older brother. He’s six years older than me.
TG: Is he a car guy?
ED: Not really, no.
TG: You’re this black sheep.
ED: A little bit, yeah. I don’t know. I was always super-fascinated with IndyCar racing and European sports cars and Formula One.
TG: How did you get that and not him?
ED: I don’t know. We’re really different. We couldn’t be more different. I’m not really certain, but every time there was a race on television as a kid I was just absolutely glued to it. I’ve always had an inexplicable kind of nostalgia, too. I’d prefer to watch Jim Clark and Graham Hill duke it out on archival footage than watch a current F1 race.
TG: You’re preaching to the choir.
ED: Yeah, and I think there’s something so entirely romantic about that period of car racing, the sixties and the seventies it was just such an unbridled sport. As a kid I think that that was really appealing. I’ve never fully grown up and so that’s stayed with me.
TG: How does Rimrock Ranch fit into that?
ED: This was the next chapter of my life. I was in advertising for twenty years, and I was the creative director and it’s a grueling industry. It gave me a lot of things. I wouldn’t have been able to race cars, certainly. People always ask me, “How did you maintain that job and maintain a fleet of race cars?” I think it’s just being passionate about things. I was passionate about my work. I’m passionate about cars and motorcycles and racing, but I didn’t want to be in advertising for another ten years. I couldn’t do it for another twenty years, and I was looking for whatever that next thing was going to be. Serendipitously we came here and we just stayed here after the holidays as a little decompression after a time with family.
TG: You rented a cabin here?
ED: We rented cabin three, and befriended the owner, Jim, immediately. We showed up in my 1967 F-100 and parked it next to his 1969 F-100. We’re Ford guys and had a lot to talk about. Over the course of a couple of days hanging out and took us to a New Year’s party at a friend’s house, who’s also now a good friend. He’d just mentioned that he was ready to move on. Gwen, who’s my partner in every conceivable way, and I we just woke up the next morning and she said we should do it. I knew exactly what she was talking about because I was already thinking about it. I knew that we could because we had worked together before briefly. I’m a creative director and she’s a producer, and so I knew that dynamic would work.
We bring completely different things to the table. She’s incredibly organized and used to doing really big productions and we do a lot of events here, and so that comes into play. She’s also great financially, and so she handles all the books and all the bookings and all of the coordination. I do all of the design, I do all of the work on the property. I’ve been basically renovating all of the cabins since we got here, and then I’m the maintenance guy, the groundskeeper, the designer, the social media guy, jack of all trades. Gwen enjoys responsibilities that I don’t so there’s really no overlap It’s a perfect partnership. We’re building something that we’re very proud of and we can enjoy every day as well. Admittedly it’s just been a challenge finding time for racing.
TG: How will you ultimately be able to incorporate motorsports here?
ED: I need to build a shop, for one thing, to make it a little bit less challenging to work on things. Right now my tools are scattered between different buildings. I just, basically, finished my dream shop in Oakland that was set up exactly how I wanted it and then, as you know, put the house on the market to be able to swing this. I think ultimately, eventually, if everything goes according to plan, I’m pretty close to some race tracks. I’ll have the space to build an even better shop. It’s tough, too, right now because we’re starting a business, so it’s not financially responsible to go racing every weekend, but we’ll get there.
TG: What could you do here that could actually create some sort of actual motorsport heritage here?
ED: Since long before we owned the ranch, when this was still a dream, all I thought about was the potential for cars, for motorcycles, for this to be a destination for enthusiasts. The roads around here are just incredible. The proximity to Chuckwalla, even Laguna Seca is not unreasonable. Buttonwillow is a lot closer than it was for me to drive to Road America when I lived in Michigan.
I think doing rallies, perhaps, could help turn this into a motorsports hub. We have eleven acres, so doing car and motorcycle shows I think would be an interesting way to diversify our business. We already do weddings, we do concerts, and that’s really rewarding in its own right, but having a tie to motorsports would feed both of my passions at once, and that right there is the dream.