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Myles Cartelli — Let’s get crawling

As a young man, Myles Cartelli of Weapons Fabrication Services (PF-WFS) learned welding, machining and fabricating. The skills he refined working at the Laboratory came in handy when he started modifying off-road vehicles for extreme sports such as rock crawling.
October 30, 2018
  • Myles Cartelli
  • Myles Cartelli
  • Myles Cartelli
  • Myles Cartelli
  • Myles Cartelli
  • Myles Cartelli
  • Myles Cartelli
“Rock crawling has gotten so big now that it’s taken several different roads. There are customized crawlers that can also go fast for races in the desert (a sport known as Ultra 4 racing), traditional rock crawlers designed for extreme terrain and not for speed and your stock vehicles with basic additions like a lift and oversized tires for easier trails. I have a hybrid approach when it comes to customization—vehicles that are comfortable but can also perform at an extreme level.”

Let’s get crawling

Myles Cartelli of Weapons Fabrication Services (PF-WFS) eases his modified 1994 Jeep Wrangler into a riverbed, using the four-wheel drive to dig through the mud and rocks and into the water. After creeping out of this obstacle, it’s time to tackle an even more difficult one. Heavy duty, flexible tires crawl onto a series of boulders, with Myles easing the vehicle’s chassis over the smoothened rocks while allowing the Jeep’s customized differential and lifted stature to flex without having the 40-inch tires rub along the fenders. Slowly but surely, Myles makes his way up and over a set of boulders, his customized Wrangler doing the job he intended it to do.

“I’ve always been into big trucks and dirt bikes, anything mechanical,” Myles says. “Back in the early 2000s, this sport of rock crawling started getting a little more popular. A few of my buddies started modifying their four-wheel-drive vehicles, and with my skills in welding and fabrication, I knew I could do the same. And that’s how it started, this evolution into modifying and customizing these vehicles for off-road trails.”

Off-road rock crawling is an extreme form of off-road driving, one that uses customized vehicles to overcome natural obstacles. In this sport, drivers like Myles maneuver vehicles such as Ford Broncos, Jeeps and customized “buggies” over terrain such as boulders, rock piles and challenging mountain trails. For Myles, it’s both the driving of these vehicles and their customization that he enjoys equally.

“I started off with a 1985 Toyota pickup, which I was told belonged to former Laboratory Director John Browne,” Myles recalls. “Toyota trucks happen to be excellent platforms for modification, so after a few years of tinkering it was a completely different vehicle, one with a Chevrolet V8 automatic transmission, ¾-ton axles, a lift kit and 37-inch tires. I eventually sold the Toyota and bought a Jeep, which is much easier to modify and work on.”

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Myles Catelli uses his modified Jeep to crawl over some boulders.

A lifelong fascination with fabrication

Long before he started modifying and driving four-wheel drive vehicles, Myles knew he wanted to be a fabricator.

“My dad was an ironworker here at Los Alamos,” recalls Myles. “He started up here in 1975 building racks for the underground tests at Nevada. My dad worked with this heavy equipment operator who used to have a horse stable on North Mesa. He had a little stick welder in that stable. This guy and my dad would hang out on weekends, sometimes helping other people repair their horse trailers and such. I started helping them with these repairs using that stick welder when I was about 12 years old. 

While in high school, Myles worked at various restaurants around town, washing dishes and later tackling the duties of a short-order cook. Upon graduating in 1996, Myles’ father told him that a career in restaurant work was probably not a good fit, instead encouraging him to go to the union hall and sign up for a position as an apprentice ironworker.

“To my surprise, they put me to work the very next day,” says Myles with a grin. “I started off by helping to build a library in Santa Fe, tying rebar. The day after that, I reported to the Laboratory, where I started work as one of three apprentices, learning about the basics of structural welding, heavy fabrication, rigging of big machines and some of the other crazy stuff we seem to have around here. I’ve been at Los Alamos ever since.”

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Myles Cartelli hard at work in his shop at home.

It’s about form and function

The type of vehicle use to rock crawl depends on the terrain. At the very least, drivers need a four-wheel drive. More challenging terrain may require a winch, tires of at least 33 inches and lift kits that raise the vehicle high off the ground. Extreme trails require additional equipment, such as body armor, locking differentials, long travel suspension and heavy-duty axles. 

“Along with my own builds, I have helped several people customize their rigs for extreme off-road trails,” Myles notes. “I have worked on all kinds of vehicles, from trucks and Jeeps to off-road tube-chassis buggies. One issue I see a lot is the need to get the steering dialed in after owners install custom lift kits. Lifting a vehicle changes how it steers, so I typically have to build custom parts so that the vehicle steers like it did before it was modified.”

For Myles, each modification build is a learning experience. “Every time I strike that arc to something, it seems like I come up with a more efficient way to execute a certain process,” Myles says. “My builds are intended to create a highly functional vehicle that looks killer. The goal is to create a vehicle that is about both form and function. I always keep the trail in mind, be it easy or extreme, relying on my intuition on how things work even when radically modified. There’s a real art to it.”

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There’s nothing quite like blazing through a tough trail in a customized Jeep.

Myles Cartelli works in Weapons Fabrication Services (PF-WFS).


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.