Maybe you've heard of Sean Ramage, and then again, maybe you haven't. His shop, Empire Fabrication, isn't among the ranks of being the largest our there, nor is it the quickest in fruiting completed projects. But that's OK. It's just how Sean likes it.
The doors are open two full days during the week (with only one being a weekday)—the rest of the action goes down during the darkest hours on the clock. Late nights, early mornings, and little sleep, are factors for Mr. Ramage on any given day, but he's steadily making progress on what's in his garage as well as building some name recognition while doing it.
Well, that's all there is for the informal introduction. It's Sean's turn to talk.
Mini Truckin: So how'd you get into the fabrication game anyway?
Sean Ramage: I just fell into this. Back in the day, I was literally paying people, "fabricators", to mess up my trucks. I would never get what I paid for. After that, I taught myself how to weld in a friend's backyard. I always looked up to my buddies because they always did their own welding on their cars. With practice and taking on some welding jobs, I started getting better and was doing tons of step notches for friends, and friends of friends. I come from an off-road background, so all this lowered/'bagged truck stuff was new to me.
MT: What year was all this happening approximately?
SR: I built my first truck in 2004.
MT: And when did you open up Empire?
SR: Been here since 2008. Every year, the workload has been doubling, there's SEMA projects rolling in—I couldn't be happier with where I'm at right now.
MT: What's the greatest accomplishment you'd give to the shop?
SR: Well, having my Toyota LoLux make it into magazines was awesome, but the Mitsu that I'm building now is a gamebreaker for me. I did the suspension six years ago, and it represents a lot of “firsts” for a lot of things, and is still some of the best work I've done.
MT: We're patiently waiting for you to finish this one. OK, so you're open Monday and Saturday. Where are you the other five days of the week?
SR: I work four 10s at Hollywood Hot Rods, in Burbank, California. Troy, the owner, is a great guy and takes good care of me. I leave there at 8. I head home to eat dinner with my family, and I open up shop at 10, and usually stay 'til 2 a.m. Sundays are reserved for family and sleep.
MT: You are capable of doing a lot out of your shop, but what would you say is your specialty?
SR: I would say sheetmetal at the moment. Body modifications, shaving, chop tops, metal finishing—I feel I have a stronghold on these, with chassis/suspension as a runner up. I still say I'm a beginner though. There are guys out there that are a thousand times way than me.
MT: When does being in the shop feel like actual work?
SR: I do sheetmetal at Hollywood 10 hours a day and I come to my shop and do it some more. The beauty of working on a high-dollar hotrod that is destined to be a showpiece and someone's 'bagged daily driver, is that I get the variety I need to keep me happy. I won't lie though, I do like to see my work drive down the road.
MT: That VW van looks pretty cool, what's going on with it?
SR: We've redone the frame rails in the back, custom 'bag mounts, bead rolled wheel tubs, but the front is going to be tricky since it's on torsion bars. This is one of my repeat customer's wife's van. She first just wanted it 'bagged, but now it's not low enough.
MT: What advice would you give to anyone looking to turn their at-home garage projects into a money making business?
SR: Don't do it—especially if you want to finish your own projects. But if opening your own shop is something you really want to do, I recommend finishing your stuff first to advertise your services. Secondly, always think of your tools. I started in a backyard in the dirt like everybody else, but I always used money from jobs to buy more tools to make even more money on the next one. Overhead, and insurance, and payroll can get overwhelming, and ideally, I'd like to have a 5,000-sq-ft shop on my own property so the only payment I'd be making is a mortgage. The most important thing though is that your family has to be onboard with your plan because if your shop becomes successful, you're going to be pulling long hours, and you will miss out on a lot of things. I don't do drugs, but I work a tweaker's schedule.
MT: Lastly, what do you see in the future for Empire Fabrication?
SR: Over the next three years, I want to slow down production at the shop and finish a couple of my own cars/trucks to show finished Empire Fabrication vehicles. In five years I'd like to have the big sheetmetal tools that I need, and prepare the shop for full-time operation. I would need a few employees, but I wouldn't want things to get too big. I'd like it to stay relatively small to keep a closer watch on quality work.
MT: Any last words?
SR: I can't stress the importance of family enough. Without them, you lose a lot of necessary support.