Both David Ham and John D. Saller made a living selling vehicular testicles, but who came up with the concept first?
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
One day almost a decade ago, a middle-aged man and woman walked into Tombyll Plastics in San Bernardino, California. The man introduced himself to the floor manager as Bozzy Willis. He turned to the fake testicles hanging on the wall.
"I wanna buy some of them balls."
Chad Tombyll, the owner and proprietor of the injection molding facility, came out to talk the deal over with Bozzy Willis. But when they met, the man with the strange name looked familiar.
"Do people call you by another name, Bozzy? Do they also call you... David Ham?"
Bozzy looked at Tombyll and panicked. He was then promptly escorted out of the building.
When I recently asked David Ham about this story, he just angrily chuckled and asked me a question.
"Have you ever heard of the term 'industrial espionage'?"
These were some of the first shots fired in a great war that lasted almost a decade. A war of great importance. One that you are undoubtedly just learning about now.
Like any good war, this one started with two charismatic leaders. Two leaders who could not stand the sight of one another. Two leaders who both claim to have invented Truck Nuts.
In one corner stood David Ham, the fiery owner of YourNutz.com. In the other, John D. Saller, the intense founder of BullsBalls.com. There's also a third player in the truck nuts game, Wilson Kemp, an 81-year-old retired high school administrator. By all accounts he's a nice man who keeps to himself. In the great Truck Nuts War, he was Switzerland.
Sure, the concept is perhaps a little rough around the edges—some might even say immature—but to the two men in question, those swaying plastic nutsacks were their livelihood.
Just a buncha truck nuts
For those who don't know truck nuts are fake testicles that hang down from the back bumper of a truck, usually from the hitch. They are popular in what some would consider "redneck" culture. Driving through Alberta, Texas, or Florida you are bound to see a pair of knackers flopping from the back of a jacked up half-ton cruising down a highway.
Truck nuts were created as a marketable commodity in the late 1990s. For a long time, the plastic gonads were just a small niche market. Only the most fashionable drivers of kitted-out 4x4s would have sacks a-swayin' from the back of their lifted trucks.
In the mid-to-late 2000s, the product hit a tipping point and truck nuts exploded. Seemingly overnight, the product went from being an occasional accessory to a massively successful novelty. As time went on, truck nuts' popularity just kept growing. The product was featured on several television shows and the term seemed to enter our public vernacular. Now you can even get a set of nuts for your bicycle.
Kickstarter video for Bike Balls
Truck nuts had arrived, much to the chagrin of prudish non–Ford F-150 drivers everywhere.
Ironically, the people who were the most offended by the product may have played one of the biggest roles in their success. Before the boom of truck nuts, lawmakers in several states tried to make them illegal by deeming them "obscene." In 2008, Florida attempted to ban the sacks and soon, politicians in Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina jumped on truck nuts' proverbial jock. A few states even went as far as ticketing people and in 2011, a woman in Virginia was fined $445 for having a pair of hang-downs swinging from her truck.
In 2012, a man was pulled over in South Carolina and ticketed for his balls. The police' report had a section that read, "The vehicle was displaying an obscene object from the rear bumper. The object was a pair of large fleshy testicles." The simple fact that people were attempting to emasculate these trucks almost certainly increased their popularity.
After all, is their a better way to stick it to the man than shoving a big ol' set of nuts in his face?
David Ham (occasional alias Bozzy Willis) told VICE that he came up with the idea to create these "large fleshy testicles" after seeing a pair of custom nuts on the truck in front of him during a desert rally in the 80s, and then brought the idea to life in 1996. It was a struggle: At first, he couldn't find anyone to manufacture his faux nads. But in the tenth molding shop he found somebody willing to make them. Eventually, he started selling them online and was eventually taken aback by their success.
The story behind John Sallers's bid for a dangly bits empire is similar to Ham's, but not nearly as flashy. The company lore is that Saller, who passed away last year, allegedly was out 4x4ing with his buddies when someone yelled, "Go Ernie, show'em you got balls!" With that, Saller had an epiphany of a truck with a set of nards flopping around. How Saller realized this vision is actually much more monotonous.
"As far as I've been able to find out, there was a woman in northern Nevada who started selling them in the mid 80s, but smaller, in a different look," Saller stated in an interview in 2008.
Saller was inspired by the women, and brought the idea to Chad Tombyll, a man who works with injection-molded plastics.
"He approached me as a professional. I was in the manufacturing business at the time, and he approached me in a way not to offend me because he didn't know if I was going to be receptive of the idea," Tombyll told VICE recently. "So he just spent more time trying to describe it tactfully and it took me a long time to know what he was talking about."
"We were probably talking for an hour and a half before I realized he was talking about balls."
Here is where this story begins to go off the rails. The two companies launched within a couple of years of each other, and both attempted to mark the truck nuts territory as their own.
Using domain registrations I was able to see that Saller's Bulls Balls website was founded in 1999, and Ham's in 2002. Ham attributes this to the fact that he had an AOL website up until this point which he stopped using in 2002. When I asked him for more details of the domain, he told me that "the [website] was taken down so long ago that you'll never find it." It is important to note that this is not a definitive measure of who invented the product, but simply who appears to have been online first.
Ham told me multiple times that he has documentation to prove that he was the original inventor, but when I asked him to show me proof he got angry.
"No!" he said. "This is not court."
A pro-Your Nutz video
Regardless of who was the initial inventor of these plastic gonads, neither took kindly to having direct competition. According to Ham, the two first came into contact in the very early 2000's when Saller called him wanting to sell some of the knackers.
"He called me on the phone one day. He said, 'Your nuts don't look enough like bulls' balls.' I told him that he was the only person to ever tell me that, and then he got all indignant, and he says, 'I tell you what. I'm going to make my own Bulls Balls, and I'm going to bury you,'" said Ham.
"I wished him the best and, sure enough, about six months later I get these balls in the mail that look like he went to a slaughterhouse and put a mold on a dead bull... And that's how Bulls Balls was born."
On the opposite side of the trenches, Saller and the people at Bulls Balls have a different narrative. There was no godfather-esque delivery of a coin sack to Ham's door. Tombyll said that he did hear from Saller of a phone call taking place, but in this story it was Ham calling Saller.
"David Ham had contacted J.D. saying he was the first on the internet and all this stuff, and he told him it wasn't true, so they developed some disagreements," said Tombyll.
For a few years the two allegedly fought through emails and, at some points, angry phone calls. I asked Ham to show me some of the emails but again he wouldn't.
Then in 2009, shit got real on the fake gonads front.
Ham started the website AlltheNutz.com; it was to be a place where he had a one-stop destination for all your fake ballsack needs. But to do that, he needed, obviously, all of the "nutz."
Ham's attempt to grab a handful of everyone's balls to sell on a website is where everything gets tricky.
Ham tried to get some Bulls Balls, telling VICE that he paid Saller and his associates for the merchandise, yet never received any. But the people at Bulls Balls say that they saw what Ham was trying to do and turned him down, returning his money. Regardless, Ham posted Bulls Balls on his website, reportedly without Saller's permission, and Saller publicly called him out on it. This led to a post on the Bulls Balls website called Truck Nuts – A Quest for the Truth, questioning Ham and his brother Kenneth's business ethics and the quality of the nuts they sold.
When I asked Ham about this, he got angry.
"They're lying," he told me. "That has been their motive since they started... to badmouth and belittle my company at every turn. It doesn't surprise me in the least."
This ended up with Ham going down from New Mexico to California under the ridiculously wonderful alias of Bozzy Willis, and heading into Tombyll Plastic to try and get his hands on some nuts. After the little charade, Tombyll let Saller know about his interaction with "Bozzy." Saller once again made a public post about this.
Shortly after this happened, posts started showing up on review sites all over the internet tearing Bulls Balls to shreds, stating that they were price fixing the fake testicle market. A few pro-Bulls Balls posts popped up as well, but they were heavily outnumbered. The majority of posts would say things like, "Saller and Beaman are weak minded loosers [sic] who cant compete professionally or legitametly [sic]," or "This person is harmful DON'T BUY FROM bullballs.com, alternatively there are certainly a few websites that provide exemplary support and costs for example allthenutz.com Bulls balls, vehicle nuts, bumpernuts are the same."
On Facebook, a user by the familiar name Bozzy Willis posted on almost every link put up by Unique Truck Accessories, Bulls Balls' Facebook Page. Willis, if that is his real name, maintained this practice up until 2013.
Soon blogs started popping up all across the internet with the names Bulls Balls Info (numbers 1 and 2), Truck-Nuts-Balls, and Reporter 666. All of these were written under the guise of an anonymous "reporter" who happened to be very anti–Bulls Balls and pro–David Ham and Your Nutz. The posts seemed to be copied and pasted from blog to blog.
Saller dealt with the PR war himself, leaving his manufacturing partner Tombyll to deal with the day-to-day operations of the business, but he did bring it up at times, according to Tombyll. "He did share with me many many times that he was having a lot of issues," Tombyll said, "and was contacting his attorney and everything else to try and get a lot of that stuff negated."
When I pressed Ham about the fact that it seems very likely the blogs were written by him or someone in his camp, he admitted that, "I'm sure I wrote several of them."
All of this came to a head on Ripoff Report where the two faux-nad pioneers had an epic 17,000-word exchange for the ages. In the great Truck Nuts War of the 2000s this was their Battle of Somme. This was their Stalingrad.
It took place over the first half of 2009. The two men both posted under various fake names, but it seems fairly obvious that it was Saller and either David Ham or his brother Kenneth. At points, they refer to themselves, and each other, by their real name while under the guise of anonymity, and at times seem to forget that they have changed characters altogether, and simply carry on with the previous arguments. All their characters seemed to call the other by the same name: The poster who appeared to be Ham would call Saller "Johnny Boy" and the post who appeared to be Saller would use "Unscrupulous Ham Gang" to refer to Ham and his brother.
They posted, in full, the cease-and-desist letters they had sent to each other, accused each other of many shady business tactics—including Saller stating that either Ham or his brother had made threatening phone calls to people that work at Bulls Balls. They took the tone of lawyers and copy-and-pasted sections of the criminal code into the text as proof that legal action was imminent. At one point, Ham shared the fact that Saller had a criminal past. Saller admitted that he "chose to plead guilty to the charge after a long time coming domestic dispute. It is something I am truly ashamed of, but it happened." But Saller in reply said that the two brothers were sociopaths and pasted an entire encyclopedia article explaining the concept.
It was an intense and bloody battle between two older men who didn't really know how to use the internet—over fake balls.
Then, as suddenly as the war began, it was over. Saller bowed out, possibly due to his deteriorating health, leaving this final post under his own name:
"All of the above posts from the Unscrupulous Ham Gang are malicious lies, they should have received letters from my attorneys by now, it is out of my hands and there will be no more posts from myself."
After this he posted a letter allegedly from his lawyer sent to the Ham brothers about defamation and trademark infringement.
Over time, the posts on the review sites and blogs started becoming fewer and fewer. Saller's dutiful web host John Beaman passed away, and both companies seemed to coexist in relative peace, like, well, two nuts in a sack. They had reached a detente and, while bad blood still existed between the two, the fighting cooled off.
A few years later, Saller, unable to run the company, sold it to his longtime business partner Chad Tombyll. And after a year being out of the truck nuts game, he passed away in April of 2014 with his beloved dog Dudders by his side.
When Ham heard of the death, he called Tombyll to confirm it.
"I read that both his web guy and Saller had passed away," Ham said. "And I thought, 'Wow, they're both dead, that's amazing.'"
Tombyll, on the other hand, called the people who took care of Saller during his final days to hear what happened. He heard that even though Saller had a family, no one took Dudders, Sallers's beloved dog. Upon hearing that, Tombyll got into his vehicle and drove 500 miles to go and get Dudders and take him home. When he got there, he loaded the golden retriever into the truck and they started their long journey from Arizona to California.
There were no nuts hanging from the vehicle as they headed west.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.