Now that I have the “magic gearbox” for my Jeep project, and I’m actively spending money on more parts for it, I figure it’s time to tell everyone how I came to be a Jeep, uh, enthusiast. Yeah, that’s it. Enthusiast.
This is a stock photo, from the manufacturer, of the “magic gearbox” .
This shows *my* gearbox, attached to the center section of the middle axle.
Believe it or not, for a long time I didn’t know where my infatuation with all things Jeep came from. I drove one in college, but what made me want one then? Why not a Mustang (my second choice)? Well, I finally tracked down the errant brain cells and synapses and shamed them into coughing up the memory of… Nellybelle! Yep, I used to watch the Roy Rogers Show, and while I misremembered what Nellybelle looked like, I guess it (and maybe Pat Brady’s shenanigans *in* it) made a lasting impression on me.
(I cribbed this screen shot from the linked show opener. That’s actually Roy driving it in this scene.)
There was another influence on me, as well, come to think of it. We lived in a small town in New York State when I was little (we moved to Virginia just after my 8th birthday), and our house was in the middle of some huge fields. My brother, Ken, had some friends whose family was our landlord. They also owned property across the street; this property had a barn; in the barn were several old vehicles. This being fairly rural New York, Ken and his friends were able to drive said old vehicles in the fields around our house at a very young age. An old Jeep *might* have been included in the fleet, although I can’t be sure any more. I know Ken had a ’49 Plymouth, and his friends had a ’39-ish Plymouth (engine, chassis, wheels, seats and not much else) that they called the “Doodlebug.” I was always overjoyed when they let me ride along!
When I was a freshman at Penn State, I used to think a lot about what kind of car I’d get when I became a sophomore. (Freshmen weren’t allowed to have cars unless they were commuter students.) I remember looking at all kinds of cars, not just in State College and at home, but also on the road every time I traveled between them. Eventually I realized that I was paying the most attention to Jeeps (meaning the CJ-5, of course!). I had even figured out how to pay for one! Ultimately, Mom and Dad bought one and gave it to me near the end of the year. It was a ’68, with the optional V6 engine and hard top, and only about 7000 miles on the odometer. For a two-year-old vehicle, that wasn’t very many miles – but I swear, every single one of them was behind a snowplow. The plow itself wasn’t part of the package, much to my regret. I always wanted to plow out people’s driveways in the winter.
So for seven years, I drove that Jeep as hard as I could. I learned that four-wheel-drive just meant you could go farther before you got stuck, and that when you *did* get stuck, you got STUCK. I learned how to do donuts in the parking lot of the apartment complex where I lived; I learned how to bounce the Jeep off snowbanks on the highway; I learned how to do lots of things. I even drove it around the country for my college graduation present. My college best friend and I started in New Hampshire, drove down to Florida and went to Walt Disney World, headed west to Long Beach, CA, and then north to Georgetown where we were part of the 1973 Jeepers Jamboree across the Rubicon Trail, and then back home by way of Yellowstone and Mt Rushmore. We even stopped in Wisconsin to visit my paternal grandmother, and much to my surprise, she actually went for a ride in the Jeep with us when we went for a swim in Lake Winnebago. We also visited several garages and repair shops along the way, and ended up towing the Jeep back to New Hampshire from Indiana (I think) with a rental car. It also got me to Texas when I entered the Air Force, and then back to Florida, where I was stationed at Eglin AFB for four years.
I sold the Jeep in 1977 and bought a Jeep pickup. The plan was to use the pickup in New Hampshire after I left the service, but that didn’t materialize. Instead, we pulled a travel trailer out to Tucson with it so my then-wife and I could attend the University of Arizona. I only had the truck for a couple of years, because when Eve was born we needed more space than a single bench seat. So I got out of the four-wheel-drive scene by trading the pickup for a 1-ton Chevy van.
In 1992 my first marriage ended, and by the middle of 1993 I knew I needed something to do for recreation. Being a single dad just wasn’t cutting it in that respect. So I started looking for something to take the place of my old Jeep. The Friday after Thanksgiving of that year I found it, sitting by the side of the road. The owner had just parked it, and was actually still walking away when I pulled over. He came back; we talked; I bought. I paid too much to begin with and I’ve been paying too much ever since. Jeeps’ll do that to you, you know. There’s a reason Jeep stands for “Just Empty Every Pocket.”
So I’ve had this Jeep (I call it the “current Jeep” instead of the “new Jeep” because it’s older than my first Jeep by seven years) for almost 21 years. It sat for a couple of years in the ’90s while I thought about what I wanted to do with it (not sell it, but whether to rebuild the dead 283 Chevy small-block or to replace it with a 350 – I eventually went with the 350). I have driven it across the Rubicon Trail twice and rolled it completely over once. That rollover was what put it in the garage in 2005 and it has sat ever since. It was intended to be a toy / retirement project for Toni and me; now that I’m retired and Toni is gone, it seems like the right time to resurrect the beast.
I’ll be posting the occasional project summary here, but I’m going to spare everyone the greasy details by starting another blog in which I can expound at length on stuff nobody cares about. You’re more than welcome to hop over there whenever you want to, but it’s going to be mostly gearhead stuff. You’ve been warned.