How I became a "Jeeper"

1948 Willys, Birch Hill Dam Area (circa 1978) - Click to Enlarge

1999 Jeep Wrangler Sport "TJ" on Dictum Ridge (July 27, 2002) - Click to Enlarge

1948 Willys (1978)

1999 Wrangler (2002)


1964 - When I was eight years old, I got my first bike.  It was a Schwinn Hollywood with 24" tires and a "conversion bar" (so my little sister could inherit it when I outgrew it...)

Schwinn Hollywood

Later, 26" Boys model - but you get the idea...

I was happy to have a bike but bummed out that I didn't get a Schwinn Stingray or Orange Crate.  It was tough to go bike riding with the other kids on this thinly disguised "girls bike".

We would go bike riding in a cellar hole that was left empty.  We'd ride down this big hill, hell bent for leather, into the cellar hole, shoot across the bottom and up the other side into the air.  After a few weeks of this, the conversion bar came off the bike and eventually the frame was bent from jumping it.  I will say this:  It beat the hell out of those 20" wheel bikes for speed and long distance travel but it did not have the "cool" factor.  I was the last to be picked for kick ball on many occasions...

But me and my little sister did some serious trail riding on our bikes, traveling the abandoned town roads in our hometown, after learning how to use a topographical map and discovering the trails that we saw on the map.  This was the beginning of my interest in maps and trails and off-highway travel.  I also did extensive hiking on the Appalachian and Long Trails with the Boy Scout troop.  I eventually did three 50-mile hikes, each took about one week.

1969 - When I got a paper route, I saved my money and bought two major items - an 8-track stereo for my bedroom, and a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed.  From that point on I learned about spending money and did so at every opportunity.  I got seriously involved in music, and of course, started buying things for my bike.

1974 - Eventually I got smart and realized that as nice as the Varsity was, it was not a performance bike.  I took some abuse from the "racing bike boys" so I sold it and bought a Raleigh Super Course.  It was still not a pro-bike by any stretch of the imagination, but it was much lighter than the Schwinn.  I soon learned the weakness of the Simplex Delrin derailleur and replaced it (here we go with the mods) with a Campagnolo touring derailleur that I had read about in one of the bike magazines.  This was the start of my interest in modifying vehicles to suit individual preferences and needs.

1975 - That bike was to undergo a long series of modifications (wheels, tires, gears, brakes, etc.) before someone finally stole it.  I went for broke and bought a Raleigh Professional "criterium" road racing bike.  I had the frame sized and angled for me, and built to order with all Campagnolo components.  I rode about 30 miles a day and a couple hundred on the weekends.  There wasn't much that could be done in the way of mods on that bike but I did add things here and there to improve performance and make it more enjoyable on those long rides.  This was the beginning of my interest in road trips.

1976 - My first car was a 1967 Volkswagen.  Not long after I got it, I started taking it into the woods.  We went places with it that one should never take a car.  By the time I was done with it, I had pretty much rounded off the bumpers, fenders, and running boards "wheeling".  This was the beginning of my interest in motorized off-highway driving.

1967 Volkswagen Beetle

1967 Volkswagen Beetle

Templeton, MA 1977


Back in 1978, I'd been driving a 1973 Toyota Celica ST for a couple years.  I loved that car and really put it through its paces.  But the sand banks was the closest it ever got to a trail.

1973 Toyota Celica ST

1973 Toyota Celica ST

Graves sand banks, East Templeton, MA 1977

1978 - The Celica went through one set of valves and a cylinder head and was about to go through another. So I sold it and used my wife's 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger for a while. That got old for more than one reason. So one day we were driving down the road and I saw a 1948 Willys CJ-2A parked by the side of the road.

1948 Willys Jeep CJ-2A

1948 Willys Jeep CJ-2A

Birch Hill Flood Control Area, Baldwinville, MA 1978

It had a Sears Deluxe Aluminum hard top, an electric lift Meyer Plow, and a rear PTO. Snow Tires. It was $1500 with 39,000 (plowing?) miles on it. Pretty near mint. SOLD. When I went to test drive it (what a fool I was...) the guy drove me down to a vacant lot with some dirt piles, put it in 4-LO and backed up onto one of the dirt piles. What a dork, but of course the plow was on the front so I suppose he was just doing the best he could to show me 4WD, without removing the plow.

Anyway, I bought it. The first thing I did was drive it home and take the plow off. Once that was taken care of, I took it back to my hometown and started looking for trails. That search lasted about five years... We went all the places I had taken my 1967 VW Beetle then when those places were all done, started hitting the State Forests and other local stuff.

It was all good. I got stuck, I broke, I got lost (GPS? It was 1978, man.), I trespassed (not anymore). That thing took us everywhere. In the New England winters I froze my butt off and developed muscles from using a scraper on the inside of the windows, but the smile wouldn't come off my face.  Back in those days it was hard to find stock parts for a Willys Jeep this old.  That was when I became a "True Jeeper".

1948 Willys Jeep CJ-2A

1948 Willys Jeep CJ-2A

Partridgeville Road, Templeton, MA.  1978

Finally it reached the point where it pretty much needed everything and I parked it in my Dad's field and started driving a 1973 Volvo 1800ES.

1973 Volvo 1800ES

1973 Volvo 1800ES

Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC 1986

That car lasted a long time and was loads of fun.  It was super-comfortable, had decent performance, and got lots of attention.  I had a BOSE stereo in it and had many memorable experiences associated with that car.  This was the start of my interest in creature comforts.  But every once in a while I would get the urge for 4-LO. I had to sell the Willys to make ends meet, and it was a sad day indeed. The Jaguar E-Type I got in 1987 somewhat made up for that loss...  This was the beginning of my interest in disposable horsepower.

1968 Jaguar E-Type 2+2

1968 Jaguar E-Type 2+2

Gaithersburg, MD 1996

For years I would miss that Willys though. I went through several Volvos, a couple Jags, and eventually decided it was time for another Jeep.

I'd had enough of driving a vintage car as my daily driver.  I decided that a late-model Jeep was just what the doctor ordered. I got on the Internet and started searching. At first I thought I'd only be able to afford a late YJ. But while I was searching, I started learning about the differences between the YJ and TJ, and the improvements in the later TJ's (well to me, they are improvements...). And the price for the later TJ's was in my reach.

So I finalized what I wanted (a "loaded" vehicle) and did my last few online searches. Up pops my TJ.

Within three days I had made a financing deal (never take the first offer) and closed on the Jeep. The dealer delivered it to my house. With 20,000 miles on it, it was like new. The chassis was unscratched and still clean as the day it left the factory. I took care of that pretty quick... My wife was horrified because she thought I meant "Grand Cherokee" when I said "Jeep". (She drives a Volvo V90 station wagon - the "big" one that is now discontinued). I still get crap from her about how it only holds "24 cans of dog food" (she's too short to reach the roof rack)...

1999 Jeep Wrangler Sport ("TJ") - Kephart Run 7/27/02

1999 Jeep Wrangler Sport (TJ)

GWNF Kephart Run 2002

I wish I could park the TJ next to my old CJ-2A. It's a classic comparison between the "first" civilian Jeep and the "last" civilian Jeep. In many ways they are identical. But there is no comparison when it comes to creature comforts and with few exceptions, off-highway performance. For one thing, my TJ heater motor has more horse power than the CJ-2A engine... The CJ-2A break-over angle was impressive even without a lift, and I never felt uncomfortable in off-camber situations the way I do in the TJ. But I could never drive a CJ-2A as a daily driver these days!

It took me a few months to get my off-highway "legs" back. I had to relearn those driving skills, and regain the confidence that the Jeep will do things that no highway Volvo or Jag could even think of doing. And it took me some time to get over the fact that if I was going to wheel it, even carefully, I was going to scratch, dent, crack, schmear, and otherwise scuff up my pretty little TJ.

These days I think I am just about back to being able to drive off-highway as well as I did with my CJ-2A, and I no longer have to worry about the minor cosmetic issues... I still try to keep it as nice as possible and certainly avoid abusing it mechanically. But if there's an obstacle that I can "do", I'm there!


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