Growing up the youngest kid in a five child family has its benefits. Sure, I struggle with producing any particular benefits right now but, nonetheless, I’m sure they exist. Have all four of your siblings happen to be females and the difficulty in that question increases greatly. Take for example, having an older sister come to your rescue from the fury of the playground bully can work wonders on a prepubescent boys’ self-esteem. And then there’s the age-old prospect of hand-me-downs…you know, the old clothes your parents carelessly add to your childhood wardrobe to avoid spending money on new clothes? Do they have no care or concern for their lone male offspring? It’s a real challenge feeling secure about yourself, at what is likely the most awkward phase of your life, when you have to spend so much time making sure your shirts are buttoning from the right side! That jungle gym bully is really gonna have his way and then some with a timid twelve-year-old crossdresser riding a girls Scwinn bike with a basket.
Being the benefactor of hand-me-downs takes on a whole new countenance according to the pages of LIFE Magazine, circa January 3, 1944. It turns out that, while the Second World War was still in full swing in 1943, some of the Jeeps that had been deployed to action were becoming tired and less than fit for such a rigorous detail. The Willys and Ford GP jeeps of that day were exposed to extremely cruel operating conditions, often suffering broken frames and catastrophic engine damage in as few as 5,000 miles. For that reason, units that were deemed as “used-up” were sent back stateside to be stripped of any serviceable parts.
One particular dealership, a Berg’s Truck & Parts in Chicago, Illinois was able to acquire some of these old soldiers, ones that still showed signs of promise and give them a new life; saving them from a certain fate at the hands of the scrapper. Making repairs to all the critical mechanical systems and then making them available for sale to the general public, years before the civilian version was even a reality! While this doesn’t seem like a big deal by today’s standards, consider the fact that a Jeep was a bit of a rarity to most Americans. Unless you lived near a military base, you had likely never seen a jeep in person. They lived only on the pages of newspapers, periodicals and on the silver screen.
The article details one such recipient of a military hand-me-down was Mayor Fred Heine of Lucas, Kansas. The farmer turned Mayor was able to purchase a 1941 Ford GP for the sum of $750 and put it to work around the property of his Midwestern farm. Of course a jeep of any kind made quite spectacle in a small town like Lucas. Cars were such an essential part of the American way of life in the 1940’s. People still impatiently waited for that special September day when the new models would hit the dealership floor, clamoring in droves to see what secrets the latest model might hold. With most cars of the day looking much the same, the jeep was certainly something entirely different visually; a vehicle with a storied past and an uncertain future.
It was not hard to find all sorts of ways to put the little 4-wheel drive utility to work around the farm. Whether it was feeding the cows or pulling a wagon or plow, the Ford GP could have easily paid for itself in a short time. Of course, only a select class of folks would have had an extra $750 cash at their quick disposal for something other than shelter or primary transportation. The old Mayor must have been one of those fortunate select.
Whatever you do, don’t surrender to the illusion that this new addition to the Heine Family Farm’s fleet is just for slinging feed or plowing a field, Oh no! With 8-inches of snow on the ground, it’s a perfect time for Mom, little Freddie Anne and Aunt Ethel to jump in the doorless & roofless jeep to do a little grocery shopping; maybe even pick-up another Douglas Fir for the guest bath. I’ve driven an early jeep but never in high heels, mind you, and the actual practice can be quite intricate at times. While I hope that this picture was possibly staged for the benefit of the magazine article, it is kinda cool to see the familiar face peeking out of the grocery bag from the front of a Cream-of-Wheat box. A warm bowl or two should have your insides thawed out by New Years.
Given such a personal glimpse into what may have been the very first civilian jeep makes yours truly feel all warm inside too, if I say so myself. Having such a wholesome subject occupy two whole pages of a nationally recognized magazine reminds me of how far in the wrong direction we’ve come today. Sure…you can probably still find a Jeep for $750 but having your wife drive it around in the winter may only get your name in the newpapers (in the back where they list all the legal proceedings). Somebody should probably track down Farmer Heine’s jeep and store it away for future generations to see and enjoy. Turns out someone has already done that! The Ford GP is on display at the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum in Huntsville, AL for all to view. See! Aren’t hand-me downs great? OlllllllO