Living High on the Hog in Hand-Me-Downs

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.

1Being 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.

2One 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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“Specializing in Genuine Knock-Offs of a Close Reproduction of the Original”

1Jeep has always been a curious brand and not just because they are like no other car. Let me explain: The “Jeep”, as we know it, was introduced in the early 1940’s as a utility vehicle explicitly for military use in World War II. Initially, it was never officially branded as a Jeep. It was rather an MB, or maybe even a GP but only referred to as a “jeep” in a slang manner as a shortened derivative for “General Purpose”, a term hurled about by those enlisted men who used them. The term “jeep” was then casually adopted by the general population, primarily because the “jeep” made them feel as though they were a part of the war; that they shared, in some small way, a little bit of something in common with those soldiers who fearlessly represented them. Most advertising from the war era uses the term Jeep as though it was the actual brand name.

 

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Imagine, if you will, going to your local grocery store to buy a pack of hot dogs. As you stand in front of the refrigerated display admiring the wide variety of weenies & brats, you might well choose to make your selection based on the color of the label, the attractiveness of the product glaring through the clear packing or maybe even base your selection simply on the price of the franks. The choice is yours with little at stake to lose. But what if the pleasing price was accompanied by the words “Hot Dogs” written inside troubling quotations on the packaging? What could this mean?? Could these “hot dogs” be some other food concoction masquerading as a genuine hot dog? Is it possible to fall short of such a low culinary standard?

3When the war was over and the Jeep was transitioning into a new life as a civilian all-purpose vehicle, Willys-Overland continued advertising the ‘Jeep’ but now book-ended the word with single quotations, as though they recognized it was not the original but an undecorated version of it. These single quotations always struck me as a little strange. Sure… the CJ was not really the original military version but it WAS surely a Jeep just the same. I can’t help but think of the ridiculous Dr. Evil character from the Austin Powers movies doing his “air quotes” as he describes the importance of “lasers” in his evil plan to take over the world. Why would Willys not just call their ‘Jeep’ a Jeep and leave the single quotations for something more sarcastic? Is there something more philosophical in play here that would cause them to only reference their product in quotes? What is Willys-Overland insinuating exactly? Never before has a pair of quotation marks resulted in some many question marks…

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As it turns out, Willys-Overland had been trying to get a patent on the name “Jeep” since 1943 and, unfortunately, were meeting quite a bit of resistance. The Federal Trade Commission had even ordered the automaker to stop making claims to any responsibility for the “jeeps” initial design or subsequent production. When Willys launched the first official civilian version of the ‘Jeep’ in 1945, they were sure to take the proper steps to have the name Jeep copyrighted. An official registered trademark followed a few years later in 1950 and yet the single quotation marks remained still, hinting at some level of illegitimacy.

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At any point was the Jeep, or dare I say ‘Jeep’, in danger of having the dreaded quotes stamped into the cowl sheet metal or added to the badging? Was the Jeep merely pretending to be something that it was not?? Was the iconic slotted grille not an adequate substitute for a genuine certificate of authenticity? “How long would it be until we could buy an actual real Jeep?” remained a question that begged an answer for well over two decades.

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Even in 1970, under the ownership of Kaiser, the ‘Jeep’ label remained, now accented with a somewhat confusing tagline “The 2-Car Cars”, intended to convince buyers that the ‘Jeep’, with it’s 4-wheel drive capabilities, was actually two cars in one. No mention was made in these ads if one of the 2-cars was merely pretending to be a Jeep leaving prospective purchasers with a bit of a dilemma.

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The year that followed for ‘Jeep’ in 1971 proved to be one of newfound promise. Ownership of the company was transferred from Kaiser to American Motors Company and instantantly the single quotations were gone. This vehicle was no longer a pretender and was not to be mocked. This was a JEEP and it no longer had to boast of being 2-cars in one. It was THE car, unlike any other and set on a course to revolutionize what people can do with their cars.

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From 1971 forward, under AMC and Chryslers ownership, Jeep grew stronger and more independent as a brand, never resorting to decorating its proud name with uncalled-for quotations ever again. While I think the original intent was to somehow isolate the Jeep from its heritage so as not to detract from it, the fact that the Jeep name was marketed in quotations for some 25 years is a question that begs for some great explanation. Or maybe it was all just part of Dr. Evil’s plan all along. OlllllllO

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Is “Jeep Therapy” Really the Real Deal?

1I was recently reading an article that expounded on some interesting data extracted from the 2015 U.S Census that stated the average American adult enjoys a daily one-way commute that is 25.5 minutes long. That is almost 26 minutes one-way , so double that unless you’re carrying a kindergartners nap mat to the office with you; we are on average confined to our cars interior for close to an hour a day, 5 days a week. The fine folks of the Dakotas, North & South, came in well under the average while Marylanders were 22% higher than the average. That is some seriously substantial windshield time!

So, as the gravity of this information began to sink in, I was reminded of a meme I had seen recently in one of the Jeep forums that I frequent. For those of you entirely unfamiliar with the term ‘meme’, don’t feel bad. Despite the fact you’re much better off in your current state of unknowing, I will tell you that a meme (pronounced MEEM) is a clever, inspiring or funny little picture or caption that has associated text cropped on it with the intention of spreading, by means of the internet (primarily social media), like a wildfire. It’s important to note that anyone can create a meme, so the cleverness, humor or inspirational qualities are by no means guaranteed, as you can only imagine. Accurate spelling is also less-than-vital.

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The “meme” in question alluded to the fact that driving a Jeep often proves to have an almost therapeutic effect on the driver. While I am a relatively new “Jeeper” by some people’s standards, having only been a Jeep owner for the past decade, I can testify with a great deal of certainty that this meme is right on point. It doesn’t matter how far off-track my day at work may have gotten, my ride home in my Jeep seems to set things straight once again. The wind in your hair can magically clear the muck from your mind. With older Jeeps, it’s often more of a trade-off.

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But the healing qualities don’t end when you put the Jeep top and doors back on, at least not entirely. Driving a Jeep just seems to put one’s mind in the proper state for reasons that I can’t accurately explain. I could argue that the driver’s vantage point being situated higher than most could be a contributor. The fact that the soft top possesses all the unrefined nuances of a camping tent could prove to be a factor for some while I think that the Jeeps overall essence of adventure and free-spiritedness seems to deescalate the stresses of the day for most.

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Bottom line is, anyone that has driven or even ridden in a Jeep doesn’t really have to be convinced at all of the therapeutic qualities exhibited on its occupants. If the single hour a day that you spend behind the wheel of a Jeep is truly therapy, then think of the money you’ll save on NOT having to see an actual board-certified therapist. A little internet searching reveals the typical psychotherapy session would run you around 76 bucks an hour, on average. Think of the money you’ll save! And the thing takes you places too?? Win/Win!!

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In fact, if my calculations are even remotely accurate, you stand to save a minimum of $380 a month, even if the therapy sessions your Jeep help you avoid were only weekly. The more drastic your particular internal instabilities, the more treatments you would have required and then the savings literally go through the roof! I’m thinking it might be time to splurge a little and start seeing a brand new therapist….Hmm. I think BLUE is a very calming color. OlllllllO

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A Modern-Day Drivers Lament

1I’ve always heard that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. While this is largely true from my experience, sometimes looking at the past in the appropriate light is the cure for better accepting what is in the present.

This bit of enlightenment came to me while I was sitting, somewhat impatiently, at a traffic light on my daily ride home. This is one of the lights that I have to “endure” daily; one whose entire existence seems to only suggest a proper course of action to those who travel under its authority at any given time. People just proceed out into the intersection regardless of the lights impending change. If the lights directions were to be observed and obeyed, order would ensue; however, the light and its luminous suggestions are largely ignored, resulting in utter and total chaos.

Imagine a place like New York City without so much as a traffic light to limit the lunacy. Back in 1901, this was the conditions of the day. Travel by motor car was relatively new and there was an entire dynamic between loud cars and frightened horses pulling carriages to deal with. That’s why there was The Automobile Blue Book – a written manual for navigating the city by car and surviving with life and limb intact.

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Before there were traffic lights, signs and electronic gizmos to guide us along, the government saw the need to give us guidelines by which to abide. In terms of the right-of-way, there was very little regard given to whether you were pulling out on to a major thoroughfare. Rather the direction in which you were travelling determined who had the upper hand. Obviously, those going north or south were actually going somewhere while those going, say, eastbound were not actually travelling anywhere deemed important, what with the rotation of the earth and all.

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With the fundamental basis of right-of-way now firmly established for us all, it’s time to move on to matters of safety. All vehicles, including the dreaded ‘velocipede’, are to be equipped with a bell, or a gong if you’d rather, but not too big of a bell as to encourage one upmanship. This 3-inch or smaller merry noisemaker is to be sounded whenever you pass another vehicle from behind and when you navigate a turn. Oddly, no mention is given in regards to the gaining or losing of right-of-way with a change in vehicle direction. I would think that gaining right-of-way by means of a turn would warrant the ringing of ones own bell, as sort of an audible celebration.

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The act of stopping the automobile is addressed to a lesser extent back in Article 4 Section 1, by advising that nobody is to stop the vehicle, unless it’s an emergency, or to let another vehicle cross in front of you. Use of an audible signal is advised but it doesn’t seem as though the bell is suggested to be the source of the signal. Maybe a “whoop” or a “holler” is in order, based on where you are from? Or you can just raise your whip. Wait…what??

When you see pedestrians treated as the same rank as the horses, it’s not surprising to see the City of New York come down hard on those who choose to ride a peddle-powered means of transport. Having to suddenly share the road with not only equine but now motorized contraptions driven by whip-wielding whackos is a whole new thing. Bottom line is- If you’re gonna bike it, you’ve gotta leave the tike at home to fend for himself. These streets are no place for young children

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And the bad news doesn’t end there for the bikers! Strict rules are enacted to make it illegal to coast your bike. Meaning you have to be under constant propulsion if you’re not parked on the curb. In fact, you have been directed to keep your hands on the handlebars and your feet on the peddles at ALL times!! Of course, it goes without saying that you can’t have a Chinese lantern on your bicycle either. Afterall, this ain’t Hong Kong. And Rule #13 restricting any and all “instruction” from the bike path is really surprising and is surely going to prove a serious hindrance to any of those who ever hope to learn how to ride a bike in this town.

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Just when you think the drivers of century ago had it pretty good, it turns out that said drivers were instructed to maintain a log of their driving. This was not just a tally of dates and mileage though. This is a full-fledged written report of data involving complex mathmatical formulas that rival todays college prep exams. How many miles did I traverse? What was my fuel consumption per brake horse power? How much waste am I storing?? The though of calculating water consumption per mile seems like a sizable task. Can’t I just go back to dealing with traffic lights and moronic drivers?

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Even if I was to become accustomed to the considerable load of paperwork that accompanied driving privileges back yesteryear, the accident preparation kit that accompanied the Official Automobile Blue Book would have me seriously rethinking my decision. Having to quickly peruse a laymens description of artificial recessitation and familiarizing myself with the acknowledged ways to “test for death” seems a tad intense when compared to exchanging insurance cards and texting your agent. Afterall, I’m pretty sure I don’t even carry linseed oil with me on most occasions.

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Now, riding in a Jeep can make you prone to getting a cinder in the eye. I just need to figure out what a “lamp lighter” is and pick up a couple of them from Amazon when I order my new velocipede. OlllllllO

“Two Great Tastes That Go Great Together…”

1One of the easiest tasks in the world of marketing is to take two separate components that are equally endearing on their own merits and put them together to create something new that everyone is sure to adore. Case in point is an old commercial from a time gone by when colors were a lot less vivid and collars had a wingspan; in a place where two hip cats are walking along the sidewalks of Anytown, USA, each with their own special eating disorder. Our male specimen is indulging himself in the luscious goodness of a milk chocolate candy bar; and who can blame him. While the attractive but slightly more perturbing female is gorging herself on the gooey contents of an entire jar of peanut butter. While I, myself, do actually enjoy a healthy dose of peanut butter from time to time, I can’t even comprehend what mental instabilities might cause someone to feel that consuming an entire jar of Skippy while in public view is even remotely acceptable. Whether due to their obvious personal afflictions or their headphones masking their surroundings, the cute couple collide in a calamity that had us all licking our collective chops. Clearly, the folks at Reese have had little trouble convincing viewers that combining two such goodies into one delightful consumable cup is a no-brainer and guaranteed to please anyone who finds themselves a fan of either part of the tasty equation.

Winning combinations don’t even have to be the product of calculated marketing. Take, for example, ham & cheese sandwiches or turkey & dressing. Sometimes the chemistry between two individual things is so undeniable that they virtually become paired more predominantly than they appear separately.

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In 1970, while American Motors was looking to assume the Jeep product line from Kaiser-Jeep, designers made such a calculated conglomeration in hopes that America would be dazzled by the possibility of blending the vastly-popular muscle car with the off-road sensibilities of the prized short wheelbase CJ5. A medley that may have proved to be more a potential inspiration for the upcoming AMC Pacer than the newest automotive talk-of –the-town they had hoped for. While most concept cars aim to deliver something to the consumer that is highly desirable yet currently less than common, the Jeep XJ-001 seemed to strike a chord of confusion in the potential marketplace. Since there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these individual pieces, the sum of their parts must certainly be above reproach, or at least in this case, just beyond our scope of comprehension. Exactly what is it that we should do with this really fast, really short car with no roof or doors that has limited agility and handles pretty poorly? Nothing pleasurable seems to come to mind…

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The Jeep XJ001 was clearly by appearance built on the CJ’s tiny 81-inch wheelbase but that’s where the similarities seemed to cease. Even the swooping door openings look more akin to a carnival bumper car than any Jeep of memory. When the new Jeep prototype was revealed at the New York Auto Show in July of 1970, the crowds seemed to eat it up, albeit in very small portions. Maybe not as ravenous a reception as though they were treated to a luscious peanut butter cup, but response was certainly deemed better than unfavorable, certainly in comparison to the other show floor spectacles of the day. Like the new Ford/Mercury Capri or the all-enthralling “Seat Belts Save Lives” display held in the lobby.

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While the prospective Jeep never really shied away from the sudden media spotlight, this new look was, in all honesty, completely unfamiliar digs. The XJ-001 was, in essence, a compilation of gawdy pinstriping, glossy paint, chrome wheels, glistening adornements and go-fast goodies wed with a stubby car-like body that seemed oddly disproportionate to the wheelbase. In all fairness to the concept car, the only way I can find acceptance of it is to completely remove it, at least in my mind, from the name ‘Jeep’ altogether- an undertaking that I find nearly impossible to accomplish given the comical wheelbase and the telltale ‘Jeep’ badging that graces the B-pillar. On second thought, if that was a B-pillar it would match the windshields elevation, which it doesn’t. This odd rooflike section is barely higher than the dash, making it more of a sport bar. But it’s height being considerably shorter than the bucket seats, makes it’s existence an even bigger mystery than the Pinto-inspired sloped rear deck opening that trails it; a visual borrowing that predates the Ford Pinto by a year.

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The Jeep XJ-001 must have been a feast for the eyes as spectators stood in dazed bewilderment at the styling quirks of this strange prototype. The CJ that had just received side marker lights a year or so prior, had now bore offspring bearing large trapezoidal chrome-bezeled lights on the front corners to offset the gills placed conspicuously on the front fenders. The giant air intake scoop on the hood hinted at what power lurks beneath. While Jeep CJs were treated to the customary civility of a 134 cubic inch engine and the occasional 6 cylinder powerplant, the XJ-001 had a surgically-implanted 360 cid V8 right out of one of AMC’s fabled tire shredders which seemed almost inappropriate. With a uniquely contoured dash that cascaded downward into a custom console that housed the ignition switch, 4 speed shifter and even the radio, the XJ-001 found ways to distinguish itself from the pack of Detroit’s latest iron. Different? Sure, but not necessarily desirable.

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Although the 1970 Jeep XJ-001 was a staple of the auto show circuit throughout the year, it never rooted any significant interest, certainly not enough to encourage the powers-that-be at AMC to procede with production.7 Unfortunately, the solitary XJ-001 prototype was lost to a fire when the car carrier that transported it overturned after an appearance at the Texas State Fair. With it’s body made primarily of fiberglass and plastic, there was very little reminder left of the peculiar protoype that had once been. It seems as though, at least for the time, Jeep was set to continue being simply a Jeep and the role of being a car would be left up to those better suited at pulling it off. The XJ-001 was in many ways a precursor to the hybrid cars of today, or cross-overs, as they are commonly referred to. Designs where multiple functions join to find one form. In the end, while the combination of two great things can be good, the greatness in the individuality of each is beyond compare. Jeep is undeniable proof of that. OlllllllO2106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9

In Search of the Legendary Arctic Top

1Ever since I was a little kid, I have been fascinated with the unknown. If there was a TV show on about ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster or sasquatches, I was surely watching it! Sure, my sleeping habits were probably hampered as a result but I couldn’t help myself and at that age, sleeping was over-rated anyway. There was just something mysteriously captivating about such lore. I craved to view the evidence, however darkly lit or grainy it might appear, and then make a decision for myself. I wouldn’t even say that I was skeptical. Deep down I wanted to believe, I just wanted to see for myself. I remember the first time I saw the choppy 8mm video footage of what appears to be a Bigfoot walking across a partially open field that looked like it was in the process of being clear-cut. My heart skipped a beat! Heck, the creature even turned his head toward the camera mid-stride as if he knew he was being taped. I was convinced this thing was real, even if there had been an obvious zipper seam going up the front of the suit. I was a whole-hearted believer!

While hunting for Yetis in the Pacific Northwest and setting traps for the chupacabra have little, if anything, to do with Jeeps; there is an element of Jeeps colorful history that provides me the same sort of puzzling curiosity- the question of the first or original Jeep hardtop. While Jeep hardtops are as commonplace today as a traffic jam, this was not always the case. It’s a tall order to substantiate exactly when they came into existence.

I think it’s a fairly safe bet that a rigid, removable hard top was not anything that the factory concerned themselves with until the civilian Jeep, or CJ as they were known, had made its way to the farms and roadways of America. In fact, it’s not very easy to find any photographic evidence of a hard top mounted on an early model military Jeep at all, at least not one captured in black & white film as the period would dictate. And then you find one…

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Commonly, when you do find them, the tops depicted are obvious works of a craftsman skilled in some form of engineering outside the realm of the automobile. They are often contrived of wood, aluminum or some other building material pliable enough to be scabbed to a Jeep tub. They may have windows OR they may not. If so equipped, they will not likely be windows of a uniform size. I guess that’s why the picture above is so intriguing to me. It’s obviously a WWII-era Jeep and, based on the snow-covered banks in the background and the makeshift heat-capturing canopy covering the lap of the driver in the foreground, someone has made an exerted effort to devise a hardtop to keep the warm in and the cold out. And it looks like it belongs on the Jeep and not fitted with wheels and pulled behind your station wagon.

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By the late 1940’s and early 50’s, there were any number of companies that had ventured into the uncharted waters of Jeep hardtops and offered their wares to the civilian CJ drivers en mass. Sears & Roebuck, Koenig, Metro, Willys New England, Carson and JC Whitney, just to name a few and it’s fair to say that these companies were pretty good at what they did. Each had their own distinct designs and features and possessed an existence that can be well-documented through photos from the day. Again, largely captured in color film that would lead me to believe that they were existing comfortably in the 1950’s when color film had become affordable enough for common use. So, is it even possible to tell who may have been the first to craft and even manufacture hardtop for the Jeep?

In early 1946, surplus Jeeps that were left over from the war were treated to a custom “winterizing” by the construction of a crude sheet metal cab that was pop-riveted to the body tub as a means of separating the Jeeps driver from the harsh winter elements. The work was performed by Japanese citizens at the Showa Army Air Base in Japan under the watchful eye of U.S. military personnel using leftover airplane materials and a calloused disregard for aerodynamics. While this could possibly be the first documented hard top for a Jeep, it is certainly not of the “removable” variety and, by way of its semi-permanent method of install, is more likely a necessity than an accessory that can be removed at will like we are accustomed to today.

Photo Credit: Historic Images

Photo Credit: Historic Images

7So, despite the really cool black & white pictures of the Jeeps with suspected early prototype hard tops, I would have to concede that the first actual removable hard top could probably be credited to an aftermarket company and offered for sale only pages away from grandma’s girdle and pop’s thermal underwear. However disappointing that might seem, I’m gonna keep my chin up and keep looking until I know the truth. Besides, I’m pretty sure I saw a sasquatch cresting the snowy bank in the background behind one of those Jeeps. OlllllllO2106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9

An Enlightened Peek into Life in Pre-Jeep America

It’s hard for me to imagine life before Jeeps were actually a thing. The fact that the Jeep has been around, in one form or another, for some 75+ years means that very few people were actually alive before the Jeep existed and those that were are likely occupied with recounting their numerous three mile treks to school uphill both ways.

To find a glimpse into such a Jeep-less society, I drew upon an age-old periodical called The Automobile that was published in the early 20th century and served as a newsletter, of sorts, for those in the automotive trade, whether at the manufacturer, dealer or aftermarket level. Most of these excerpts were taken from issues from 1916 to 1917; a time one hundred years in our past but seemingly separated by eons from where we are today.

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2.0It is interesting to note how much vehicles were considered to be more of a luxury in those days than in comparison to the usual perspective today, where most cannot imagine functioning without at least one car at our disposal. One article seemed to boast that the automotive population of Oregon had grown substantially to the pinnacle of 1 car for every 25 residents.

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This small editorial effectively details the truth that there is not a plausible future to speak of for automotive accessories. The writer goes on to describe what is presumed to be a power windows option, but his description has a dark undertone as though he was describing the onset of the apocalypse. To believe at such an early stage that we had truly already reached the outer limits of what a vehicle should be equipped with from the factory is laughable. What about seat warmers, cassette tape players with auto reverse, map lights…heck, we hadn’t even developed a means for turn signals on any widespread basis yet! I feel that maybe the author of this beauty must have had a large stake in the horse drawn carriage industry and saw the possibility of further niceties as a direct attack on his waning livelihood.

 

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You can rest assured that, when the time had come to introduce such a concept as turn signals to the masses, you had better make it relatable. Preferably, it needs to be just like hanging your hand out the window, regardless of the cost. I can’t imagine why the “closed car” version would cost 50 cents more. Wouldn’t the open car Handy Signal come with a glove?

 

 

The early 1900’s were undoubtedly a simpler time. Despite being smack-dab in the middle of the First World War, consumers had the time to write in to the editor and voice their concerns over such atrocities as rattling car fenders and to shed some much needed light on such social injustices as the Ford Motor Company’s practice of only hiring those who don’t have jobs.

6It seems as though, with Jeep not being in the publics scope of consciousness as of yet, many struggled with the notion of what exactly to do with their spare tires. It would be a span of some 25 years until the appearance of a small wheelbase four wheel drive vehicle would set the record straight and answer defiantly the eternal question of where to stick those spares tires. It is now entirely acceptable to leave your spare out for everyone to see. There is no shame in such nor is there any discernible “disfigurement to the fine body lines”, as is suggested.

 

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The early nineteen hundreds were a time of monumental innovation in the auto industry. While the task of finding a nestling place for the spare seemed overwhelming to many, manufacturers diverted their creative energies towards developing mechanical marvels unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Fan Fire Spark Plugs featured tiny fan blades attached that spin to help cool the electrode. I was unable to locate any advertisements for a fan blades extraction tool that inserts into the spark plug hole but certainly one must have existed around this same time period.

 

Who can possibly refuse the undeniable charm of a road car that can be greased and lubricated from one central location conveniently accessed from the driver’s seat? Well, get your funds together because the Monitor Lubricating Co. of Philadelphia is making this dream a reality with the ingenious new Monitor Lubricator. I struggle to find ample reasons why this never took off…

Of all the gadgets and gizmos that promised to revolutionize motoring as we know it, a few genuine advances in thinking were realized during this period. Although they seem somewhat humorous in their honesty, it’s really incredible to see that our society has a keen knack for recognizing when things are not as they could be and work tirelessly towards that end. It seems fitting that a guy who is banished to the “oil pit” of that day would be fundamentally dedicated to finding a better way to service cars. On a side note, the fact that ‘two cranes’ are referenced in passing leads me to believe that hoisting cars up and on to the precarious stands may have been the reason behind customers never being allowed in the shop, a rule that often stands even to this day.

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Even the art of routine maintenance on cars was in its infancy. It took no time for someone to clue in that pouring dirt into your engine is a no-no. If only we had means of filtering air…like in a vacuum cleaner.

 

 

 

Of all the fascinating and curious things that history has to show us, there is always that one thing that defies reasonable explanation. Case in point, you decide that, after much scrutiny, your motor car is much better being stored in a state where the tires are not in contact with the ground as the oil is sure to degrade the rubber tires and thus, make their designed speed rating somewhat questionable. What do you do, you ask? Why, you devise a simple jack contraption to hoist the tire off the ground using simple leverage and you call it… Trump Jack. OlllllllO

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Hey! You!! What’s Your Favorite Car???

1Ask your average 30-something guy at the neighborhood cookout what his favorite car is and the answer you receive in return is likely to change like the weather. There’s always the diehard Porsche and Ferrari faithful, not to mention the fellas whose dreams have no credit limit who will chide in with the latest Bugatti or McLaren model. If your subject has seen Gone in 60 Seconds within the past weeks, he may likely declare a 1967 Ford Shelby GT500 as his clear & uncontested choice. I really dug ‘Eleanor’ too in that movie and I don’t even like Mustangs! After spending a weekend with the ‘ol feet up watching Lemans coverage, I got myself a case of the gimmies for a C7 Corvette-hold the Racing Yellow paint, please.

When it comes to a Jeep guy/gal, their favorite car is likely going to be whatever Jeep model they are driving, or possibly one they aspire to buy. We can still dream of owning that random supercar or even a classic muscle car that spends the better part of its existence holding up a micro-fiber dust cover in the garage. The Jeep still has to be our favorite as it’s the one we love to drive around in, get dirty in and cherish so deeply that most owners even try to give theirs a name, like it’s a member of the family.

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You will soon find out that a Jeep is not even considered a car by most people, so answering with ‘Jeep’ when asked what is your favorite car is almost like dodging the actual question. Like when asked your favorite breed of dog. If you reply ‘Hot Dog’, you might get a soft chuckle but secretly your surveyor is pondering the possibility that you may have been dropped at some point and are more than likely ill-equipped to answer the question.

So what if there was a car out there for those who are content with having a Jeep as their favorite car; for those who despite having no qualms about the fact that a Jeep is not really a car, would love to have an answer for those times when the question may arise? May I present to you the 1959 Desoto Firesweep – your NEW favorite car… It’s a classic car so cool that it has a Jeep on the dash!

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While the Desoto has little or nothing to do with the Willy’s/ Jeep, it seems undeniable that the molded plastic housing mounted in the dash to store the speaker and windshield defroster bits possesses the same iconic characteristics as the beloved Jeep CJ grille. From the seven vertical slats to the round headlight openings that impede onto the outboard slats; this is clearly more than coincidental. Someone in Chrysler design studios must have had a secret fondness for the venerable Jeep.

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If I am going to compromise my core principles and engage in the practice of driving a car that ISN’T a Jeep, it might as well have the face of a Jeep across the dash reminding me with a faithful ever presence of where I would rather be. Outside of the stylized tail light fins and the push-button transmission, it’s positively the strongest selling point that Desoto had to offer.

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Desoto used the subtle visual ode to the Willys/Jeep in both the Firesweep and the Adventurer model, but never chose to market it to it’s stylish consumers. This, a decision I could find single-handedly to blame for the companies eventual demise in 1961. Had they only opted to advertise with a catchy little slogan like “ Desoto Firesweep- The Car for Those Times You Can’t Drive Your Jeep”.,.things could have been som much different. So, what’s your favorite car now?? OlllllllO

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Long Before our Beloved All-Terrains, there was the Martin Tire

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. While it is true that some absolutely remarkable discoveries have been spawned in man’s quest to create his own personal nirvana, it seems as though humans, as a race in large, are more likely to strike oil while digging a well or installing our own sprinklers than when we are searching for crude. Case in point, one of the greatest inventions in the history of this planet, or any other, is the wheel; round, well-centered, perfect. Man’s pursuit to take the work out of forming simple clay pottery inadvertently developed into the single most important advancement in transportation to date.

Photo Credit: EarlyAviators.com

Photo Credit: EarlyAviators.com

In the prosperity-deprived days of the 1930’s, James V. Martin, an avid aviator, inventor and general enthusiast of everything on wheels was hard at work trying to revolutionize the future of transportation in any way he could, especially the automobile industry; with notable advancements to his credit in both 3 and 4-wheel automobiles. Martin, a highly intelligent Harvard graduate who held numerous patents in the development and manufacturing of small aircraft, had already caused quite a stir in the aeronautical community a decade before.

In the mid 1920’s, he filed suit against the US government and the Association of Aeronautical Manufacturers claiming a vast conspiracy to monopolize the entire industry. Since Martin possessed crucial technology patents and controlled valuable intellectual property, he saw such an internal conspiracy as a direct attack on his own profitability and personal success. In support of these claims, evidence was presented that Martin had submitted a prototype for a large bomber to the U.S. Air Service for testing, named the ‘Barling Bomber’. When the craft failed to perform up to the governments standards, the aircraft was promptly destroyed by means of blasting it to pieces with an all-out machine gun assault rather than returning it to Martin with documented testing results- a misfortune that infuriated the inventor and further concreted his suspicions of favoritism.

2By the late 1920’s, James Martin had begun to explore ways that the technologies and concepts he had applied in the field of airplanes might translate to a simple and commonplace road car. One of the first applications was the use of rubber para-cords as a means of providing spring tension and shock absorption to a vehicles suspension. The patent declared clearly that the purpose of this invention was to simplify the task of absorbing road vibration using a new and novel combination- one that was far removed from the normal hydraulic shock absorbers of the day. The ‘rubber bands’ could be routinely replaced at normal intervals and at an extremely low cost. This notion was exercised and applied in a micro-car called the 1928 Martin Dart that, by many accounts, was poised to shift the public’s perspective on what new cart ownership would entail. The tiny Dart was projected to be sold largely via mail order, shipped in a crate that would be repurposed as a parking shelter and sold to the American consumer for a measly $200; well below the average selling price of the day. Unfortunately, the Dart never found widespread acceptance as a production car. Despite his revolutionary shock absorber technology not finding much traction in the market, Martin was not about to quit. He just needed to get back to the drawing board and reinvent the wheel.

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Martin began using the elasticity, cushioning and compression characteristics of rubber and implementing it into a wheel and tire assembly that would make the conventional pneumatic tire virtually obsolete. An early evolution of this design was found in his “Elastic Tire” in 1931- a name that clearly conveys that Martin was primarily focused on his craft and not so much on the marketing aspects; after all, great ideas usually sell themselves.

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Further development of the theory that rubber integrated into a rim assembly could prove to revolutionize the tire industry was displayed in generation after generation of models. The “Aero & Auto Tire” in 1933, followed by the “Safety Tire” in ’38, “Easy Riding Tire” and several other iterations in the years to follow. It was when the newfangled yet officially patented “Martin Tire” was bolted to a trusty WWII-era Willys Jeep that James Martin had his best opportunity to impress the world with his invention. Certainly if the Martin Tire could stand up to the rigors involved in off-road driving, Martins skeptics might become his greatest supporters. The Martin Tire featured a wheel assembly that was 6 pounds lighter than a comparable steel rim and tire assembly and delivering a graduated braking and torque action that proved to be beneficial in unstable terrain. And the way the Martin Tire smoothed out the rough stuff was truly something to behold. The Willys could finally be utilized in a manner closer to its potential. Check it out for yourself! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQ05RbGa0zM

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It is pretty clear when watching the video of testing of the Martin Tire that James Vernon Martin was likely onto something. For reasons unknown, the Martin Tire faded slowly into obscurity with the possible benefits it offered never fully realized. Certainly todays push to develop tires that can run despite losing air pressure lends heavily towards similar design concepts that Martin was pioneering. I can’t help but credit him, at least partially, for another current styling trend but I’ll let you be the judge. OlllllllO

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“Half Safe” but Completely Crazy

“Crazy” is, without a doubt, one of the most complex words in the English language. While its meaning is somewhat consistent, I find that its use as a compliment or as a condemnation is often only determined by whether or not there is a smile on the face of the person that is calling you crazy. So it is possible to be crazy but in a good way, right?

More often than not, a person who is described as crazy has set themselves apart from society by abstaining from normal accepted behavior. Meet Frederick ‘Ben’ Carlin- born in Western Australia in 1912 and who, on more than one occasion, has established himself as one of the craziest adventurers to have ever left the paved roads behind. The fact that he chose to pursue his preposterous dreams in a crazy contraption based on a WWII Ford GPA “Seep” makes him more of a hero, in my opinion, than a loon but you can be the judge.

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As an engineer in the Indian Army Corp of Engineers in World War II, Carlin observed an amphibious GPA vehicle while doing a routine inspection and commented to a fellow coworker that the vehicle would be a viable candidate to successfully circumnavigate the globe in. The intense laughter that erupted after his brash statement only reinforced his determination to prove that it could be done.

At the close of the Second World War, Carlin was able to acquire a surplus GPA for a measly $901 at auction and the process of adapting, modifying and equipping the chassis for such a monumental trek began. The body was extended by several feet to accommodate a larger fuel tank as well as an enclosed cabin scabbed on to the boat-like body. Much like Noah building the ark, Carlin was labelled as a buffoon- several sandwiches short of a picnic basket. Even his attempts to secure a sponsorship from Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer of the GPA, were met with skepticism and negativity. Ford seemed convinced that only a crazy person would take their amphibious vehicle into such treacherous waters.

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Actually, only two crazy people would. Carlin enlisted the help of his wife Elinore to accompany him on his ill-advised adventure. By the spring of 1948, the couple was seemingly ready to set sail in a vehicle that, by all appearances, was not fit to float, much less sail, across the ocean. It was aptly given the name Half Safe – a tongue-in-cheek reference taken from a deodorant advertisement that joked about the risks involved with wearing a lesser brand of under-arm protection. Somehow treading water in the middle of the shark-infested waters of the Atlantic Ocean seemed as comical a notion to Ben Carlin.

As with most innovators and pioneers, success was not found on the first attempt nor, for that matter, the second or third one. A handful of attempts in 1948 were plagued by mechanical failures of near-catastrophic proportions, including an exhaust system breakdown that had the confined cabin of the Half Safe vessel filling with lethal carbon monoxide gases, causing the trip to be quickly aborted and the boat returned to shore for repairs; each failure bringing more delays and exhausting more funds.

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Finally, on July 19th of 1950, Carlin and his trusting bride set out from Halifax, Nova Scotia with enough food, fuel and provisions on board to tide them over for a little over 30 days. While the Fords fuel tank had been modified to increase the capacity to 200 gallons, Carlin had to transport extra containers of fuel ; keeping them secured to a towline that was being drug behind the vehicle while at sea. Any time a refueling was needed, the anchor was dropped to interrupt forward progress and the floating reserve tanks would be reeled up next to the boat so that fuel could be siphoned into the primary tanks. This process proved to be challenging, exhausting and dangerous as the likelihood of the heavy tanks battering the thin metal hull of the vessel threatened to bring the entire trip to a sinking, gurgling halt. Nonetheless, Carlin persevered and eventually arrived at the choppy shores of the Azores Islands. From there, the trip carried them northward on wheels into Europe, where cabin temperatures often climbed above 150 degrees without the coolness of the seas waters to tame the heat. This forced the duo to perform most of their driving at night when conditions were considerably less harsh.

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Well into the second half of the journey, Elinore became convinced that this expedition might indeed be her last; overcome with exhaustion, sea sickness and oddly rational thoughts, she chose to abandon the mission as well as her husband while in Carlin’s homeland of Australia, while the pair was on a fund-raising tour in 1956.

Ben Carlin pressed onward, accompanied by anyone who could be convinced that this was a sane scheme. At first, a fellow Australian joined him for a period of 5 months before he was replaced by an American writer who worked for a Japanese newspaper. The journalist stayed with Carlin from early 1957 until Half Safe rolled into Anchorage, Alaska in late 1957. The writer profiled many of his Half Safe experiences in a book entitled, “Once a Fool: From Tokyo to Alaska by Amphibious Jeep”. If doing this for 6 months makes you a fool, what might 8 years make you? Certainly too tired to write a book with such a catchy title.

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In all, Carlin’s incredible journey took a total of 7 years and 10 months to complete, arriving in Montreal in May 1958, unbelievably having covered 38,987 miles over land and another 11,000 at sea. While Carlin had dreamed that this impossible venture crossing 38 countries would bring him untold riches and unrivaled popularity, the truth is that his accomplishment did more to ruin him both financially and romantically than it did to improve his position. The fact that his tale is rarely even told only adds to the misfortune. Fortunately, the Half Safe was acquired by Carlin’s childhood grammar school where it is displayed proudly for anyone who can forego their perceptions of what is truly attainable long enough to believe what you can do when you set your mind to it. To this day, no one else has managed to circumnavigate the world in one single vehicle. I can’t imagine anyone even trying…you’d have to be crazy.   OlllllllO2106b4ca367891a36776fcdb10f2edd9