Community Perspective: Harrisonburg Jeepers

A contributed perspectives piece by Tom Arthur

President Eisenhower called the jeep one of the four tools of victory that won World War II. (The other three were the C-47 transport aircraft, the portable bazooka, and the atomic bomb.) The jeep was used by all the allied armed forces to replace the WW1 cavalry as command cars, pulling supply trailers and other tasks.  

The original jeep was developed seventy years ago by a man named Roy Evans, salesman for a newly defunct company selling small automobiles. Evans knew he needed a job in 1940.  

But I didn’t know I needed a military-style jeep in the mid-1980s. It happened because one of our teenage sons bothered me every day about a used Army-style Jeep ad he was seeing in the newspaper car section. Checking it out would be a would be a waste of time, I thought. It would be a broken-down wreck and probably wouldn’t run. But I finally gave in to stop the nagging. 

Imagine my surprise when, in a field north of town, I saw a seemingly intact red jeep, identical except for the color to the ones in the war movies of the 1940s. John Wayne drove jeeps like that. So did Humphry Bogart and Jimmy Stewart.  

And it ran! The jeep had been sitting there for months so we learned, but it ran! After driving it a few feet I started laughing, which alarmed my son; what was I thinking? I was worried too, thinking about how much this four-wheel-drive anachronism was going to cost since we had to have it! 

From that point on both our middle sons, sixteen and thirteen, went everywhere in the jeep. The canvas top didn’t always pull up in bad weather but that was part of the adventure.  

My wife sometimes drove it too. When the ice in Old Town got impossibly deep, one of us would climb in, shift to the lowest gear, pick up the nearby Music Department Head and grind our way to JMU, the leaders of three separate arts units arriving at our desks before anyone else.  

Mostly however, the vehicle was filled with teenagers, no drinking allowed. But no seat belts either. Years later parents of our children’s friends told us they had been concerned about the jeeping, though they hadn’t said spoken up at the time.  

We all should have known better, though the fun, the idiocy, was catching. Even Dan of Dan’s Body Shop got involved. Because of his efforts we were able to keep the jeep running for years. Our teenage children were in college before larger and larger rust holes in the floor of the vehicle forced us to sell.  

Even Dan reluctantly agreed. 

Tom Arthur is a retired JMU teacher of acting. He has eight grandchildren.

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