When I was an eleven year-old know it all (going on twelve) in 1961, shortly after the birth of my second brother, I had been driving around on the farm for about three years with various vehicles, motorcycles, pick-ups, trucks, etc.. My father also had a '49 Willys CJ-A2 that he used for spraying the crops, and other strange things (it had a PTO), and he had allowed me to drive it a number of times both around the farm and over to visit my older cousin, Mike (about ten or twelve miles, on cross-country back roads).
On this particular occasion, my mother had gone off to display the "new arrival" (my youngest little brother) in our family at both her sister (Seattle, WA), and her mother's place (Flathead Lake, MT), and have other adults around to give her a hand with my other siblings, one sister, one brother.
Father had returned to the "south" farm to catch up on the work that had gone begging while he attended the birth of his newest son. This left me to watch over myself, and to keep up on the fallow work at the "home-place" farm on the Montana hi-line.
I had a 21" Schwinn bike that I had for legal transport from town to the farm and back, about five miles each way as the back roads went, I then used my ‘56 Harley Hummer, the IHC fuel-wagon pickup, or the jeep to run around on the farm. Many nights I just stayed out at the farm so that the ride to and from town was eliminated, and since I was now too "old" to play Little League baseball and too young for American Legion ball (Babe Ruth division hadn’t shown up yet), there was no need for me to be in town during the summer. Other than being there on Saturday night to receive a check-up phone call from my father, there were no real reasons for me to go to town, until the ugly little head of "opportunity" raised up and whispered "who'd know if you took the jeep to town?" in my ear.
Mother and Father were absent, no really close relations there in town to "fink on me", and I trusted my friends not to let the cat out of the bag. So when that devious thought arose in my mind, I waited until the next Saturday afternoon, and put my plan in action. I had a new best friend in town named Jim, and he and I had a glorious and gorgeous time running around the area both north and south of town, shooting gophers and finding hills and gullies to test out this new-found ability to go "four-wheel'n", god what a thrill.
This little "sneak" itself, had worked to perfection for two weekends, as when my Father called at ten each Saturday night, he assumed that I had ridden the Schwinn back into town, he "trusted" me, and I had done nothing (really) in the past to disabuse that trust. Jim and I were beginning to think that we could do anything we wanted with no consequences. But, on the third weekend while Jim and I were out having our fun shootin' and farting around for about three hours, it began to rain. This wasn't a shower, or a gentle rain, it was what is known locally as a "frog-strangling, gully washer".
Liquid only, no hail, limited wind. Just a flat-out downpour. This old jeep had no "actual" top left (it had rotted off years before), and all that existed were the bows and braces with a few small tattered chunks of canvas flapping in the breeze. This could be lived with, even enjoyed since it made it feel like a "convertible with a roll-cage" in many pre-pubescent aspects. The only drawback was that with the left-over pieces of top and its supporting parts attached, one could not lower the windshield and attach it to the hood onto the wooden blocks and with the straps and buckles as designed, and get the "full effect" of a jeep, and so even these crossbows and support rods had been dispensed with. When it started to rain, with the windshield down and locked, we made a mad dash back to Jim's parent's home in town, soaked, laughing and snickering at how well this little sucker handled the increasingly intense greasy "gumbo-clay" mud of the back roads along the way.
This semi-desert area of Montana gets very little rain in any given year, so every farmer and rancher had built earthen-dams in the past to catch any rain that came their way for stock watering. It happened so rarely however, that the back road I used between my father's farm and town actually went down and through these now "always" empty, but still prospective pond areas. I had only seen any of them actually filled once or twice in my eleven year existence, and so the reason for their very construction was unknown to myself. Every other time that we had been "rained out" on the farm, I had been with my Dad, and he had driven us back to town on the Number Two Highway, five miles of macadam which skirted these ponds completely.
I had no idea that when a real "frog-strangler" rain happened out there on the hi-line, these little dams filled to capacity in a few eye-blinks. And this had been a very intense downpour on Saturday night, but Sunday dawned bright and clear and smelling great of damp earth, freshened prairie grass, wild-flowers, and crops in mid growth. When Dad had called that Saturday night I told him about the heavy rain (no hail, no wind) we had gotten earlier, and he was extremely pleased, saying that this was probably really going to boost the crops all along the hi-line. He didn't have anything for me to do until the ground dried out a bit, so I figured I would just go back out to the farm and generally fart around with the jeep.
So, here I am "churning" along (with an ill tuned four-banger, and three speed tranny considered) on a rapidly drying backroad, a few potholes of rainwater to splash through, windshield strapped down to the hood, following the trail east to west, back to the farm. Beautiful day, morning sun over my shoulder, bugs in my teeth, eyes a-watering from the forward motion, feeling on top of my little world. I was in charge of a "vehicle", master of my own fate/direction, daydreaming of all the wondrous things I could do with this machine, like "chase down Nazi storm troopers in the African desert". About mid-way between town and the farm, there was the first of three dams, the dirt track leading up the face of the dam and down through its base. I reached down and shifted into four wheel high transfer case; double clutched into first gear primary tranny, gas to the floor, and attacked that earthen-dam like I knew what I was doing. It wasn't until the hoodline of the jeep dropped below the horizon that I even imagined there could be any trouble. But when the hood-line did drop, there was a lake below me, a seemingly endless expanse of dirty blue/green. There had been, "no lake there" when I went into town, and in my eleven year old "Desert-rat/Nazi hunter" mode I had not considered that one could appear overnight. But it had.
In retrospect, the fact that the brakes didn't stop me from proceeding into the water is no surprise, but at the time I was shocked beyond belief that I couldn't stop before I hit the water. When the jeep came to rest, I was sitting in slightly more than waist-deep water, both feet ( legs shaking uncontrollably) slammed to the floor on the clutch and brake, and since the windshield was down, it probably appeared from an outside perspective that I was simply wadding across the pond. The jeep was completely submerged and quite literally "dead in the water". After the initial "sup-sup-sup" deep breath cycle had been controlled (suprise cold water dunkings still do that to me), and I took stock of my situation, I realized the true "depth" of this screw-up, and its possible repercussions to my pre-teen life.
I couldn't just walk away and leave a vehicle here, Dad would simply know something wasn't quite right, since the incidence of car theft and/or joy-riding was impossibly low in an area that didn't lock doors of houses, or remove keys from ignitions. As I walked out of the water, and sat in the glue-like gumbo mud of the bank, every possible or believable excuse wafted through my frightened mind. There was no way this could be explained, it had to be hidden. But how?
I sat and looked at the pond wherein a jeep lay (hidden for the time being), and could only think of one thing that could save my life. Get it out, dry it out, and then pretend that nothing was different. If questioned about anything concerning the jeep, deny, deny, and again deny knowledge of anything wrong, noticed, or different. Do NOT notice or call attention to anything concerning the jeep; yeah, that's the ticket. As I "squished" my soaked shoes the last two miles to Dad's farmstead, I began to think of what I could use to remove said jeep from said pond, and it occurred to me that my options were limited.
The very best tractor we had for "pulling" anything was an Allis-Chalmers H-D 7 crawler, but since it was in the field attached to a twenty-four foot Graham-Holme chisel plow and a team of Calkin's rod weeders, it was out of the question. Not because of its being in the field so much as the fact that it was "hooked" by hydraulics to the lead plow and since I had watched Dad disconnect and reconnect these many times, I had been duly impressed with the amount of care needed to perform this operation. I already had myself in enough "deep ****", I didn't need to compound the problem by screwing up the hydraulics on our most powerful farming unit. This left me with only the wheel tractors as possible "saviors", and in this group there were three. A Minneapolis-Moline G that was LPG powered, a Ford 9 N gas-eater, and a McCormick WD-9 diesel. Of these the Ford was undoubtedly the easiest to start, fuel, and operate, but also the "weakest" for pulling. The M/M G was easy to start, powerful enough for the job, easy to drive, but a real "pisser" to fill with fuel. Since I had only filled it with LPG in my Dad's presence, and with his help, I was not confident of my ability to check the level of fuel, let alone fill it, if it was indeed low. If I took off with it low, I could end up with two units stranded out of place, and this would be even harder to explain than the Willys alone.
This left the WD-9 as a unit I could start, fuel, and operate that had enough power and traction to pull the jeep out of the pond. The WD has a diesel engine that actually starts on gasoline, and is then switched to diesel fuel when it is warmed up. It is also a hand-crank unit that you have to start on gasoline, but this is not an impossible task as I had done it before. Dad had always warned me of "kickbacks" (keep your thumbs alongside you palm!) with the hand-crank, that could break your arm or wrist, and this also went through my mind as I walked toward it. That would make it simply great! Broken arm, drowned Jeep, no phone, five miles from town, and no explanation for any of the crap.
Trepidation and fear aside, I went to the WD-9, eventually got the stinker started, switched to diesel, and re-fueled off the gravity feed diesel tank. While it sat, warming, and waiting, I found both fifty-foot log chains and a set of clevis pins so that I could attach the drawbar to the jeep's bumper. I put the chains on the floor-board, and the pins into the side boxes, and away I went. Wheel Drive (WD) "Traction Power" to the rescue!
Now I had never had the occasion to drive the WD in fifth, or "road-gear", and I was impressed with how this normally lumbering unit could "scoot" between about twenty, twenty-five mph while remaining reasonably controllable "down the dirt-pike". Took a little bit of clutch work to get it to "take" and start rolling in fifth gear, but I wasn't un-aware of the double-clutching skill needed to get into "road-gear" gracefully from a lower gear. The reason there were "chains" needed for the pull out instead of a "chain" was that the jeep was way too far out in the pond to be reached with a single fifty footer from the safety of the dry area of the shore, there had to be two chains hooked together to reach it. With a little bit of "baler-wire" (every farmers best tool in those years, now being replaced by "duct-tape") to secure the end-hooks on the two fifty-footers to themselves after connection, I could reach the front bumper of the jeep, and pull it out.
Two self-embarrassing abortive attempts later to create a connection between the two, one disconnect between chains (forgot the damn wire), once I dropped the chain in the water, stomped it into the mud and it took some time to find and clean the chain, I finally had the jeep hooked up, out of the water and up on shore. It was at that point that I realized I was completely alone (I had not thought this through apparently), and needed to physically steer two vehicles. However, desperation and fear can "father" inspiration in an eleven year-old mind as well as necessity can "mother" invention later in life.
I discovered that if a person positions both units in a reasonably "straight" line, with the shortest chain linkage (a single 50 footer doubled back on itself), one can leave the towed vehicle in neutral, and place the towing unit in its lowest gear, trot between the two, making corrections in direction as needed. Since this "train" of vehicles is only proceeding at approximately three quarters of a mile per hour to perhaps two mph, this is not a real challenge to a desperate or frightened pre-pubescent male. But it does allow the same "man-child" time to think of what, oh what, to do when this portion of the plan is complete. So; "..what I'll do is put the jeep out in the sun to dry (yeah, yeah, that's the plan). I'll just park it out there where the sun hits it all day, and let it dry out while I plow, yeah that's the ticket, that is what I'll do".
That's all I have to do, no-one need know anything. I'll stay out here on the farm, do the summer-fallow work, and ignore the jeep altogether, ride my Schwinn into town on Saturday night, answer every phone-call from Dad, but mention nothing about the jeep. Yup, yup, yup, that's the way to handle this situation, ignore its very existence while the jeep dries in the sun.
So I stayed on the farm that week, letting the jeep sit and bake in the sun. Rode my Schwinn to town the following Saturday, and took the call from the "boss", and told him which fields I had plowed, get a list of where to go next, as well as any troubles I had encountered doing his required tasks (no mention of the jeep occurred of course). The next morning, Sunday, I went down to talk to Jim about what had happened, and hopefully get a good giggle out of him. While telling him my "plan" to get the jeep cleaned up and running, he suggested that we ask his uncle what should be done to an engine that had swallowed water to get it running again. Unfortunately for my simplistic plan, Jim's uncle named Curly (really that was his name), was a mechanic by trade and a flat-track racer by hobby who knew engines and vehicles inside out. "Curly" was an ex-motorpool "Sergeant" from WW II, and getting him to talk about the Normandy landing was easily accomplished, but difficult to terminate once begun.
But we did learn that any vehicle that was "subjected to total immersion, while running", had to be treated with extreme care to make it trustworthy again. About the only good thing we learned from him was that a fresh water soaking was a whole gob of work less than a salt-water soak. But, not only should the points, plugs and condensers be replaced and re-gapped as necessary, but all the filters and all the lubricants in every oil carrying case should be changed, and the cases themselves be swamped out! (Judas Priest!)
This was my Dad's favorite expression when confronted with something outside of his ken, and this was the direction of my mental thought process as I heard the "requirements" listed for the reparation of my folly.
Change (or clean) and re-gap the plugs and points, replace the condenser, drain and replace the engine oil and its filter, clean and re-place the oil in the air filter, drain and swab out the transmission, the transfer case, both differentials, and the wheel bearings, re-fill the differentials, transmission and transfer cases with proper oil weights, re-pack the wheel bearings, then re-grease all the zerks in the drive-line. Whew, this was definitely not a "dry out in the sun" operation. Especially since I knew nothing of these things and since I wanted no-one to know outside of my immediate friends, mostly not my Dad; this entire operation had to be done in relative secrecy. But then again, I had a few week-ends before he would actually return if I kept up appearances, there was a definite window of opportunity here.
After taking stock of the material "on-hand" at the farm, I discovered that while I had some of the necessary filters and all of the lubricants, I had no idea of what a condenser was, where it was located, or what it did. What are the "gaps" of points and plugs? I knew where the plugs were, but where are the points? What were the fluid capacities of the transmission, transfer case, differentials and oil types? Where are their filters, how do I find them and replace them, or do they even exist? How do you re-pack a wheel bearing?
We had a local parts store there in town, not a NAPA or anything, but a parts store none the less, and it was there that I discovered a manual that covered all the Jeeps of the past, including ours. This was purchased and studied with great care before I started buying the items I lacked (depleted my entire cash savings that I had been hoarding for movies, snacks and such). I learned how to "gap" the plugs and points (and what a gap was, and why it made a difference), electricity will not work unless harnessed inside of it's own properties I discovered. This made me figure out what a feeler gauge is and how to use it, and why that "gap" is important for the entire function of the unit. Discovered where the wheel bearings were, what they did, how they did it, and what "grease" they needed, how to remove and repack them, and basically got the whole operation completed before the return of the "boss", about three or maybe four week-ends later.
Upon his return, his only comment about the jeep at all was something to the effect of, "what happened to the jeep? (deep breath on my part here) It sure is running smoother than I remember." After I finally exhaled the breath that had been trapped in my lungs during his question (here comes the lie of omission), I informed him as casually as I was able, "Oh (clear throat), I found a manual about it down at Doug's, and I thought I would just see if I could 'tune it up' a little." When that explanation flew, and I saw the fleeting look of "admiration" on his face, I decided right then and there that I would attempt to do more things of this nature. Not the sinking of land vehicles in ponds of course, but the exploration of things mechanical.
Years later in life I had many interesting experiences with "jeeps". Not always with that ole '49, but with jeeps in general. After I had turned thirteen or so (but before I had even a learners permit for "legal" driving), my Dad picked up this neat, bright red, 1957 CJ-5, with a brand new white canvas "convertible" full coverage top. Wow, what a great little unit that was for a "kid" to have for a vehicle to scoot around with!
The same friend I had gone to visit earlier (Jim), and I had discovered the old "holding reservoir" for the Great Northern Railway system on the north side of the tracks there in Chester. This had been constructed with a deep well and pump on the north end, and also to catch and hold rain water for the engines of the line when they were all still steam. The "site" was abandoned and the dam portion opened so it didn't create a stagnant pond in the early fifties when the diesel electric engines took over, and it had stood empty and dry for that whole decade. It was only about a ten foot deep excavation, but was set up with a set of diversion dikes inside of the thing, each separated by 100 yards or so of flat bottom ground and each only six or seven feet high. They each came up to a "top" about two yards wide, and then dropped right back to the bottom level, so a fella could climb one, and drop right back down for another "go" at the next one. Lordy, a total blast for two kids in a jeep. Jim was a whole year and some months older than myself, and he already held that most valued of teen-age items, a drivers license. Therein lay the problem, I had a vehicle and no license, he had a license and no vehicle. But, between the two of us we had one "whole" system, we just needed to collaborate and co-operate in order "go".
After our discovery of this "playground", we spent many a happy afternoon down in that hole, just beating the living **** out of both it and the jeep. We discovered these narrow little gullies, hidden by willow-like bushes, that lead into and out of the pond area. These were too skinny for the jeep to just drive up and out, but in four-wheel low, a guy could snake up the stinkers through the willows with the driver's-side wheels set up on the side of the gully and the other set in the bottom if, and only if the other guy would ride on the uphill side hanging outboard of the whole thing for a counter balance! We discovered this by "falling" over onto the passenger side the first time we tried. And having to set the bugger back up with the help of about six other teen-age friends we had to walk into town to round-up. They helped put the Jeep back on it's "feet" and Jim (the licensed driver) gave them all a ride back into town.
The following weekend Jim and I tried again, now using a "counterbalance" trick that we had seen and then copied out of a magazine (Cycle, I think) depicting sidecar racers in England, with the outrider hanging off any opposite side of the motorcycle to keep the buggers from tipping over in the corners. It worked in the sense that the Jeep didn't "fall over", but there was always a bit of non-democratic in-fighting to see who drove and who hung off the sucker. Since it was "mine" (in a fashion), and he was just along to share the "fun", I generally got the lions share of the turns at the wheel. We actually did the CJ no damage that first year, it was the second season when I now had a "license to drive", that my problems with this Jeep, actually began.
One of the main reasons for this desire to do something that was beyond my father's skills or abilities, was that in so many other things he always surpassed me, or had in his past and never let me forget it. He was a better horseman than I, he had played semi-pro baseball in his late teens and when he was twenty, and until I had gotten into my late teens, he could beat me in a game of "one on one" basketball. So I decided to play football, ski, and try other sports that he had never competed in, and to improve my other athletic skills as far as I could. This may have also been the driving force behind my learning how to weld as well, as this was another area in which he had not "applied" himself (he could braze and cut steel crudely), but here I could do something that he couldn't. Mom was a "Wanda the Welder", and I learned from her. Dad figured that with her skill and my curiosity he didn’t need to master that ability.
Edited by brndirt1, 28 August 2010 - 05:24 PM.