When I was 8 years old our family moved from Knoxville to Memphis, TN. I had an older sister and two younger brothers. My father has always been an avid sportsman and was looking for an activity to involve all his children. He befriended Charlie Olieta who with his brother Glen was starting a hunting club at the Tunica Cut-Off in Tunica County Mississippi calling it the Tunica Cut-Off Hunting Club. He was in need of a hunting vehicle which could navigate the miles of thick muddy roads on the leased land (they were as bad as any logging road I have ever seen with sticky mud called Mississippi gumbo). My father purchased the 1947 CJ-2A Willys Jeep in 1966 from Robert Barlow for $400.
The condition of the Jeep at time of purchase was in a poor state. My father was told that all the grease seals had been renewed. The next morning after a greasing of the Willys he discovered all the grease was under the Jeep on the carport floor! Fortunately my father had always worked on vehicles; fore this was a project which required great patience and mechanical skill. He shared a story with me of him prowling through a military junkyard and finding a box half buried in the mud. The stenciled lettering said MB front axle. He bought it for $50. It was a completely rebuilt front axle with tire rods, and brake drums still in the cosmoline …what a lucky day! Another lucky break came when a friend who worked for Sears told him they were replacing their air compressors with new devilbiss compressors. The original compressors were 4 cylinders and pumped on two. They had one such compressor still in the crate for $100. Dad said he jumped on it because this was the original Jeep flat head engine with a modified head but the same block.
Dad was a great steward for this Willys Jeep. He raised four children all of whom learned to drive with this vehicle and abused it engaging in youthful frolic during the process. It was during my childhood years that I fell in love with this great vehicle and grew to appreciate its endurance and versatility. I can see why Eisenhower said it was one of the three reasons we won WWII. My siblings and I kept my father busy doing body work, replacing motors, crank shafts, transmissions, paint jobs, etc… He kept it street legal most of the time. My junior year in high school I drove the Willys Jeep to Hernando, MS from Memphis to see a girlfriend. I never made it home after throwing a rod in the engine which I replaced with my hard earned summer savings from mowing grass. The spare tire on this civilian model was originally on the rear panel driver’s side until I drove too close to a tree peeling it off.
Somehow the Willys Jeep survived my childhood years and as well as those of my father’s grandchildren. In September, 2009 I made a trip to Tunica, MS to pick up the Willys Jeep. My father parted with it taking my Honda 4Wheeler in trade. My first objective was to restore this vehicle back to a mechanically sound condition so that I may continue to enjoy it on my farm in Montgomery County, TN. I am not mechanical and so I sought out someone to do a limited restoration. We rebuilt the engine, installed a new wire harness, rebuilt the carburetor, applied a paint job, did a brake job and finished up with original military tires. While hauling the Willys Jeep back to my home in Clarksville, TN as luck would have it my wife and I went through tornado conditions while on I-24. I had to pull off the interstate for safety and due to impaired visibility pulled into a grassy median sinking my Sierra GMC truck, trailer and Willys Jeep in the muddy soft ground. I was hopelessly stuck! As soon as the wind died down I unloaded the Willys Jeep in the rain pulling it up on the pavement. I attached a chain to the truck. With my wife steering the truck I started up the Willys Jeep and as if talking to an old friend asked it not to fail me now. Much to my pleasure and surprise the Willys Jeep pulled my truck and trailer out of the muddy median. Like a faithful hunting dog it has never let me down!
My next objective is to be as good a steward to this vehicle as was my father so that future generations will grow to appreciate it and hopefully pass it along!
Kaiser Willys Jeep Blog Story – Stephen Kent
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