by Harold Ratzburg
I guess that I developed my affection for Jeeps way back during WWII days. I was twelve years old when the war started, so I saw lots of photos of the Jeeps in magazines and newspapers and movies and in the MovieTone newsreels when we went to the movies on Saturday nights.
I was raised on a dairy farm in Marion, Wisconsin. When Willys started producing Jeeps for the civilian market, my brother and I convinced my dad that a Jeep would really be a handy thing to have on the farm. After all, it had all sorts of available attachments like plows, cultivators, pulleys, and wood power saws etc. Brother and I had a real thing going.
The day came when Dad went to town to order a Jeep. That darned Jeep dealer said to my dad, “Louie, you really don’t need a Jeep. A Ford-Ferguson tractor would serve you better” or words to that effect. Yes, the dealer just happened to also handle Ford tractors, so there went our dreams of having a Jeep on the farm. But looking back at it with the benefit of more mature judgment at my age, I’d say that the dealer was probably correct.
As time went on, Jeeps showed up more and more in movies and on TV in such features as Rat Patrol, Combat, and M*A*S*H*. My interest continued to grow.
Fast-forward about 25 years to when I am 41 years old and still fascinated with the idea owning a Jeep. My career was established, the family was started, and there was a little extra money and more time for big toys. I found an ad in the local paper for a WWII Jeep in a town nearby. I went to check it out.
There, in a backyard, sat a real, honest-to-goodness WWII Jeep — slowly sinking into the mud after many years of being just parked there. It had the most god-awful looking, wooden, homemade top on it, no fabric on the seats, and a good abundance of rust. But, it was at a price I could afford, so the deal was made, and I dragged it home. My wife was not impressed by my purchase.
I immediately stripped off the wooden top, and I found some seat cushions for it somewhere.I had my very first Jeep!
Without the wooden top, it started to look like a military Jeep and I was a happy “green machine: owner.
Mechanically speaking, it was not in great shape. It would start reliably only when I jumped it with a spare twelve-volt battery that I always had to carry. But, it was my JEEP, and life was good.
Remember now, that my story was taking place in the early 1970s. Military vehicle collecting was in its infancy, and there were no Military Vehicle Magazine or clubs around that one could turn to for advice or guidance. The only literature that I could find was an Army manual on the jeep, and somewhere I accumulated a copy of Hail to the Jeep by Wells. These were to be my bibles showing how a military jeep looked.
So, armed with all this limited information, I began to look for parts and equipment that I could buy to restore the Jeep to look like a real, combat-ready, WWII Jeep as shown in the photos of my reference books.
After a few months of searching, I ran across an ad in a Rock and Dirt publication for heavy-duty equipment for building contractors. It showed me that there was a military surplus truck dealer named “Sarafan” located in Spring Valley, New York —not too far away from my home. The ad even showed a picture of a Jeep, so you know where I had to go as soon as possible!
I visited Sarafan a couple of times looking for parts for my rust-bucket. Then, on another visit in February 1972, I found the so-called, “love of my life.” There sat a WWII military jeep in a snow bank.
As far as I could tell, it was complete and in great condition. There were no rust holes through which I could see the ground. The toolboxes at the rear of the fenders were without rust holes. It even had the original little chains that held the thumbscrews for the top bows and the windshield so they would not get lost. I was impressed.
In addition to that, the Jeep had neat little modifications, like the following: *
There was a field-installed toolbox under the rear seat. It held equipment in place directly beneath the folding rear seat that had a padlock hasp that could be locked to prevent pilferage.
*It had a turn signal system installed. The lights were neatly set into the rear comers of the body and into the front of the grill so that they did not detract from the military appearance of the Jeep.
* here was a small heater neatly installed up under the dash directly over the driver’s feet.
*In front of the radiator, but behind the grill, was mounted what appeared to be a window shade. The shade could be raised or lowered by means of a chain that ran up and over the radiator and engine so that it could be adjusted from the driver’s seat to control the amount of cooling air that could pass through radiator. What the Jeep did not have that bothered me a little bit was a gas can bracket or combat rims, but I figured that I could add them later.
My dilemma, of course, was that I already had a Jeep at home. It did not impress my wife at all and to come home to tellher I bought another one would certainly impress her even less. I kept walking away from the jeep to look at other parts I needed for my hulk, but the Jeep in the snow bank kept drawing me back. I had to have it!
So, throwing caution to the wind, I went for it, and put a $50 deposit down for the $950 Jeep, as is, with a full GI canvas top, swinging doors, and side curtains included. I would return the following weekend to take it home.
I had trouble sleeping that week. I kept thinking that something had to go wrong. Maybe the dealer misquoted the price on this — in my eyes — near perfect jeep. Maybe the deal would fall through for some reason out of my control. I was nervous about my good fortune.
On the appointed day however, I returned to drive my treasure home. All went well. I found that it would move only in 4WD, but it would move. That was all that mattered. I drove it home.
Then the challenge began. What more could I learn about Jeeps, how could I fix whatever was wrong with it,etc. So with the Jeep in my garage, I studied it to see how it was different from my information sources.
The first thing that struck me was seeing on the title that it was a Ford Jeep (VIN or serial no. 4596). I knew from some source, that Ford Jeeps had a square cross member in front of the radiator, but my Jeep had the round Willys type member. Something wrong there, except the data plate on the glove box door said Ford, # 4596. But who was I to argue with the powers that be. The title was good and I had my Jeep.
As you may have figured out by now, my Jeep turned out to be one of the rare ones, where Ford made everything on the Jeep but the frame. Early in the war, Ford could not turn out Jeep frames fast enough and had to acquire frames from Willys or A. O. Smith in Milwaukee in order to keep up with the needed war production. In time, after I knew where to look, I found the Ford markings on top of the Wiilys frame in front of the motor mount bracket
The other information on the gear plate and caution plate on the glove box door was in some foreign language. It took me several years to find out that it was Norwegian.
I thought the gas can bracket was missing on the back. Every self-respecting Jeep in my picture books had a gas can hanging there. This was easily taken care of when I found a gas could bracket and the slotted upper piece for holding the strap in place and bolted them in place.
Also missing on the back was the support under the spare tire. The tire holder itself was a funny looking spare tire bracket with three bolts to hold the tire on instead of the two bolt bracket with the support that was shown in my reference books. All this was taken care of when I found and bought a two-bolt bracket and a tire support bracket.
Now, how about those funny looking tire rims? They did not have all those neat bolts around the center so they did not look military. They looked more like civilian rims, so they had to go. I found combat rims in a town not far from my home. A guy who was making a dune buggy out of a WWII Jeep had some, so I bought them and a switch was made. I advertised and found a buyer for the old rims down in Tennessee, so they went down the road for $10 each.
The only real mechanical problem I had with my “new” Jeep was that it would only move in 4WD. I finally found that the problem was a sheared off rear axle. I was fortunate that the axle had sheared cleanly. When I pulled the axle out, I found that the sheared-off piece had been removed from the axle housing by someone before me. All that needed to be done was install a newly purchased axle, from Sarafan, of course. Sarafan had everything, and they were really pretty handy for my shopping trips.
The military full canvas top that came in the deal was a real find. It was Korean War vintage, in that the door openings are closed with a swinging door instead of the zipper variety as found on WWII full tops. When installed, it became a very cozy enclosure, especially when that little heater installed over the driver’s feet was running full blast.
So, finally, my new toy was well on its way to looking “military” — just like the ones in my reference books.
In the following years, I gradually found other neat stuff to mount on my Jeep. My opinion has always been that the more stuff you hang or mount on a Jeep, the “cooler” it looks. So along came the following:
*Captsan Winch. An old friend and Jeep owner, Ted Bromage, advised me that Sarafan had Jeep capstan winches for sale. The winches were still in their original GI packing crates. The set came in 3 crates and included the complete setup, i.e., heavier front springs, rope, oil for the gears, the mounting plate, the winch itself and all the attachments and the instructions for mounting.
I really needed that and so Ted purchased and delivered the crates to my house and the winch was mounted. If I remember correctly, the complete set cost $75.
*M48 Dash Mount for a machine gun or BAR. Looking in a Shotgun News that subscribed to, I found an ad for the dashboard mount. The cost was $25 for the complete kit, but money was tight and I had to hold off. Then the price went up to $50, and a little later, to $75, at which point I figured I had better get it now. So I did.
*First Aid Kit Mounting Bracket. I had read about the modification of laterwar Jeeps that included a mount to hold the first aid kit up and out of the way under the dash, instead of carrying them in the tool compartments. But there were no loose ones showing up at the rallies. I was able to borrow a bracket from another Jeep owner, and a very handy and talented friend, Ronnie Brodzinsky, reproduced an exact copy off it. This was way back before any other people started to reproduce the Jeep parts .
*.50-caliber Gas-Firing Machine Gun with Pedestal Mount. I found the pedestal mount in the attic of a book dealer and purchased it $275, complete with, pintle, travel lock bar, and support legs. For a long time, the pedestal sported a wooden mock-up .50-cal. MG covered by a GI MG cover (only once did the law stop me to look to see what was under the cover).
Then, at some rally, I ran across a GI issue, gas-firing (propane and oxygen) mock-up of a .50 caliber machine gun that wasused to provide the noise when training the troops. The mockup looked more like some kind of a space gun, but it had the inside workings that I figured might be built into a .50-caliber replica. I do not have talents like that, but my handy and talented friend, Ronnie did, so with the gas-firing mockup and a supply of real .50-caliber parts, Ronnie put together a realistic, gas-firing replica that would make noise at a parade like you wouldn’t believe. Dogs ran for cover and little kids covered their ears, but it was a real crowd-pleaser (to brag a little bit!).
I will say that I believe that my gun was the first gas-firing .50 cal in the hobby, way back before the present crop of replica guns producers were in business
With addition of an anti-decapitation device on the front bumper and a siren, the Jeep was pretty much as combat ready as I wanted it to be. So in the last 20 years, I have not done much with it except drive it in parades and a little off road.
Looking back, I realize that my “Baby” was an original early GPW with the unique features that a true jeep fanatic collector would love to find in original condition. I do not regret that I have not left it as a show vehicle. I have had too much fun with it as a sometimes off-road driver, parade participant, or as an active WWII reenactor in my younger days.