by J. Carl Laney
As a preacher and seminary professor, I spend most of my workday in my office preparing sermons and Bible lectures. I love my work and the opportunity it gives me to help young people develop in their personal and spiritual lives. But I am as passionate about my hobby as I am about my ministry. Like many of you, my hobby is restoring jeeps.
I am the proud owner of a restored 1944 GPW (May 29, 1944 DoD; # 204333) and a slat-grille MB project in process. The GPW has been in the Laney family since my dad bought it in the spring of 1967.
My brothers and I drove the jeep during our college days. Painted royal blue and sporting a white vinyl top, the jeep attracted a lot of attention on campus. My wife and I dated in that jeep forty years ago! I used to keep a blanket handy to put over her legs so she wouldn’t get wet and cold when water sloshed through the gap between the windshield and cowl.
My hobby of restoring jeeps didn’t begin until 1997–thirty years after the original purchase. My dad had passed the jeep on to me in the early 1990s, but the battery soon went dead and it sat idle in my garage for years.
Then one day while surfing the Internet, I came across a Web site that displayed restored military jeeps. It sounded like a great hobby for me–especially since I already had a WWII jeep!
Before long I decided to restore our family jeep back into its original military configuration. I had no idea what I was in for. But my wife gave the project her approval and I wrote my first check for the purchase of a set of split-rim wheels and bi-directional tires.
Getting my hands dirty
It was 12 years ago that I first put sandpaper to the jeep tub, and I haven’t enjoyed any hobby as much since. I finished the GPW project on July 23, 2002, and promptly began my search for another jeep to restore. After scouring ads and following leads, I found another project I thought I could handle. On September 23, 2003, I purchased a 1942 slat-grille MB (January 2, 1942 DoD; #7862). Now I could really claim to be a “military vehicles collector” since I had more than one MV!
As is often the case, the MB turned out to be a much bigger project than I had anticipated. After the purchase, I discovered that the tub was coated in a thin layer of Bondo hiding lots of rust and rotten metal. But this gave me an opportunity to buy a MIG welder and learn some new skills. I’m five-and-a-half years into the project and having tons of fun! In another year or so, I’ll have my “Slattie” on the road.
So, why do I do it?
My students and parishioners sometimes ask, “Why do you restore jeeps?” They are often surprised that a preacher would love working on military jeeps. I am sure we all have reasons why we enjoy restoring, owning and driving military vehicles. Some readers may relate to the reasons why I invest my time (and money!) in this hobby.
First, I restore jeeps because it enables me to fulfill a patriotic duty. I have never served in the military and I write that with regrets. During the war in Viet Nam the draft lottery was instituted and some would say I got lucky. My number was never called up and I never entered the military.Although restoring jeeps doesn’t even come close to the sacrifice made by our soldiers and veterans, I feel that for me it does fulfill a patriotic duty to my country.
Second, restoring military jeeps is a way to honor the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have served our country. Although I marked my jeep for the 11th Airborne, it is dedicated to the memory of all those who put on a uniform and took up arms to protect our country and preserve our freedoms. I am always proud to drive my jeep in the Portland Veterans’ Day Parade with the stars and strips waving in the breeze. I salute the veterans gathered along the parade route with deep appreciation and genuine gratitude for their service to our country. It’s my way of saying “thank you!”
Third, I restore jeeps because it is a diversion from the other work I do five or six days a week. As a Bible teacher and part-time preacher, most of my work is done with books as I do research for lectures and prepare sermons. Restoring jeeps is a refreshing change from the world of academics to the world of mechanics and military history. Instead of spending money on a psychologist or counselor learning to manage job stress, I spend money on jeep parts and find relief from stress by cutting, bending and welding metal.
Fourth, I restore jeeps because it dovetails with my love for military history. Ever since spending a summer on Guam as pastor of a small church, I have fallen in love with military history, especially WWII history. It was thrilling to show my children the beach where the Marines landed on July 2, 1944, to begin liberating Guam to end the 31-month occupation by the Japanese and then to take them to Guam’s Liberation Day Parade. On a cold winter night, you’ll usually find me spending an hour or so reading a book like The Flag of Our Fathers or Ghost Soldiers. Reading military history gives one a vicarious experience of military life. But restoring jeeps gives me an opportunity to own, rebuild and drive actual WWII military artifacts!
Fifth, restoring jeeps has given me the opportunity to meet many wonderful people who share my interest. The guys at Military Vehicles Collectors Club of Oregon have been very supportive and encouraging, especially during the early years when I had no idea what I was doing. They have helped me find parts, answered questions, and have even come over to my garage to give me a hand with some aspect of the project.
I have also met many great Internet friends through Ron Fitzpatrick’s G503.com bulletin board. Guys like John Barton and Jon Rogers have always been so patient in responding to my postings and answering emails. When I put a question on the G503.com bulletin board, I know that by the next day I’ll have some help from military vehicle collectors around the world whom I know only by name.
The sixth reason I enjoy restoring military jeeps is that I can fit two of them in my garage! I have friends who own tracked vehicles, DUKWs and trucks. And as cool as those big rigs look in parades, you need a lot of space to rebuild and store them. Jeeps are the perfect size of military vehicle for a city dweller without much working space. And most of the parts can be lifted and moved by a person, while armored vehicles and trucks would require a hoist.
The seventh reason I enjoy restoring jeeps is theological and somewhat personal. Remember—I’m a preacher! The Bible reveals that God enjoys restoration projects too. But instead of working on old MV’s, He restores individual lives and hearts. God is in the business of taking hurting and broken people and making them new again in demonstration of his love and grace. When I am scrapping rust and restoring old metal, I am reminded that I’m God’s restoration project. He accepts me as I am, with all my dents and broken parts. Then he begins a process of cleaning me up, repairing my life and making me like new.
If I have a little spare time during the evening, you will most likely find me in my garage working on my jeeps. I might be priming a part that I just finished sanding. I might be welding a patch on my tub or grinding the weld smooth. I might be doing something I have never attempted before, like dismantling an engine for a rebuild. Whatever I am up to at the time, you can bet that I’m having fun and finding lots of satisfaction in making an old rusty jeep look new again.