COAL: 1944 Willys MB – Chapter 7, My Real Jeep – Part 1 AZ & CA

DOD July 11, 1944, Acquired Fall 1985

This is my COAL I let it go once but got it back.  It will be my daughters when I pass.  Above photo was taken at the Fort MacArthur Military Museum on July 4, 1990

After leaving the Navy I enrolled at The University of Arizona for the fall semester.  Shortly after I moved into my dorm I bought this Jeep from a gentleman that worked for the Arizona Historical Society.  He had a GPW that he was restoring and had bought this Jeep at a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) auction a couple of months earlier.  As far as I can tell this late war Jeep probably served at one of the many Army Air Corp training bases in Arizona before being transferred to the BIA.  I believe that the BIA used it for the fire department on an Apache reservation in NE Arizona from some time shortly post war until 1985.  When they turned over fire fighting duties to the tribe they auctioned off the old fire department vehicles.

Below the coat of OD paint in this photo (which the Jeep is still wearing today) is a coat of Fire Department Red.  There are holes in the rear quarter panels that match up with a bustle basket that was a popular fire department accessory in the early 1950’s.  Years later I found an Army registration number on three different layers of OD below that layer of Fire Department Red.

Fall 1985 University of Arizona Hopi Lodge

When I bought the Jeep the exterior accessories (handles, top bows and brackets, black out driving light, pintle hitch and rear bumpers) were missing.  It was still 6 volt but had a post war regulator.  It also had civilian tail light lenses.  The Jeep needed a light refurbishment but did not need to be restored.  Over winter break I took a ride out to Surplus City in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles, CA) and bought many of those parts.  I bought other parts from Sarafan Truck Supplies in NY.  The following spring I got my first credit card to buy a set of NDT tires by mail order from Houston Truck & Tire.  None of those businesses exists anymore.  After acquiring the top bows I bought the summer top (seen in the first photo) and OD canvas covered seats.  The jeep had black naugahyde when I bought it.

For most of my time in Tucson the Jeep and the Silverwing that was chapter 5 were my transportation.  I drove the Jeep all over southern Arizona.  Being young when on the highway I usually had the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor which typically yielded an indicated speed between 55 & 60.  None of the repairs I made were related to that abuse.  There were three repairs the jeep needed during my time in Tucson.  Just before winter break in 1985 (before I had driven the jeep on the highway) I noticed water in the oil.  I went to Willys Works and bought a head.  I ended up with a Ford GPW head.  Over 20 years later I swapped that head for a Willys head + cash from someone restoring a Ford GPW.  The following spring the starter died and over the summer the transmission started getting stuck in 2nd gear.  For several weeks I carried a speed wrench, a punch and a rubber mallet.  I got to the point where I could remove the transmission top cover, pop it out of 2nd (with the punch) and reinstall the top cover within a couple of minutes.  I also got good at accelerating from a stop in 2nd gear.  When the frequency of that failure got annoying enough I dropped the transmission and found a shop that knew those old boxes.  It turned out that the poppet that engages the shift rail was getting stuck.  They drilled a hole to enhance the ability of the gear oil to lubricate that poppet.

I completed the head replacement over winter break.  The campus police officer who checked on me periodically while I was doing the job didn’t ask for proof that it was my jeep until the day he helped me push start it when I finished the R&R.

At the end of my freshman year I moved off campus into a studio house.  Between my small house and the main house was a a breezeway / car port that was perfect for working on the Jeep.  That’s where I removed and reinstalled the transmission using hand tools and a bottle jack.  I also tried to see if the Jeep had an Army Registration Number on the hood.  I sanded at one spot on the drivers side with sandpaper that was too coarse and got down to bare metal within minutes.  Years later with careful application of aircraft paint stripper I recovered  7 digits on the drivers side and the same 7 digits on the passenger side.  The 4th digit on the drivers side was missing (because that’s where I’d sanded).  On the passenger side the numbers on the different layers were not well aligned so there’s some uncertainty but only one choice for that digit fits the delivery date so that’s what I decided it had to be.  Since I didn’t recover the number until my second period of possession I won’t reveal it now.

My travels in Arizona included several trips up Mount Lemmon and one trip down the back side of Mount Lemmon.  The fuel sending unit has never been connected.  Despite that the only time I’ve ever run the tank down to empty was the day that I took the trip down the back side of Mount Lemmon.  As I rolled into the last gas station before heading up the mountain the Jeep sputtered and I coasted up to the pump.  I knew that I wanted to fill the jeep and my gas can there so I’d have the maximum amount of gas with me.  There was a gas station at the top of Mount Lemmon, but it was more expensive and didn’t always have gas.  Headed down the back side of the mountain I has to refuel from that can.

I also took trips to Nogales, AZ, the Casa Grande Ruins and spent a summer commuting back and forth to the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO).   While I worked on keeping the Jeep original and authentic I hadn’t started participating in parades, car shows or historic events yet.

Behind the last place I lived in Houston there was a (usually dry) wash (stream bed) that was a fun place to play.  It was important to keep an eye on the weather.  The water in this photo came up in about 15 minutes.  At the center of the wash this water was probably 8 ft deep.  When I last visited Tucson (in 2017) they’d built a bridge over the wash.

After graduation I took a job with Rockwell Internationals Space System Division in Downey, CA to help deliver the last Shuttle Orbiter, OV-105, Endeavor.  I’d acquired a Nissan pickup truck the summer before I graduated and the Jeep was no longer serving as my primary grocery getter.  On July 4, 1990 I took it to an event at the Fort MacArthur Military Museum.

July 4, 1990 Fort MacArthur Military Museum

Shortly after moving to LA I found the American Military Museum in Whittier Narrows Park in South El Monte, CA and started volunteering there.  This museum has provided military vehicles for many movies and television shows including M*A*S*H.  Sometime during the fall of 1990 I gave them my Jeep.  When I left Los Angeles for Houston in 1991 the Jeep stayed behind.  Through 1996 I made several work related trips to LA and visited the museum and the Jeep each time.  The Jeep appeared in at least one movie,  Snow Falling on Cedars.  That 1999 film was filmed in Washington.  When the production company  took the vehicles into Canada the museum realized that they had no idea where the title to the Jeep was.  Eventually that led to them giving the Jeep back to me.

Jeep in Snow Falling on Cedars, image from Internet Movie Cars Database

They used two Jeeps in the movie.  I’m not sure if this is my Jeep or the other Jeep.

Part 2 of this story will appear in a couple of months.  At this point I expect that it’ll be Chapter 16.