AMC Car Show moved from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 due to bad weather forecast
As told to Jay Ritch
Come and meet me during the AMC Car Show at Pace Park on October 13. The AMC Car Show was originally planned for September 22, but forecasted inclement weather caused organizers to postpone the show (after the newspaper print edition hit the stands)…
I am a 70+ year old Willys Jeep now owned by Jay Ritch of Salado.
Let me introduce myself
I recollect some young women and old men, noise, lights; I remember vibrations and sparks that shook my frame. I rolled out of the Toledo war plant on my own four wheels in November of 1942. I came into this world thanks to a US Army government contract for a scout car. The requirements were tough to meet and the time was very short to produce a prototype. Only one company met the challenge, a little car maker called Bantam. Bantam just wasn’t big enough to meet the demand of a nation gearing up for global war, so the Army thanked them kindly for the inspired design work and handed production contracts to Willys-Overland and Ford. I’m a Willys MB, one of about 360,000 that were made to win the war (Ford made another 270,000).
The war years
I spent my war years, like so many unsung heroes of the Greatest Generation, doing the mundane rear-echelon duties that drive the tip of the spear units that you see winning glory in the books and movies. I remained state-side, fulfilling my duties until the end of the war, then I rode a rail car to the Jewel of the South, Atlanta! There, the Army rebuilt me, fixing all the little things that were worn down by my 3 short hard years in service, I emerged from the 5th SC Shop in Atlanta all ready to continue in the peacetime Army, but still bearing the scars of wartime service; I have 3 sets of initials carved into my steering wheel by bored GI’s. That nice Atlanta overhaul shop even adorned me with a brass plate bolted to my engine! I stayed in the Army, shuttling soldiers back and forth until I was retired to civilian life back in ‘51.
I was sold to a nice young man, I later found out everyone called him Dad. He took me to Atlanta and we studied Orthodontics at Emory University and I learned so much about teeth. Dad finished school and went back home to Talladega. We had many adventures around Alabama, but I noticed we kept going to see a nice young lady (everyone later called her Mom). I carried Mom and Dad around town, to country picnics with their friends and we had a grand time!
We went gold panning in Talladega, but the hills were steep, muddy and rutted and Dad found out that some things are impossible even for Jeeps! Even though we didn’t find the mother lode and Dad and Mom had to walk out and leave me in the woods, she married him in 1954. Dad went back to Emory for residency, and we drove into Atlanta every day! Houses were bought and sold, babies were born, residency was finished and we all moved back to Alabama.
The Michaels were my family – I took care of them just like I took care of my soldiers, never breaking down and always ready to go!
The children would climb and play soldier and explore on me when they were little, and later I taught them how to drive. The children got big and moved away, and I spent more time in the barn, covered with a blanket and waiting for the next trip outside. Summers and winters passed, children grew up and grandchildren took their place. One day, Dad told me he was going to fix me up like new! Dad had time now, he no longer flew his airplane, he no longer fixed teeth, so he would sand my rusty spots, fix my dents, and carefully started to tag and replace all my little parts.
The job was a big one and he ran out of time. I didn’t see him anymore, so I slept in the shop at his house in Montgomery, covered with a blanket and wondering what was next.
`What I did not know, was that in 1998, Dad’s son, Ken told one of his friends in Birmingham about me; nothing happened then, but as life goes, a seed was planted. When Mom had to move from the wonderful Montgomery home in 2014, Ken asked this friend if I could come live with him in Texas!
Off to Texas
I had never been across the Mississippi before, but how could I make the trip – I was a mess! All my little parts were in bags and scattered about, I could not crank or even move on my own! Happily, Jay and his friends were ready, when they came to pick me up, it was the first time I left the shop in years! Mom and Ken came out to see me and say goodbye, she even told Jay that I was her courtin’ Jeep (I blushed a little and Jay blushed a lot). Jay, Randall and Matt loaded me onto a trailer and away we went, off to new adventures in Texas! I had NEVER BEEN SO FAST in all my life, those maniacs drove from Montgomery to Salado, leaving Saturday night and pulled into Salado Sunday afternoon, they laughed at their speed and congratulated themselves on no citations, but they deserved plenty!
I could see Salado was different, but then I rolled into Jay’s garage and stayed there while he started to put things back together. His neighbor Frank asked if I could carry the Ft Hood Grand Marshall in the Salado Christmas Parade; what an exciting idea but I was still in pieces! We went to a shop in Salado and all the nice men there finished the hard stuff. They even made a video of the very first time my engine started, as reliable as ever! Jay told me that night that he sent the video to Ken who showed it to Mom in Alabama! The day before the Salado Christmas Parade, Jay took me on a drive! It was the first time I had driven on a road since the 1970’s! Jay painted a fresh coat of olive drab on me that night and the next afternoon, a nice officer from Ft Hood walked around, checking my lines and asking questions and then hopped in the back seat and we rode around Salado – I thought this was like 1942 again! More videos of the parade were sent to Mom in Alabama!
A trip to Florida
We drove all over Salado for a year, even driving out to Florence and to Walburg and Georgetown! We explored backroads, but I’m afraid all was not well. I was over 70 years old and, well, you know what they say about spring chickens. A man in Tampa is a Jeep doctor, and Jay and his friends took me to Florida! We met so many nice people on the way there, every time Jay stopped for gas or food, people would come and look at me and tell stories, remembering their old Jeeps. I stayed in Tampa for many months, all my insides were fixed, overhauled, bored and sleeved, rebuilt and I feel like new again! They even fixed a driveshaft that had been welded wrong back in 1942. Those insane speeding maniacs brought me back to my home in Salado, but I don’t spend too long in the garage any more. We go for drives all over Salado, sometimes for errands and sometimes just to see the stars at night.
I do my best to keep Jay from speeding, I don’t like to drive faster than 40 mph. He seems to like it and we have had many adventures.
Driving adventures are fine, but so are stories and Salado people tell the best ones. My favorites are when people tell stories about other Jeeps, or tell stories from their grandpa’s about that big war or just ask to sit in me and have pictures taken. I’ve met an old soldier here who told me about being ordered to steal a Jeep from the British, his CO even gave him bolt cutters to cut the lock off the steering wheel! Another soldier sat down and started my engine, just to remember the sound from when he drove a Willys MB in Korea. One soldier just asked to sit in the seat and smell the hot oil and canvas and gasoline. And one mean old soldier told me about wrecking a Jeep and then setting off a grenade to bolster his story about being “attacked!” Jay told me about his Great Uncle who drove a Jeep like me all over North Africa, Sicily, Normandy and Europe!
I’m 75 years old now, I’ve seen war, peace, Atlanta traffic, Alabama woods, Salado parades and Tampa test drives. I’ve hosted picnics on my hood and children behind my steering wheel. I’ve seen everything from Montgomery to Texas to Tampa and back (at a high rate of speed). I’ve carried soldiers in 1942 and then again in 2017. I still have many adventures to make, many young people to connect to and old people to reconnect with, but Salado is my new home. If you see me, wave and say Hi!
And Jay told me they will be sending this newspaper clipping to Mom in Alabama, so she can catch up on my adventures!