Welcome to the
First Florida Chapter MVPA
Army Motors #92
A Diamond in the Rough
This article was written by club member Jim Gill #18992 and published in the National MVPA Army Motors edition #92, Summer of 2000.
I am a
fairly recent member of the First Florida Chapter of the MVPA. As a matter
of fact my friend and fellow member in Orlando, Mike Odham, is the one
that turned me on to both the local chapter and the international
organization. It wasn't long before I had made contact with Walter Keller
of Clearwater. Walt's association with ENCORE vehicles at the time
provided me the opportunity to purchase my first MV. Soon thereafter, on
July 4, 1998 I was following Walt and other members in the Brandon Fourth
of July parade with my very own M151A2 MUTT.
This was only
the beginning. This past summer I stumbled into a rare opportunity. I took
my family on a summer vacation to West Virginia where my roots began.
Although I am a native Floridian, both of my parents have a long lineage
in the West Virginia mountains. It had been almost 30 years since I had
last visited the state and the few remaining relatives.
The last part
of the vacation was to be for ourselves, we were going to relax in the
Canaan Valley Resort area. Canaan Valley is part of a National Park in the
northeastern part of the state. While making the long drive through the
winding mountains and narrow roads I made a wrong turn. This took us about
7 miles out of our way. As we are driving through the small but quaint
town of Beverly, West Virginia, I
noticed something out of the corner of my left eye. My head turned so quickly that I
should have gotten whiplash. My wife and kids didn't understand why I was
braking so fast to turn the car around. But there it was, that familiar
grill outline of an early jeep with flat fenders. I couldn't see it well
but as I approached it even seemed to be painted in olive drab. My heart
started pumping! Sure enough, backed up to an old building with a poorly
made lean to covering it and weeds grown up all around was an original,
flat fendered Willys military Jeep.
As I said
earlier, I'm still new as an MVPA member and still learning about the
different types of Jeeps. As far as I was concerned it looked like a WW II
Jeep. After all how many of us grew up watching Combat and all the
John Wayne movies? I had been dieing to own a piece of that history.
Here I was, in
the middle of a small town one thousand miles from home crawling all over
someone else's property. I couldn't help myself. If I were in Georgia or
Alabama I might still be behind bars. Anyway, I did have the common sense
to look for a few obvious things. It had an original looking engine and
there were even data
plates (I found Out later that only one was missing -
the important one). The spare tire rack was there and the tires, although
they were retreaded by BF Goodrich is dated 1953. The inside was very
rough and the back seat was missing. All ill all, I thought it looked
By this time
the family was chomping at the bit. They wanted to be in Canaan Valley. So
off we went. The resort was fantastic but I could care less. I couldn't
sleep for three days. I don't know what I expected to do. Somebody must
have owned it but there was no for sale sign on it. What could I have even
expected to do with a rental van full of family vacation stuff? Still I
had to know more. I tried calling information in the town of Beverly to
see if some body could give me answers, but no luck.
leaving the resort area, I convinced my wife that I had to go back by the
jeep if for no other reason to take some more pictures. It looked even
better. It must have been sitting under the shelter for years. Next door
was a museum where I inquired about the Jeep. The ladies inside informed
me that it was an eyesore and they would just as soon see it gone. Al that
time they informed me that the gentleman that had owned it for the past 30
years had passed away that February. My heart started pumping again. This
was beginning to really look like an opportunity. I was on a roll, while
standing in the museum talking with these kind ladies one of them picked
up the phone and called his widow. She informed them that her son-in-law
from Maryland was handling the estate.
I was back in
the rental van with six piercing eyes telling me that this was really
getting out of hand. But at least I had the son in law's phone number. I
ignored the laser-like penetrations burning through my skull and used our
cell phone (which was meant for emergencies only, not for frivolous long
distant calls) to dial the number. I had to know something. The gentleman
on the other end of the phone was not the son in law but they worked
together and he was familiar with the Jeep and thought it might be for
sale. He assured me that my call would be returned.
Well, our trip
seemed to go downhill from there. At least for me. Our next destination
took us-to beautiful Boone, North Carolina. The family enjoyed the hiking,
grandfather mountain and blowing rock. My passion was only fueled more
when visiting a neighboring town. I inquired at an army surplus store (the
family was eating at Pizza Hut) about the possibility of anyone having any
old jeeps for sale. Sure enough there was a guy about a mile down the road
at a construction company that had "some old military jeep looking
thing" he wanted to sell. When I got there and saw it, I didn't
really know what the heck it was. It did have data plates that said USMC
and a date of 1961. The engine appeared to be air-cooled and the body was
aluminum. I told you I'm new at this. I stumbled onto a Mighty Mite and
didn't even know what it was. I do now! I took a few pictures and headed
back to Pizza Hut.
The long drive
back to Florida was made even more painful knowing that every mile that I
drove south was taking me that much further away from an opportunity. We
got home and I hadn't heard from the son-in-law so I debated calling
Maryland again. But even worse, if I did call, what would I say and was I
prepared for a big let down? I had nothing to lose.
Before I called
the son-in-law I did a little research. The first thing I did was to call
Donald Thompson (MVPA officer west Florida). Donald was a tremendous help
and great encouragement. He directed me to call Jim Baker. Jim, our
President was out
of town but promptly returned my phone message from
California (thanks Jim!). At this point I had mixed feelings. There was a
great let down because Jim and Donald had informed me from the description
of the jeep that it was not a WWII jeep, but rather the Korean-vintage
M-38. This was a real disappointment for me at first. I had wanted a WWII
jeep. I finally realized that it was still an opportunity that I would
probably regret later if I let it get away. Besides, I wouldn't be as let
down if son-in-law had other plans for the jeep.
As fate would
have it I called the son-in-law from Maryland. This ended up rekindling
all of that earlier anxiety. Yes, he said the Jeep probably was for sale
but there were several other interested parties. So much for hoping that I
might steal it for $500 or less. At least I wasn't dead in the water. He
did give me a little history on the vehicle. It had been in the family for
around 30 years and his wife as a child loved to ride in it with her
father. It had even been running well up until it was moved to its current
residence some 8 or 9 years ago.
I work at a
high school in Pinellas County and had about three weeks left in the
summer before I had to return to work. If something was going to happen it
needed to do so before then. The son-in-law, who we can now call Jim,
assured me that whatever the family decided, they would do so soon. He
also added that the final decision to sell would be up to his
I decided to
appeal to the mother-in-law herself. I wrote a very sincere and genuine
letter to her. I wanted it clear that my desire was to restore the jeep to
its original condition the best that I could and that it was important to
me to maintain as much of its history as I possibly could. It wasn't going
to be jacked up and running races through some Florida swamp. If I was
able to purchase it I would like any information the family was willing to
give me regarding its east on the West Virginia's mountains. I made my
first offer in this letter.
A few days
later Jim, the son-in-law, called me back. He said he had a higher offer
from a gentleman in Kentucky that had heard about it from a friend in
town. I knew I was in for a high guy wins game. By this time I was really
interested in the M-38. More research disclosed how rare they really are.
With over 600,000 MBs and GPWs produced during WW 11 the relatively small
number of 60,345 M-38s made it even more attractive to me. Besides, it was
still a flat fender.
other obstacles left to overcome. Even if I did manage a deal with Jim,
how was I really going to get this thing home and how much would it cost?
Ever since I got back from vacation a close friend and car enthusiast,
Mike Stoessel assured me that he could get us a trailer and that my Ford
Explorer could easily transport it the 2000 mile round trip. Mike even
agreed to join me on the trip should I work things out. I had never towed
anything more than a boat (Mike even less) from the house to the lake, let
alone something like this, that distance. I had gone this far though, I
just needed to decide what my limit to bidding was.
For about two
weeks I felt as though Jim was working me back and forth with the guy in
Kentucky. Finally, I estimated my cost in time and money to retrieve it
and made my last offer. When the phone rang and it was Jim on the line I
had decided that things probably weren't going to work out, especially
when he said that the guy in Kentucky had upped the anti again. Jim did
say that his family liked what I planned to do with the jeep. It was then
that I realized the personal letter to the mother-in-law had probably paid
off. He accepted my offer!
The next step
was to explain to my wife what I had committed to. I'm 43 years old and I
think she is convinced that I'm going through some mid life crisis. After
all it is much better than running around with younger women. Regardless,
she was accepting of the idea and her only concern seemed to be where I
was going to keep this thing when I got it home?
I didn't have
much time to plan the trip to West Virginia and back. We only had a week.
Mike was still planning to go with me and had made arrangements with a
friend for the trailer to tow it home with. I decided that we would leave
on a Friday and return home on either Monday or Tuesday.
find supplied with everything we thought we would need, Mike and I set off
on our journey at 4:00 a.m. on Friday, July 23, 1999. The trip up was
relatively uneventful. Somewhere in lower West Virginia however the Ford
experienced an engine light that seemed to come on as we went up the
mountains and go out as we descended. The only other notable event was a
traffic back up on I-77 that was bumper to bumper for close to an hour.
That wouldn't have been much of a problem except we were running low on
gas and barely got to an exit to refuel.
after we began at 9:00 p.m. we arrived in Elkins, West Virginia just a hop skip and
a jump from our destination, Beverly. I opted to bypass the hotel and
drive straight to the jeep. I wanted Mike to see it, besides I wanted to
make sure we hadn't wasted our time and that no one had dislodged it from
its home for the past 8 or 9 years. Again, I was glad that the Beverly
Police Department wasn't out on patrol. Here it was a Friday evening on
the main road through this small town and two guys with Florida plates and
a trailer are pulled off to the side with their headlights shining into
this well-known historical monument (or eyesore) from the town of Beverly.
And yes, there did seem to be a lot of traffic passing by.
I was in a
feeding frenzy, pulling weeds and clearing as much debris out of the way
as I could. Mike stood safely back with the video camera shouting words of
caution about what kinds of wildlife and toxic insects could be hiding in
those same places that my hands were probing. After about a half an hour
we had seen enough and were convinced that this truly was the diamond in
the rough that I thought it was. We headed back to the hotel.
son-in-law, had driven down from Maryland and was to meet us the next
morning. I called to verify that we had made it and arrange a time to meet
him at the jeep.
morning, July 24, 1999 my 44th birthday! Mike and I got up at 6-30 a.m.
and headed to the jeep. Shortly after arriving, we backed the trailer into
position, cleared some more debris then waited for Jim to arrive. When we
finally met Jim, he provided us with a little more history about the jeep
and how his father-in-law had acquired it. Back in the
60s Mr. Baisi
purchased the rights to a cable company from another local gentleman named
Woody. Included with the cable company was this 1951 M-38 jeep. The Jeep
was used to traverse to the top of the mountain where the receiving
antenna was located. The jeep was also used to service other out of the
way cable stations. Woody, the original owner of the M-38, apparently had
another jeep that he kept. I wonder where that one is today!
the Jeep from its cave went rather smoothly. We did have to negotiate an
unexpected car that was partially blocking the opening. It wasn't there
the night before. As I pulled the jeep out, Mike had to sit in it so he
could support the collapsing roof above. A moment of excitement did occur
as I was attaching the last
come- along. I looked up from under the jeep
to see a big Chevy truck screeching to a halt about 15 feet from my
Explorer. As I stood up by the trailer a man got out and rushed up to me,
with about 8 inches between our noses he said, "I just want to know
how you managed to purchase that jeep?" I told him that I had
inquired about it and worked
Once the Jeep
was loaded and secure Jim invited us into the building that the jeep had
been backed up to for so many years. Apparently his father-in-law was
quite a pack rat. This building, which at one time had been a bank, was
full of thousands of antiques and collectables, which Jim and his family
were preparing for an upcoming auction in August. Jim and I exchanged
money and what little paper work there was.
Jim was sure there was some
canvas that went with the jeep so he took us about two blocks down the
road to another building. This house was a piece of American history
itself and was also filled with thousands of collectables. We not only
found several pieces of canvas that allegedly go with the Jeep but we
turned tip a WWII jerry can and Mike spied the spare tire complete with
rim. Looking back now Iím sure I saw the windshield frame to an earlier
MB or GPW lying in the back yard.
It was now
almost 10:30 a.m. and beginning to rain lightly. We were in the Ford,
trailer and jeep in tow. We made a brief stop at the Golden Arches to
refuel and headed back to the hotel to clean up and check out. By 11:00
a.m. Mike and I were headed south video taping my new M-38 which was
dutifully following us and leaving Beverly, West Virginia for the first
time in 30 years.
I wish that I
could say the return trip was just as uneventful as the one going up,
however it wasn't. The engine warning light continued to go on and off as
we ascended and descended the mountains. But as long as the Ford kept
moving I wasnít going to worry too much about the light. Mike also
advised me that since we were all pumped up about the Jeep and kind of on
a high there was no reason that we couldn't drive straight through back to
Florida, It doesn't matter that we had just driven 17 hours straight the
day before and slept poorly that night. All in all though the return trip
wasn't that bad. It was mostly just being tired and driving much slower
with the Jeep on the trailer. We also encountered that same traffic jam on
I-77 in Southern West Virginia, which seemed to take longer to get
There was one
major event in North Carolina at about 1:00 a.m. Traveling at 65 plus mph
in a driving rain and struggling to keep my eyes opened the unexpected
happened. The back of the Ford suddenly started to swerve and as I slowed
down we could here a thumping sound. Our first reaction was that the
trailer did have a flat tire. I remember that the trailer did have a
spare. Fortunately, it wasn't the trailer, just a blow out on the left
rear of the Explorer. The rain did let up enough for us to retrieve the
spare find change the tire. Once we lowered the Ford off the jack we
realized how low on air the spare was. Good news, I thought to purchase a
12-volt air compressor from Target before we left. It didn't work! We made
it a few miles down the road to a Quick Mart with 25 cents air. We were
off and running again feeling like we really could complete this trip.
approximately 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning, July 25, 1999 I Pulled into my
driveway after dropping Mike off at his house, It took 21 hours to drive
straight home. In a 52-hour period of time Mike and I had driven 2,000
miles in a total of 38 hours. As tired as I was I couldn't sleep so in a
somewhat Zombie state I proceeded to pressure wash as much of the Jeep as
I could get to while it was still on the trailer. The entire time I was
doing this the neighborhood slowly descended on me and the suspicious
looking vehicle in the yard.
project is to be a ground up refurbishment, I'm temporarily dead in the
water due primarily to funding and time, but much inspiration has come to
me since reading an earlier article in Army Motors #84 titled JADE A
Story of an M-38 written by Bill Keen.
Bill took a civilianized M-38 and reconverted it back to its original military configuration. It only took him 14 years. At that rate I guess I have plenty of time!