Bob Robinson's 1948 CJ2A Willys Jeep
A voyage of discovery with a 1/4 ton American icon
by Lincoln Cushing

The adventure begins

It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, 2004 - I got a hitch installed on the van and rented a humungous automobile transport trailer to retrieve Bob's jeep from the mountains before it got hammered by yet one more brutal winter. We drove up to Big Bend, got in at night and it was cold with a slight drizzle, small patches of old snow on the ground. No problem. That night the flakes started to fall....

Next day we were under a foot and a half of fresh powder. Grumble. Put the spiders (chains) on the van, drive up the unplowed road to PlaVada. Jeep is down in the gravel driveway, under old and new snow. The snow is still coming down, the driveway is thick, and I'm not sure we can do this.

I put in the key, pull the choke... and it starts! Just like Woody Allen's old VW in Sleeper. I start to drive it through the snow, but the tires are too bald for proper purchase. The friendly neighborhood caretaker is out in his snowplow, and he does us the favor of clearing our path. I drive out, we fetch brother David staying down the road, pound back through the snow easy as pie, and we load it onto the AT. The next day the weather clears and we sail back to Berkeley driving a molasses-like 50 miles an hour. It's now in the garage, awaiting catalogs and advice before I start to tear her apart and make her right.

The restoration

Bob's old hunting jeep, license plate "ONE DRR" (which stands for his initials, Dunlap Roberts Robinson, not the fact that it's a wonder that it runs at all) was hauled down from the frigid Sierra the winter of 2004-2005 for the purpose of making it roadworthy. It had been sitting under feet of snow, and the years of erratic maintenance and exposure had taken their toll.

First step was to check the fluids. This vehicle has a three-speed gearbox, a transfer case allowing high or low operation as well as disengaging the front wheel drive, and two differentials. It also has approximately 479 grease nipples. In draining the engine and cases I found surprising range of content, from normal to... emulsified, as evidenced by the gear case sample to the left. And not only were the fluids in varying conditions, often access was...problematic. The rear differential plug had been mashed by rocks so many times that its normal square socket was unusable, and I had to go through two different screw extractors and three knuckles to get it out.

Seats may seem like a cosmetic feature until you try to sit in something that a squirrel has used as a nest for years. I stripped the set frames out, sanded and painted them, and got them recovered at a local auto upholstery place with semi-camo vinyl. The big black box underneath the driver seat is, yes, the gas tank. I discovered that it lacked physical integrity when I went to fill it up in the garage, and noticed a flood of gasoline filling the driver cab tub. Deciding that this was not a wise feature for a vehicle in a closed garage, I pushed the 1/4 ton machine out of there fast and hosed it down. I drained the tank, filled with water, drained again, drilled, riveted, and soldered the holes, and was fine.

It was at the same time I discovered that the clutch no longer worked. It had somehow jammed in the engaged position, and no amount of pushing, beating, flooding with water, or whacking would make it work. Rather than yank the tranny, a significant chore on this beast, I chose to drill a (ok, two, the first one was too far back) hole in the bell housing. A screwdriver shoved up there, whack, and clutch works now. I plan to tap and plug the holes. Also, note the seatbelts, one of the many modern features required to make this street legal. This includes wuss items like windshields. The one that came with the jeep was totally beat up, no glass, twisted like a pretzel. I had to weld up the frame, sand and paint, and get nice new split windshield glass fabricated by a local vendor. Amazingly, parts are quite easy to get for this - almost all rubber (like the windshield frame base you see here) is being replaced. The windshield wiper will have to be repaired or replaced.

I've been cleaning, sanding, scraping, priming, and painting surfaces as needed, but I'm leaving the deep candy apple red paint job to another day.

As part of making the jeep safer, I also had to instantiate bourgeois options such as brake lights, mirrors, and a horn. Since all the wiring was vintage cloth-wrapped cracked junk, I began rewiring. This vehicle has no fuses - no fuses! - and a wiring diagram that makes a flashlight look like the space shuttle. I decided to add a terminal block where cables go through the firewall, and will add a fusible link.

SO, this beast is now insured and street legal. Next on the list is brakes (inspection, replace fluid, rebuild cylinders if needed), tires (will get military-style), and add locking hubs to the front (the current system only disengages the front differential from the transfer case, and towing this is much better if the front freewheels).

The next season's tasks

Work continued on the beast during the spring of 2005 - welding brackets, replacing broken bolts, figuring out what things are... such as realizing that it has an electrical system with positive ground. This vehicle also has an unusual parking brake arrangement - a drum that stops the driveshaft instead of both rear wheels. At some point the drum assembly was removed, and the banged-up mounting remains. While it is true that a handy tree trunk will work as a parking brake, there are times (such as during winching) that a functioning handbrake would be helpful. It's on the "to do" list.

The wheels had been painted white over their original rust-red coloration (one of three available colors, including harvest gold and forest green). I wirebrushed them down and repainted all-purpose black to match the rest of the jeep. I found some great replacement tires from Wallace Wade in Texas - original-style non-directional treads (NDT's) freshly made, with tubes.

Given that Bob was an avid Boy Scout, it was only fitting that this become an automotive merit badge project vehicle for Berkeley Boy Scout Troop 24. Here are some of the lads after a morning of inspecting brakes, changing oil, and replacing a headlight.

To the mountains!

Finally, after a full winter and spring of work, nature called for the jeep to return to the mountains from where it came. Built-in tow hitch had to be upgraded, but it pulled up U.S. 80 to the high sierra quite neatly. The jeep was happy once again to be frolicking in the dirt, winching trees, and getting stuck in the snow on July 3 (Lola Montez Lake road, 7,000 feet on a north-facing slope).

Now the jeep lives in a custom-built garage - see dedication video.

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