Vail Valley Voices: What’s a jeep between brothers? |

Vail Valley Voices: What’s a jeep between brothers?

Raymond Bleesz
Vail, CO, Colorado

It is said that the Willys Jeep won the hearts and minds of all those who served in World War II, and that the jeep won the war.

My 1946 CJ2A jeep, No. 23995, was in the assembly line of production when the war ended.

This jeep with its “Go Devil” four- banger engine, a body from the Willys Ford Overland Co. in Toledo, Ohio, was one of thousands produced during the war years and later into preproduction civilian jeeps at the end of the war.

In 1990, this jeep was given to me as a birthday gift by my brother, who had purchased it from a good old boy in Frederick, Md., towed it across country and presented it to me upon his arrival here in Edwards.

I did not expect such a birthday gift from my brother, but he insisted that I needed a project to work upon, and that the jeep would provide immense pleasure in four-wheeling and in restoration work.

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As youngsters, both of us had early childhood-adolescent exposure to jeeping in the Colorado Rockies — along jeeping trails and to mining ghost towns.

Reading classical Colorado textbooks, such as “Stampede To Timberline,” by Muriel S. Wolle, and seeing early historic photographic images of Colorado’s Mining Railroad heritage contributed to our shared interest in jeeping and four-wheeling to places of interest.

We looked forward to this again and again, as “Willy” was more than capable.

My intent at restoration was to make the vehicle a working unit, olive drab in color and to faithfully restore the vehicle as much as possible, although I was not enamored with exactness. This vehicle required major restoration.

Jeep collectors, fanatics of whom there are legions, may find exception to my vehicle as restoration is an exact science, and I had to make compromises.

To briefly outline the restoration since 1990, I had the following done: body totally redone, purchase of a secondary body for parts, painted, new wiring, new military tires and an extra set of rims and street tires, starter, transmission, springs, and recently a rebuilt engine, just to mention the larger items done to this vehicle.

I constantly used the services of Jungle — “Mechanic In A Van” — over the years as he became the mechanic who could do amazing things to Willy. He and I became acquainted over time with one another as well as both of us being acquainted with Willy’s nuts and bolts.

The creation and evolution of the jeep is unique in American automotive history. Even today, the distinctive jeep grill is a holdover from its early design, and it is a registered trademark and recently in court action.

Although the CJ2A was a specific model and year for a jeep, there were other models before and after the CJ2A. The early jeeps developed prior to the war were under development and testing with many companies trying to obtain the government contract and attempting to meet those specific military requirements.

By 1940 the Willy’s Ford Overland Jeep was selected for mass production for the war effort.

President Roosevelt rode in a jeep on many occasions.

As the war came to an end, Detroit needed to phase their vehicles for civilian use. With Willys, the CJ2A was developed for agricultural purposes.

All military parts for the most part were utilized. However, tailgates and power take-offs were added to make for a smoother civilian transition.

A side-mounted spare tire and mirror were options — all intended for farming, ranching and industrial applications and two primary color combinations, that being Pasture Green with Autumn Yellow wheels and Harvest Tan with Sunset Red wheels were available.

The history of the jeep makes for enjoyable reading.

In 1990, my brother gave me this vehicle, an act of brotherly love. Now after 22 years of usage in the Colorado Rockies and the desert of Utah and countless dollars in restoration and maintenance, I am giving this vehicle back to my brother, as he needs a project in his life at this time.

He will be towing the vehicle back to the Berkshires of New England in the next few days.

My Willy will make a graceful exit from this valley. My brother, who is more mechanically inclined than I am, will further maintain Willy, perhaps selling it at some point or perhaps continue with the restoration and giving it to his son.

Willy should be in good hands and will provide further entertainment and enjoyment. A 1946 CJ2A Willys Jeep No. 23995 continues the legend.

P.S.: Willy made it across country and is resting comfortable in the green pastures of the Berkshires—just like a retired thoroughbred, taking in the new sights and sounds of rural New England.

Raymond Bleesz lives in Edwards.

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