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Mechanic ends up on National Geographic reality show "Family Guns"

Mechanic ends up on National Geographic reality show "Family Guns"
Eric Hanson works on a 1945 Willys MB at his home in Westminster Saturday. Hanson restored a jeep for an episode of the National Geographic Channel program "Family Guns" which airs Sept. 26. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

When the father and son duo from a new reality show on the National Geographic channel came to Hanson Mechanical in Gamber with a request to restore a Jeep from World War II, Eric "Merlin" Hanson was ready to deliver.

Hanson, from Westminster, said International Military Antiques approached him after receiving clearance for more episodes of its new TV show titled "Family Guns."

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The show is the life of Christian Cranmer and his son Alexander, the duo behind International Military Antiques, which has one of the largest antique gun and military collections in the world. In the third episode, premiering Sept. 26, the two will approach Hanson to restore an old Jeep.

Hanson said he has been involved in a World War I re-enactment group called the Great War Association for years, and his name was passed along to the men behind International Military Antiques.

"It normally takes up to a year to restore [a Jeep]. They're saying, 'Hey can you do this in two to four weeks?'" Hanson said.

Hanson said he receives antique parts from three major companies, and one of the places he works with shut its supply down to work solely with Hanson's company for the parts. Hanson isn't just a mechanic though - he teaches at the Boy's Latin School in Baltimore by day. Everyone who works with Hanson has a day job, and helps Hanson Mechanical part time.

"It was like 20-hour days. I'd get home from school and work until midnight or one in the morning," he said.

Hanson began filming with the crew for "Family Guns" in November, and took the Jeep out to a World War II re-enactment at the end of January.

Bobby O'Hara, who works at Westminster Glass and Mirror by day, worked on the welding of the Jeep. His daughter was born Dec. 29, right in the thick of things, O'Hara said.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking trying to get it all done and do my normal job," O'Hara said.

Hanson is the librarian at the Boy's Latin School, and also teaches theater and wood shop. He said he has been working on antique cars since he was a kid, and started getting more into Jeeps after he began working at a private school.

Hanson drives his World War II restored Jeep around Westminster, and said through word of mouth and social media, people began requesting Jeeps.

Mike Kelly, a plumbing contractor who helped with the project, said he became friends with Hanson because he saw Hanson unloading Jeeps at his house, and introduced himself. Kelly helps Hanson at the shop, united in friendship through a mutual love of Jeeps.

Hanson Mechanical now has a shop in Gamber, and Hanson is working on a few different Jeeps for customers ranging from military men who fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to a teacher on a military base in Germany.

"That one's a stressful project because it has to pass German vehicle inspections," Hanson said.

That means not a single drop of oil can leak out of the vehicle, which Hanson said is nearly impossible for a restored Jeep.

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Jeeps are such a popular brand among veterans and military men because they were the "ubiquitous vehicle of World War II," Hanson said.

"The World War II veterans that I've [worked] with ... you give them a World War II Jeep and it's like giving them back their long lost puppy," Hanson said.

John Ingram, the main mechanic for Hanson's shop, said the point of World War II Jeeps is that when they're finished, they all look the same. Ingram said they name each Jeep, and by the time the Jeep is finished, it is indistinguishable from another restored Jeep, which preserves automotive heritage in the country.

For the premiere of the episode which features his shop in "Family Guns," his students will watch it together, and he will have a get-together for those who worked on the project. From speaking with other reality show veterans, Hanson said he expects business to get busier, but "I don't think it'll really register until I see it on TV."

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