There's something iconic about a Jeep, the vehicle originally produced for the military that gained popularity during the WWII era as a go anywhere, do anything vehicle that saved lives. Soldiers brought their respect for the vehicle home with them and passed that respect — and sometimes their Jeeps — on to future generations.
If you love Jeeps, or want to find out about them, the 10th Annual Mason Dixon Jeep Gathering at the Union Mills Homestead on Sunday, Oct. 23 offers an opportunity to talk to Jeep owners and learn the history of the vehicle.
Billed as one of the largest vintage Jeep shows on the East Coast, this show features World War II and Korean War era military Jeeps, civilian Jeeps and utility vehicles from 1964 and prior years — the grandfathers of today's Jeeps and SUVs.
Mike Hardesty of Littlestown, Pennsylvania, created the show a decade ago.
"I'd started going to car shows and had realized there isn't a lot out there for people who love Jeeps," Hardesty said. "Jeep shows are different from car shows. People with Jeeps don't mind if you touch their cars or climb on them. I had visited a show in the Poconos just for Jeeps and liked the idea so I decided to do it here. I love the Homestead and I donate all the proceeds to them."
Hardesty purchased his first Jeep in 1982 — a two-door, two-seat Scrambler with a tiny pickup truck bed in the back. Now he has a 1951 Willys CJ-3A Jeep that he restored, the second civilian Jeep model put out by Willys Overland Motors, the 20th century American automobile company that produced the military Jeeps called MBs and civilian versions known as CJs.
"The grill is the most recognizable part of the Jeep, even today," Hardesty said. "They still have that seven-slot grill like they did in the early years."
Jeep enthusiast Merlin Hanson, of Westminster, spoke of that look.
"Think about it. How many vehicles have held that iconic look for this long?" said Hanson, who has attended the show with his WWII era Jeep for eight years. "Jeep has really embraced the look and the Chrysler Corporation has embraced the history of the Jeep and the fact that people like to off-road with the newer ones too."
Hardesty said he loves seeing families speaking with Jeep owners at the show, especially when it's a grandpop and his grandchild.
"These people just light up when they see an old Jeep. And then the stories come pouring out," he said.
Hanson agreed. "It is amazing how the Jeep has had an impact on servicemen and women for so many years. It is history. It is tradition. When they sit in my old Jeep some of these older guys have the most wonderful stories. All those memories come back and they will talk forever."
Hanson bought his WWII era Jeep from a friend 16 years ago.
"I used to deliver the mail at Point Lookout," Hanson said. "We had an old Army guy named Ray [on the route] and I surprised him with it one day. I didn't tell him I was going to deliver mail in the Jeep, but he heard it coming and was waiting. He just stood with his hands on the Jeep for a several minutes. Then he talked to me for an hour. His wife came out and hugged my arm. She said, 'I didn't know what was wrong with him. When he heard you coming he ran out the door and just stood waiting. He recognized the note of it. You've made him as happy as a 5-year old on Christmas.'
Hardesty said the show started out with 22 to 24 Jeeps but has grown to over 50.
"The earlier Jeeps were made my Willys-Overland Motors. Then it became Kaiser Willies up until about 1964. Jeeps continue today but the Kaiser Willies were only produced until 1964. This is a Willys Jeep gathering," Hardesty said.
According to Hardesty, people pour into the show annually.
"Everybody loves Jeeps," he said. "People in my age group grew up watching shows like Combat, The Rat Patrol, Hogan's Heroes and MASH."
Hanson sees that love firsthand when he takes his Jeep to meet folks coming into BWI Airport as part of the Honor Flights program.
"Honor Flights fly veterans from around the United States in to D.C. to see the World War II memorial," Hanson said. "They do it totally for free and they provide the hotel and meals. I take my Jeep and we put it in the lobby of the Hilton so they can get pictures with it. I have photos of guys sitting in that Jeep just grinning."
Hanson will be at the show with his vintage Jeep, but said he is also bringing something extra special this year.
"I run a restoration shop for vintage Jeeps in Gamber, [Hanson Mechanical Restorations]. We just started manufacturing the engine for the vintage Jeeps and we are also going to have a vintage engine running on a stand there," Hanson said. "I'm marketing the engines [for Allied Willys Jeep Parts]. They have not been manufactured since the 1960s. This is only our second show to show the engine and the new blocks. The first production is running in China now and they will be marketed here and in Europe and Australia."
Jonathan Gibson of Uniontown just purchased his first Jeep Oct. 10 with his father-in-law, Russell Brown — a 1947 CJ2A Willys.
"I've been a spectator who liked to meander around and see the different types," Gibson said. "I have always been a Jeep lover and this show definitely influenced my decision to get one."
Gibson said he grew up on a farm where Jeeps were working vehicles.
"Post-World War II they were primarily farm vehicles," he said. "My parents had a Jeep when I was a kid and I have fond memories of that Jeep. This show offers a lot of variety with all kinds of makes and models, a lot of neat vehicles in one great location."
Carroll County Breaking News
Those coming in with their Jeeps are invited to join in a Gettysburg Jeep tour on Saturday, Oct. 22 for Jeeps of all ages. Interested persons may meet at noon at the Gettysburg Outlet Shoppes at the intersection of U.S. 15 and Pa. 97 in Gettysburg. A 3-hour informative tour with guide, Nancy Householder will begin at the outlets and end at the Appalachian Brewing Company's new location on Steinwehr Ave.
The Jeep show is free and open to the public. Hardesty said no one pays a fee, not even Jeep owners showing their Jeeps. Sponsors help him earn money for the Homestead. Their logos are printed on the back of the shirts he sells for $20 to commemorate the event.
"We'll have several guys here with antique Jeep parts and they will donate a portion of their sales if they have a good day," Hardesty said. "It is the honor system. And a local Jeep dealership [Len Stoler] will support the event and maybe have a few new Jeeps under a tent. That's pretty neat to have them here this year."
Kountry Kafe will have pit beef and ham and turkey sandwiches for sale as well as soups, chips and sodas.
"I've donated thousands of dollars to the Homestead from this event over the years. It's about giving back to the community," Hardesty said. "People can come and buy lunch, buy new Jeep parts or old Jeep parts or look at some new Jeeps from Len Stoler. They can talk to Jeep owners and learn a bit about history. It's a little something for everyone and we are also pet friendly."
The Union Mills Homestead is located at 3311 Littlestown. Pike, Westminster. Tours of the historic house and grist Mill will be available for a nominal fee.
For more information call the Homestead at 410-848-2288 or visit Jeepchasm.com and click on "Contact" to send an email.