My interest in Jeeps started back when I was in high school, in the early 1970s. A school buddy of mine, named Jim Little (who is still a friend of mine today) had a 1953 Willys Jeep CJ-3A in his family. It was used primarily up at their cottage in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, Quebec. As was typical, it was a utility vehicle, used to: pull gang mowers to cut the lawn; haul cut wood for the fireplace; carry tree trimmings to the compost pile; etc. Other than having wider and softer tires than the original tires, it was an original Jeep, authentic and without major alterations, from what I remember.
I frequently visited Jim’s cottage and became accustomed to the effortful chores required to maintain such a large cottage property. The Jeep was involved in most projects around the cottage and it always seemed to run without any problems. Getting to use the Jeep recreationally was the most fun however.
There was a golf course that ran along the side of Jim’s family property. At dusk Jim would challenge his brother and I to drive the Jeep through the course, vaulting the sand traps and blowing through the creeks. The only rule they stipulated was to: «Stay off the greens!!» Jim’s entire family were excellent golfers, so I was never sure if the rule was to prevent being identified by the distinctive tire markings, or to ensure that they could still expect a great round of golf the next morning. To my recollection, no one was every caught with the Jeep on the golf course.
Near the cottage, there were also lots of dirt roads and trails into the woods, which were fun to explore. I was in awe of how stable this vehicle was. We trusted it to ascend almost any steep elevation, undeterred by rocks, roots or fallen trees. This Jeep seemed to enjoy powering through rutted and boggy wooded areas or rocky creek beds. The memories of carefree and reckless times with Jim’s family Jeep are all about youthful adventures and warm Canadian summers. Today, 40+ years and a generation later, the same Jeep is still being used to maintain Jim’s family cottage property.
About five years after restoring and selling a 1972 BMW 2002tii, I got the itch to seek out another vehicle project. Since the 1953 Jeep CJ-3A had such fond memories for me, I began conversations with my friend Jim, to see if he would be willing to sell me his family Jeep, to use as a restoration project. Initially, he gave it some thought, but eventually, my heightened interest in his Jeep seemed to stimulate his thoughts of keeping it and perhaps someday completing his own restoration project.
So, with a focus on post-war Jeeps, in April of 2017, I began a search for my own vintage «diamond-in-the-rough» style Jeep. Very early on, I connected with a retiree, just outside of Ottawa, Ontario, who was a collector of Jeeps. He had at least thirty-five of them, and Jeep parts too, many of which were military. In my initial telephone conversations with him, I let him know that I was looking for a non-military or civilian Jeep. Fortunately for me, he said that he had a few and that he wanted to get rid of them. He began sending me pictures of the civilian Jeeps that he had. It appeared that he might well have something that would match my criteria.
As we were narrowing down our conversations to one Jeep in particular, I noticed a bright green Jeep in the background of one of the photos that he had sent. This green Jeep had not been part of any of our prior dialogue. As we were closing in on a verbal agreement for one of his other Jeeps, I decided to ask about the green one. I will never forget his answer.
«Oh! That’s a very unique and special Jeep. I had completely forgotten about that one. I think you might be really interested in it.»
«Why is that?» I said.
«Well, it’s a 1947 Willys Jeep CJ-2A, but it was also a Boyer Fire Jeep and it only has 8,842 original miles on it.»
This Jeep had been driven a mere 8,842 miles (14,229 kilometers), which means barely ‘broken in’ by some standards. While he was explaining all of the fascinating details, I was madly scouring the Internet, trying to verify what he was telling me. Within minutes we had a verbal, photos only, deal.
The Willys Jeep has an interesting history. What would later become «Willys-Overland Motors,» started as an automotive company in 1908, building mostly luxury cars. In 1941, Willys-Overland won the bid to produce a lightweight truck-style military vehicle, for the US War Department, introducing MA-MB models. It was to be the world’s first mass-produced 4-wheel drive. During World War II, the military found this vehicle to be tough, durable, versatile and very capable as a recognisance vehicle. In 1943 Willys-Overland trademarked the term «Jeep.» Some say that the origin of the name Jeep stems from the abbreviated GP for «General Purpose.»
In a somewhat desperate need to find a market for the Jeep, post war, Willys-Overland developed the first full-production civilian Jeep in 1946. The CJ-2A was produced in Toledo, Ohio. These versatile, ‘go anywhere’ vehicles were marketed to ranchers, farmers, hunters and utility companies. The CJ-2A looked very much like a civilianized MB, except it had the addition of a tailgate and side-mounted spare tire. The noticeable difference between the military Jeeps and the CJ-2A civilian Jeeps were the grills of the two vehicles. The MB had recessed headlights and a nine-slot grill, while the CJ-2A had larger headlights, which were flush-mounted and a seven-slot grill. In place of the MBs T-84 transmission, the CJ-2A was equipped with the beefier Spicer T-90 three-speed transmission. The CJ-2A was still powered by the reliable Flathead L-134, or what has become known as the Go-Devil engine, producing 60 HP.
CJ-2As were being sold for multiple uses. At one point, the Boyer Fire Apparatus Company of Logansport, Indiana, received a letter from Willys-Overland Motors, suggesting that they would be willing to convert 50 Willys Jeeps into a small type of fire vehicle, with the help of the Boyer Fire Apparatus Company. They agreed and the Boyer Fire Apparatus Company went about making or acquiring the necessary materials to help complete these conversions. Some of the typical equipment would have included: large-scale, side mounted toolboxes; fire hose boxes; ladder racks; fire axes; hoses; nozzles; lights and a siren. The most substantial piece added to the Jeep, was a Barton Fire Pump U-40, made by American-Marsh Pumps, of Battle Creek, Michigan.
Mounted onto the front bumper, these fire pumps connected to the Jeep’s engine, with a driveshaft, a pulley and a separate, grill mounted, engine throttle control. These pumps had a 4½-inch water intake, along with a gate valve for two 2½-inch fire hose outputs. The majority of the Jeeps converted by Boyer were sold through Willys-Overland dealerships throughout the United States. However, historical records indicate that a few Boyer Fire Jeeps were directly exported to Canada by Willys-Overland. The Jeep I was about to purchase had originally belonged to the Department of Natural Resources, in New Brunswick.
Based on my review of the photos the owner sent me, the Jeep was in remarkable condition. It had however, been stripped of all things relating to the fire Jeep and had been painted ‘tractor green’, in what I call a ‘barnyard, rattle can’ paint job. Unfortunately, green paint had been over-sprayed everywhere. Most of the original old Boyer apparatus was also made available to me. Fortunately, the owners before me (there were three) had the sense to hold onto these items. The Jeep came with one of the two toolboxes, the hose box, and the ladder racks, but it was missing the coveted Barton Fire Pump. I can only assume that it was removed prior to auction in the late 1970s, by the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources.
I am still passively searching for the missing items that would complete the full fire Jeep restoration, in case I decide to restore it fully one day. After discussions with other auto enthusiasts, Jeep experts and an expert historian, I decided that my focus would first be on restoring the vehicle portion of the Willys Jeep, with the idea that later on, I may choose to gradually restore the Boyer Fire Jeep components as well. Most importantly, I was determined to return the Jeep colour, to the «Harvard Red» that Willys originally used to paint it.
At the suggestion of the seller, the Jeep was transported 20 minutes from the owner’s house, to «Ginn Restorations,» in Ozgood, Ontario, which to my good fortune, specialized in restoring old Jeeps, with a focus on the military models. Jason Ginn, the admiring restoration specialist, remarked that he had never seen a Jeep of that year with such low mileage, nor had he ever seen a fire Jeep. Initially, I had him look over the Jeep to provide me with an assessment of what it might need mechanically, to make it road worthy. Surprisingly, it needed very little.
Jason, the Jeep’s restoration mechanic, recommended that I replace the entire brake system, front to back. So, a new master cylinder, brake drums, shoes, springs, wheel cylinders and brake lines were installed. Next, a few dried out felt oil seals were replaced, mostly at the transfer case and differential locations. There were also some electrical issues that needed addressing, as the Jeep had been upgraded from 6 volts to 12 volts, but it had not been done well.
While Jason was making these adjustments, I researched all I could find on old Jeeps, which led to an even longer list for him to work on. I suggested that he flush and clean the gas tank, re-build the carburetor, flush the cooling system and replace all fluids and filters. Finally, we agreed it would be best to replace all of the tires and tubes, as the seventy odd year old originals were severely cracked and not at all road worthy.
As I searched for the specifics about this particular Jeep, I realized by the serial number, that it was actually a 1946 Jeep, not a 1947, as had been suggested to me by the previous owner and indicated on the actual ownership. It turns out that vehicles sold back then were registered in the year they were sold, not the year that they were manufactured in. It’s possible that the Boyer Fire Apparatus equipping would have required additional time and was likely the reason for the discrepancy in the year. Through a quick call to the Ministry of Transportation, I discovered that I could alter the ownership, provided that I submit to them sufficient proof. So, my next call was to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), who now owns the Willys Jeep brand. Fortunately, they were able to confirm the serial number I provided, deeming it a 1946 Jeep. A representative from FCA sent these details to me on their company letterhead, which I then forwarded to the Ministry, so the Jeep is now officially registered in the year it was manufactured, 1946.
That step then allowed me to acquire a ‘year of manufacture’ (YOM) licence plate from a collector that specializes in restoring vintage licence plates. Meeting the standards and approval processes, as set out by the Ministry of Transportation; the licence plate was then deemed an acceptable addition to this vintage vehicle. For the 1946 year, there was only one plate produced, as there were still post-war metal shortages. Now my Jeep has a genuine 1946, black with white 56W61 plate, proudly mounted on the back of the Jeep.
The next important and major decision needed for the restoration project, was paint. I knew that the ‘tractor green’ had to go. I wanted the more authentic fire Jeep red colour. That was an easy decision. I had to decide if a «body (tub) on» or «tub off» approach to painting made more sense and I imagined that we would need to seek out any rust or sheet metal repairs in the process. However, finding the right location with a paint booth, proved to be a more daunting task. After some local research, I again turned to Jason Ginn to discuss painting. He was just winding up the mechanical repairs and he was excited to chat about providing his expertise with vehicle painting, as a next step.
The restoration process was falling into place seamlessly. I wanted to see the Jeep in person before he started painting it, so I drove from my home in Burlington, Ontario to Ottawa. The previous owner had given a replacement tailgate to Jason (the fire Jeeps had no tailgate). He had already welded or bolted on the brackets and hinges, mounted the tailgate and then base-coat painted or primed it, before I arrived. Jason also pointed out a sheet metal tear in the center of the hood at the location where the siren was mounted, as well as two other tears on the grill plate, where the ladder racks had been bolted on. The siren weighs about 6 pounds and I suspect that fully loaded racks would likely weigh much more than that. Years of vibration had torn through the sheet metal. He had noticed that there was a small amount of rust in a support channel, under the drivers seat, that could use some attention, as well as some drill holes in the tub, where over the years, previous owners had mounted non-typical Jeep parts, like turn indicator signals on the front fenders.
After some discussion, we decided that it made sense for him to make the repairs and do a «tub on» style paint restoration. That meant he would remove all of the body parts, strip the green paint off, fill unwanted holes and tears, prime and then paint. It meant about another month before I would have the Jeep in my possession, which I was already anxious for, but after seeing his work in person, I trusted Jason to do the best job possible on the bodywork and paint as well. In basic terms, there are four types and colours of paint on this model of Jeep. The major chassis components, springs and drive assemblies are painted in semi-gloss black. Most of the Jeep’s accessories including steering column, pedals, and bumpers are either gloss back or chrome. There were 21 tub colours in the Willys 1946 palate, but «Harvard Red» was the original colour used for the fire Jeep.
As part of the agreement with Jason, he sent me regular photo updates of each phase of the painting part of the project. Now, I had no idea that when painting a vehicle red, the primer coat used is pink. With my previous experiences, I had only ever seen a flat gray colour used as a primer. Imagine my surprise, when photos arrived with the entire tub painted this bubble gum pink colour! However, with a smoother finish, repaired surfaces and the green gone, it was already a huge improvement. In October 2017, Jason trailered the Jeep to my place in Burlington, bringing with him, boxes of parts to be re-assembled. I was thrilled to be finally taking possession of a Jeep that literally looked brand new!
Over the course of late fall and early winter, I re-assembled the original parts that had been removed for painting, including a roll bar. While not typical to a fire Jeep, the roll bar was an important safety consideration for any style or model of civilian Jeep. Another, somewhat essential task, was to completely re-build and recover the seats. Time, weather and mice had played havoc with the horsehair padding as well as the seat covers themselves, which had pretty much disintegrated. I replaced the horsehair with dense marine (fully waterproof) foam and obtained new authentic CJ-2A seat covers, to give them a fresh new look.
I then acquired and fully restored a rear mounted power take off (PTO) unit. Again, while not typical to a fire Jeep, it was very much in keeping with a civilian Jeep. PTOs come in three parts: a Spicer shifter gearbox that mounts directly to the transfer case and a driveshaft that connects to a rear mounted PTO drive box. The PTO can be used while the Jeep is in motion or standing still. In order to operate the PTO, one simply has to shift the transfer case gear into the right position and engage the PTO itself. There were many accessories available for the workhorse PTO, such as grass cutters, cultivators, saw blades and irrigation water pumps, to list just a few.
My very last considerations were the degree to which I would restore the Boyer Fire Apparatus that came with the Jeep and how much or how little of it I would re-mount to the Jeep. My decisions were fairly easy to make. Since I had no front mounted Barton Fire Pump, it seemed to me that it would be a little overboard to re-install toolboxes, hose boxes and ladder racks, etc. without the ‘crown jewel’ of a pump. I decided instead, to tastefully theme the Jeep with fire department memorabilia from that era, using some of what I had, as well as acquiring what I could, to create an interesting conversation piece. I relocated the siren to the front fender, where there is more structural support. I then added flashing red lights, a fire axe (made of latex by a movie prop company out of Hollywood, California), fire nozzles, a fire extinguisher and traditional fire department membership stickers. I even acquired and tossed into the back of the Jeep an authentic period fire helmet, with a leather badge that states, «Drive Operator 1.»
In July of 2018, I entered my first car show, which was a local community fundraiser here in Burlington, Ontario. The Jeep drew quite a crowd, as people were fascinated with the fire department theme and the story of how this old Jeep had sustained the test of time, after 73 years earlier, rolling off of the assembly line. Beyond the obvious fire related questions, the next most frequently asked question was:
«What are all the shifters for?»
There are four of them:
1) Transfer Case, 2-wheel drive, neutral, 4-wheel drive
2) 4-wheel drive low, 4-wheel drive high
3) Gear Box 1.2,3 R (reverse)
4) PTO engaged, dis-engaged
Secretly, I like that complexity. It seems to intimidate others from jumping into the driver’s seat, which is after all, ‘my’ seat!!