Willy’s 4 wheel drive Jeeps were the darlings of WWII.
They were fairly plentiful in the 1950’s and I wanted to be an owner.
I got one, cleaned it up and got it working good mechanically and started having fun running the beaches mostly on weekends. Before long we had a Willy’s Jeep Club.
The members were all local lads.
At our dealership we started going to sales at Wolseley Barracks in London and bought several wartime style Jeeps for resale. The Laverne Culbert Family in Goderich still has one of those Jeeps to this day!
We had a ball climbing hills competitively, driving the beaches from Bayfield to Amberley and summer highways jaunts to various restaurants and so on. Booze was not an issue with our group, but daredevil driving sure was.
You soon learn how to work on those tough little vehicles. I remember I started having clunking in 1 front axle – took it apart and found 3 worn ball bearings which fell out onto the ground. I remember a mechanic told me to hone out the axle part that held the ball bearings. I installed larger ones that were available for this sort of a problem, it worked. I was quite proud of myself.
We soon found out that to cross over Pine River it could be done if you removed the fan belts so that they did not splash water all over the engine.
I sold my first Jeep as I found one in much better condition on a used car lot in Kitchener and purchased it.
I was getting beat racing up the steep banks we encountered on our beach trips so I put on a full set of new General Winter Cleats which had an aggressive snow tire type tread. Victory for me! Nobody could beat me up the cliffs, however on the sand my tires dug in and I trailed behind everybody, so there went the winter cleats.
On a trip to Bayfield, just before the harbour, my Jeep was the last in the line and it bogged down in quicksand. Try as I might there was no way I could get out of this mess. By this time a group of cottagers had gathered around cheering as they really did not like us at all, so no help was coming from them. I was actually ready to walk away from my Jeep and let is slowly disappear in the sand. We found a tree limb and started prying up on back while five other Jeeps were hooked on pulling in unison. Finally with one large mucky sound it emerged from the mire.
My last tale – I had my girlfriend Sylvia with me in the Jeep one Sunday and was driving down what’s now known as Cove Road. Many times I had driven up the bank and landed in Sunset Park by myself. You had to turn sharp right halfway up and then gun the vehicle to get to the top which was a very steep drive.
Well I thought I would surprise Sylvia and started up the bank with her holding on for dear life and when I made the sharp turn she rolled out of the Jeep. I could not stop at this point and carried on till I crested the hill. As I sat in the Jeep, Sylvia came climbing up the bank on hands and knees and as she got to the top I never knew she could cuss the way she did. As she lived on Wellington Street, not that long of a walk away, off she went never to get in my Jeep again.
One of the bigger surprises we encountered on our trips was the amount of people making out on the sand. Many a time we saw beach blankets hurriedly being pulled over bare bodies; Oh that was great fun!
By the start of the 60’s we were now getting married, Jim and Bill both died tragic deaths at a young age so most of us sold our Jeeps. Len Harmen kept his for personal use and in parades for several years. At the time I write this – March of 2022 he and I are the only two members left still living.