It’s Official. Sunny is for Sale.

23 10 2018

Once upon a time…

There was a young man who lived on the corner of Leonard Street and Prentice Ave. On the same block as St. Marks. His sweet wife and new baby girl loved the new place. There was a park just across the, and it was only a 15-minute bus ride to work on a good day.  But today… today it would take quite a bit longer.  It was December 3th, 1973. A Monday. St. Mark’s had their little manager scene out already.  But it was covered up to Mary’s eyeballs with snow. The Maumee River was frozen, and the busses were all going to be running late.  Julianne fixed an extra thermos of black coffee for him. You know the kind of container. It was shiny green with a chrome cup that screwed onto the top.  It had a handle on the side. He used to have a lunchpail to match. But after years on the job, the hinges on the fold back lid had broken off.  Paper sacks worked fine.  One less thing to have to carry home.

It was a weird time back then.  Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew had resigned a few months earlier.  Gerald Ford would be sworn in as the new VP on Thursday. Little did anyone know that later he would be sworn in as President after Nixon’s departure.  The only man to hold both offices without ever being elected to either. Seventeen days later OPEC doubled the price of crude oil.

As the bus finally arrived at the corner, he stepped on to find no seats were open.  His father had taught him to be a gentleman, and it frustrated him to see a couple of other guys in their 20’s not yield their seats to the aging set of twins who always boarded the bus with him. Even in their late 70’s they wore matching outfits. From their beautiful Winter scarfs to their mud splashed galoshes, the ladies always were as elegant as they could be.  The neighborhood was not affluent by any means.  But they were the jewels that set the standard.  The three of them stood in the aisle holding on to the bar above. He stared at the two derelicts in front of him. Neither looked up.

Post, Texas was a world away from the Stickney Avenue assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio.  The oil fields and cotton farms were what kept Post running. Only 40 miles Southeast of Lubbock, it sits at the bottom edge of a slope that connects it to what is called the Caprock. On top of the cap its flat.  Flat as far as the eye can see. Double T Farms was up there. The Thuett Family raised cotton. Acres and acres of it.  Except for that one year when they grew sunflowers. Giant sunflowers whose faces always stared directly at the Sun. The oil their seeds produced made good money.  Transportation costs were going up. Cotton was heavy when compressed into bales.  Gas was getting expensive. Every farmer was looking for ways to save money and growing sunflowers help a bit. Even if only for one season.  Not only was fuel costly.  Water was too. And right now it was all frozen. The harvest had been over for a few months. Now is the time with they would plan for next season. What to grow. What tools would be needed? How could they make every penny count?

As the bus made it’s way slowly down Woodville Road, he noticed a lady reading a newspaper. One headline jumped out at him. OHIO PREPARES FOR OIL SHORTAGES.  For an auto worker, these words equaled pink slips. He said a short prayer and asked God to protect his family and his job. His promotion, the new house, the baby… His excitement about the upturn his world was seeing had another side to the coin.

During the Sunday night shift, before he got to work on Monday morning, the part pickers had made ready the assembly bundles for the next shift.  They would need to build 1,800 Jeep CJ-5’s that month. One hundred more than usual. The plant would run non-stop until midnight on December 24th and reopen at midnight Christmas night. Suppliers would have to keep up. Even in the unexpected snow. Sixty CJ-5’s a day for 30 days. He was in management now. The first two days of December didn’t make quota. The burden was his, and he was feeling it.

Ronald joined his Dad and older brother, LG, and Jerry, in the farming business in 1971. Fresh out of Texas Tech. The cotton farm had been in operation since 1930 and with 40 plus years of agriculture history on the same land, time was their friend. But with the changing economy and new trade agreements looming, adjustments were going to have to be made to increase healthy yields.

Irrigation was an essential issue at the bottom of the Texas panhandle.  Evaporation was stealing large portions of their most valuable asset. Scientists were developing new seeds along with better and safer insecticides. But water… Nothing could be done without water.

Ronald was keen on a new system to deliver water directly to the soil. Different than spraying water with high-pressure sprinklers, which were essentially water cannons, across rows and rows of plants. Only to let the sun soak up droplets of life-giving moisture before even landed on the leaves. This new way would mean the water would travel along pipes that would put the water directly where it was needed. Lots and lots of pipes.  He figured out a way to make the system flexible using short pieces of pipe that could be moved around the farm and in between the rows. But he was going to need a new tool to make it work.  It was winter, and it was time to research the options.

The weekend shifts had issues.  Issues with snow and freezing conditions. People couldn’t make it into work or were late. The forklifts that were used to retrieve parts stored in other buildings were sliding all over the yard.  There was no way they were going to make their quota. Jim would have to figure out a way to make up the difference.  As he arrived at the plant, he could tell right away it was going to be a bad day. The workers parking lot looked like a giant hockey rink. The men who could make it in from the suburbs were parking their own cars a mile up on the side of the road. Soon after Jim clocked in, he called his floor managers to a meeting in the first-floor break room.  The night crew hadn’t even had the chance to clean out the ashtrays on the tables in the room. The place was a mess.  Jim, along with his frustrated attitude left over from his bus ride, needed a fit and tidy place to make a plan.  So, of course, the first thing he and his managers did was clean up the place. There were 11 guys. It took only 60 seconds.  As each man reported his crew levels, Jim took note of that 60 seconds.

          

The assembly lines weren’t going to make 60 Jeeps that day. Jim called home and told Julianne the situation.  He needed to work late.  Really late. And he needed to have his managers do the same.  But he wanted to make sure she was okay with it. It was going to be a frigid night.  She heard fear in his voice for the first time. He was new at this. He was about to make some people upset, and he wanted to make sure his wife wasn’t one of them.

Another quick meeting in a now spotless break room.  “We are going to shift everyone to teams,” he told them. “Groups of 10 men will build each Jeep. From getting their own parts to final assembly. And we are going to work 12 hours today.” They had 100 men on the floor that day. Less than half the workforce was able to make it in. Ten groups of ten. He set a goal that each group would build 10 Jeeps in 12 hours. Nearly one an hour. He wanted 100 Jeeps in the lot at 8:00 PM.

Assembly line auto plants didn’t work that way. They still don’t work that way. But something inspired Jim to make a change.

Ronald loved trackers.  John Deere of course. But at the end of 1973, he needed something faster and certainly smaller than the Combines they used at Double T. He and his brother drove up to Lubbock to the John Deere dealership so they could at least see what might work. Ronald knew in his mind what he needed, but he just couldn’t put a finger on it just yet. He just knew he needed something different.

After a brief shouting match in the breakroom, the managers drafted their teams.  Each man was allowed 10 minutes to call home to alert the family that he would be late. Jim went to the bathroom and threw up.  None of this had been passed by the men on the top floor. Of course, none of those people came in today. There were no approvals to be given.  He just had to make it happen.

Surprisingly the men on the floor seemed energized. At least they would be able to keep warm by moving all the time.  The men on the Jeep line were all experienced. Most had been there for 15 years or more. They knew how to make Jeeps. Every part of one. This was going to be a different day.  By noon, as Jeep number 35 rolled off the line, the chatter on the floor, which had been muffled at best, was picking up. One group began to challenge the other. Like two football teams working up trash talk. It was all good natured of course.  Jim took his lunch break to move a chalkboard down to the floor. He set up a column for each team and named them after pro football teams which he drew out of a hat. That way no one could pick the Browns or the Bengals.  And of course, no one working at that plant would want to be the Lions. That name wasn’t even in the hat.

Jim was on a team too. The Dallas Cowboys were in fourth place.  All of his managers were on teams. Every hand was going to be needed to make this work.  As the day when on and turned into night, the night shift started showing up around 5:00 PM.  By 7:00 PM there were 60 more workers, and things were heating up.

An hour later the final numbers were tallied up on the old green chalkboard. One hundred and two. The sound of the men yelling as though their team had just won the Superbowl made every piece of metal in the building raddle. Jim’s plan worked. On that cold Winter day on Dec. 4 in ’74, the most senior man on the line handed the keys to a little yellow Jeep CJ-5 with a vehicle identification number of J4F835TA38113 to Jim.  It was sitting at the end of the mile-long conveyor belt.  Jim pushed in the clutch, gave the gas two quick pumps, put the key in and turned it to the right. She started right up.  He drove her out to the lot where she waited for a train.  A train to Texas.

1969

Ronald and Jerry didn’t find what they were looking for on that trip to the John Deere shop in Lubbock.  However, Ronald and his wife Nancy made another trip up there to go Christmas shopping not long after.  There was a new Mall in Lubbock and Nancy had two little ones at home she wanted to shop for. As Ronald and Nancy were pulling into the parking lot, Ronald caught something out of the corner of his eye. Right across the street from the new Mall was a new car dealership. A Jeep dealer.  A semi was there unloading a new batch of CJ-5s.

As they were walking around the Mall, in and out of stores, Ronald couldn’t stop thinking about those Jeeps. Would it work? Was the wheelbase right? Would the engine be strong enough? So late that afternoon, before they headed back over to Post, he stopped in to find the answers.  An hour later he put down $3,574 and drove Jeep number 38113 to Double T Farms in Post, Texas.

She required only a few modifications.  Farmers are, and almost all know how to weld.  On this little Jeep, the spare tire was mounted to the right rear quarter panel. Ronald needed to mount a pipe hanger there.  So he cut it off and welded it to the left side rear quarter panel.  It’s cold on the early Spring mornings in Post, but the Jeep didn’t have a heater.  Add two hoses from the water pump and an electric fan in a thin metal box with a copper coil inside, and you have a heater you can mount under the front seat.  No need for the white hard top either.  Doors are pointless on a farm. Take them off for good. Dirt is always an issue on farm equipment. A commercial grade Harvard Oil Filter was added to help keep dirty oil issues at bay.  After that, she went to work.  For years and years and miles and miles, she helped lay the irrigation pipes in the cotton fields.  That meant less water waste. Which meant better yields.  A plan that worked. They just needed a Jeep.

Jim never knew Ronald. And Ronald never knew Jim.  The cotton Ronald grew was used all over the world. Who knows, it might have even been used make the shirts Jim wore.  They have something in common though.  They both figured out ways to solve problems.

In July of 2009, I suddenly had a flashback of a time when I rode in a yellow Jeep on my Uncle Ronald and Aunt Nancy’s farm in Post, TX. It was a dream really. I had to have been little. But I remember it being amazingly fun.  Out of the blue, I sent a message to my Aunt to ask if such a Jeep existed. It did!  And it was still around.  Deep in the barn was this long retired CJ-5.  My family was down to one car, and I thought maybe, maybe I could scrape together enough to buy the classic.  I could put a little elbow grease on it and make it a fun little ride.

It took a few months, but in mid-September, my dream became a reality.  Delivered on a flatbed trailer in the middle of a rainstorm late on a Sunday afternoon.  Sunny came to my driveway. The beloved Thuett’s had hauled her all the way to me from Post, TX. Exactly 500 miles from their barn to my garage. On that day, like my fictional character Jim had done 36 years earlier, I pushed in the clutch, gave the gas two quick pumps, put the key in and turned it to the right. She started right up.

Around the block, I went. Hitting ever water puddle I could find.  I remember I began to cry as I turned her back towards home. I’m not sure why.  My heart was full I guess. So the rest just spilled out through my tears.

Nine years of buzzing around Shreveport in that Jeep has taught me a lot. Mostly it’s taught me how many people like Jeeps.  Especially old Jeeps. I’ve changed the water pump, the distributor cap, and all the spark plugs and the belts. And I’ve done some work on the brakes.  But that’s really about it.  She has an amazing patina and a straight 6 that will pull stumps out of the ground. There’s no radio and no air conditioning. She’s just a Jeep.  But as both my boys can attest, nearly every single time I take her out, someone will pull up next to me at a red light and ask her age.  And then nod kindly in appreciation of a nice old Jeep.

Something else has happened in that nine years. Suzanne and I have learned that things made of metal rust. And houses built in the 1930’s need maintenance. And college is expensive even when scholarships are awarded.

And that sometimes dreams give way to new ones.

Sunny will always be priceless to me. But as I heard an auctioneer friend of mine once say to a crowd of bidders, “Just because its priceless to someone, doesn’t mean it can’t have a price tag for you!”

As of today, she is for sale.  She is ready for a full restoration, a restomod or merely an “as-is” weekend rider.  The price matches this is scarce find.  Trust me. She’s worth it. Maybe you will be lucky enough to be the next person to push in the clutch, give the gas two quick pumps, put the key in and turn it to the right. She still starts right up.

Serious inquiries message me directly at allen@allenhendrix.com.

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