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Pacific Northwest Jeepers get muddy for a good cause at the 2016 Oregon Mud Fest

Posted in Events on March 16, 2016
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Photographers: Larry WaltonRon Apling

Andy Leisinger tightened the last lug nut and gave the 38-inch Super Swamper a loving tap before climbing into the driver seat of his ’84 Wagoneer and firing up the 350ci Chevy small-block that resides under the faded gold 4x4’s hood. “I built this old Jeep for one purpose: to have fun,” said Leisinger.

With that, he backed it off the trailer, and along with a couple friends sharing seat space, headed for the 40-acre mud playground that had brought some 800 vehicles and more than 1,800 off-roaders to this farm in the rolling hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley just a few miles from Sweet Home.

It was Mud Fest 2016, an annual daylong mud bash put on by the Santiam Four Wheel Drive Association (SFWDA). The SFWDA is a small, but close-knit, fun-loving group of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts with a mixed bag of vehicles from trucks and SUVs to specialty rigs and Jeeps. The common denominator is they love wheelin’ and having fun together. They are also dedicated to supporting local and regional charities, which is why Mud Fest is such a success.

For The Love Of Mud
The club has been putting on a muddy play day like this since 1969, according to Don Frick, one of the long-standing members. The event is so popular that the 1,800 tickets for this year’s gathering sold out in less than an hour on Ticketmaster. Mud Fest, which is typically held in early March near Sweet Home, Oregon, draws four-wheel-drive enthusiasts and their families from northern California to Vancouver, B.C., and all points in between.

The attraction is mud. Lots of mud. Thick mud. Thin mud. Deep mud. Sloppy mud. Brown and gooey mud. The event has been held at this same cattle ranch for the last five years, and the club, along with dozens of volunteers, turns 80 acres of grassy pasture land into a mud-lover’s dream, complete with concession stands, drag strip, bogs, and an assortment of other mud challenges fitting for any level of four-wheel drive.

SFWDA’s Mud Fest is very organized, safety-oriented, and focused on having fun. That’s why the event’s rules are simple: no 2WDs, alcohol, drugs, weapons, littering, disorderly conduct, or reckless driving. Get muddy, enjoy the day, and get your vehicles washed on the way out. They have three manned wash racks!

Geared For Fun
Chris Gray and Jeremy McGar love the way Mud Fest is set up. The two unloaded their Jeeps from trailers along with dozens of dozens of other participants who trailered rigs to the event from all over the Pacific Northwest.

Dustin’s ’47 Willys flatfender was parked between a beat-up ’74 Ford pickup sitting on tall, skinny tractor tires and an ’80s Camaro perched on a K-5 Blazer chassis, much like his Jeep. The trail-worn black Willys, with 36-inch Swampers and a 327 Chevy, looked and sounded a lot smaller in comparison to the two 4x4s on either side.

But this event isn’t about competition. It’s about slinging mud and having a good time, which is exactly what Dustin planned on doing as he donned a rain jacket before heading to the playground.

Chris’s red and black ’77 Cherokee—with the roof still adorned with the factory chrome roof rack—also looked like it’s tackled its fair share of muddy Oregon backroads. It’s built just for recreation with a 6-inch Rusty’s Off-Road lift to clear BFG KM2s. He cranked it up. The AMC 360 sounded stout. “Time to sling some mud!” Chris proclaimed.

That’s the common thread that draws Jeep enthusiasts to Mud Fest year after year. The parking area was teaming with Jeeps spanning a wide range of makes, models, and configurations, from stock to full-on custom. We watched as Wranglers, Cherokees, Grand Cherokees, CJs, and Willys owners fired up their rides and headed to the mud.

Jeeps Versus Mud
And there’s plenty of it. Mud Fest participants have free reign to choose where they want to go inside the 40-acre play area. Those with stock 4x4s and smaller rigs tended to play on the flat pasture area where the thick, clingy mud is only ankle-deep or take on climbing a couple equally muddy dirt mounds or the two-lane dragstrip or any one of a dozen mud holes and smaller mud pits the SFWDA has built on the site.

Those with bigger ambitions (and vehicles to match) headed up the sloping pasture land to a trio of deeply rutted, 200-foot-long mud bogs, two of which have 7-foot-deep pits at the ends filled with three feet of soupy mud. The most difficult bog has a rock stair-step ledge at the exit point.

Only a handful of the Jeep drivers we watched made it through the more challenging bogs, and none made it on the very first attempt. However, when they finally beat “The Pit,” drivers got a hearty cheer from onlookers snapping photos and shooting video of all the non-stop action and antics.

Stuck and broken rigs anywhere on the muddy playground were quickly and efficiently extricated with the help of tow straps attached to the buckets of several track hoes moving around the site, or hooked to the rear of two four-wheel-drive tractors, a log skidder, or a dozer. It’s a well-orchestrated, smooth running event.

We watched one seasoned track hoe operator deftly uses his machine’s bucket (see them work in the video imbedded video in this story) to gently nudge a Wrangler through one of the smaller mud-hole sections where knee-deep mud was covered by a foot of water. The Wrangler was clean and shiny going in. It was mud-brown coming out.

Charities Get The Win
Seven hours after the first Jeep’s tires hit the mud, the last mud clods finally settled to the ground and the roar of revving engines grew quiet. Mud Fest 2016 was officially in the books. But that was not the end. After the 80-acre site was smoothed and seeded to it’s pre-event cattle-grazing form, another group of people were smiling. The profits from Mud Fest 2016 were distributed to some local and regional charities and causes that SFWDA supports. It’s a tradition dating back to the late ’60s when the club’s first mud event was held.

That charitable giving is another reason Mud Fest is an event etched into the calendar of Pacific Northwest Jeepers. It’s the ultimate mud party for those who thrive on getting down and dirty in a 4x4, and knowing the cost of the ticket is helping lend a hand to others in need is all part of the draw. To learn more about Mud Fest 2017, visit or call 541/367-7547.

Mud Fest gates open at 7 a.m., but many of the 1,800 attendees to this year’s event lined up hours earlier. About a quarter of the 800 vehicles on site were trailered in.

The lower mud flats on the 40-acre play area were where many of the more stock vehicles spent their time.

This driver tackled one of the slippery mounds in a Grand Wagoneer Limited. Finding traction on the steep, muddy slope was no easy task.

Rusty Barton’s yellow ’89 Wrangler was the same color as everyone else’s rigs at the end of the day: mud brown. His Jeep is mated to a ’79 Bronco chassis and running gear.

Early morning rain clouds parted and Mud Fest attendees were greeted by a rainbow and several hours of sun before the rains came back after noon.

Quite a few vintage Wagoneers, such as Jeremy McGar’s ’77, were in attendance for Mud Fest 2016. But his was the only one we saw with 2 1/2-ton Rockwells and 44-inch Swampers. He left no bog unchurned.

Rain slickers are the perfect outerwear if you are attending Mud Fest, especially when you come to play in an open flatfender with mini-terras!

Stuck or broke? No worries. The SFWDA had several track hoes running around on site to give a helping tug—or a tow back to firmer ground.

AAA isn’t coming out to give you a lift back to the parking lot when something breaks at Mud Fest. Fortunately, there’s always someone close by to lend a tow strap and a pull.

Always the show-off, Steven Montpas displayed his Willys’ hill-climbing prowess. His huge rock-crawler was just as adept at mud with 54-inch Boggers giving it plenty of traction.

One of the joys of Mud Fest is the knowledge that when you tackle a challenge and don’t quite make it out there will be a friendly tow strap close by.

Mud Fest 2016. Need we say anything else?

The exit out of the mud bog known as “The Pit” was up a two-step rock ledge after you got through 75 yards of fender-deep mud. It’s a tough out even for specialized Jeeps running 54-inch Boggers.

This driver rolled his nicely set up Grand Cherokee across one of multiple ditches on the lower play area.

“Just taking mom and the kids out to get a few groceries.” This Jeeper knows how to enjoy Mud Fest 2016 in comfort and style.

Ah, the fun of hitting a fun section of mud at speed and not having a care in the world. Hammer down, junior!

Not all of Mud Fest 2016 participants brought Jeeps. Ron Pelz showed how to conquer “The Pit” using the power of the 632ci Chevy Big Block in his ’40 Chevy Business Coupe. The stock frame was modified to hold the four-link coilover underpinnings and 44s.

Ask anyone at Mud Fest 2016 what he or she thinks of the event and you’ll get this reply.

This Jeep had very little problem navigating the various mud obstacles on the 40-acre playground. A V-8, Rockwells, and Boggers are a great combo to tackle Oregon mud.

Chris Gray took a moment to fill out a Jp tech sheet before heading out into the muddy fray. His ’77 Cherokee still runs the stock AMC 360 and four-speed, but he did add a Rusty’s Off-Road suspension so the 35-inch BFG KM2s would clear the body.

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