The picturesque Arkansas Valley in the central Colorado Rockies played host to the 10th Annual Colorado Flat Fender Fall Color Tour. This yearly event was again hosted by Mike and Nancy Picard, members of the Colorado Flat Fender Club–a chapter of the International Flat Fender Club. Base camp for the event is the Picard’s Thirsty Dirt Ranch, a few miles south of Buena Vista, Colorado.
This year, Mike mowed some of the “back 40” to accommodate the little city of flattie enthusiasts that sprouts up every third week of September. Many upgrades were made to camp this year: a shower trailer, additional electrical hookups, and porta-potties. The event has grown quite a bit over the past decade, not only in attendance but also in the length of the event. In 2016, more than 54 flatties attended over the course of 10 days. Folks from all over the country made the pilgrimage again this year to visit with old friends, make new ones, enjoy the autumn splendor, and share their love of the old flatfender. Trying to absorb the amount of knowledge contained by those that attend the Fall Color Tour isn’t possible with just one trip—it brings the younger generations back time and again to listen to the stories and history lessons told by those that have spent a lifetime immersed in their passion for this chugging little chunk of the past.
One of the highlights of the day was watching three stock flatfenders attack the 5.2-mile 5/6-rated Iron Chest trail that took the modest group of 11 Willys well over 12,000 feet in elevation to the old mine site. Iron Chest Mine dates to the early 1880s where lead and zinc were mined.
With the increase in attendance the event now offers two trip options each day. One is a more challenging trail for those who truly wanted to test their vehicle. The second option is a scenic trip geared to the stock Willys. Bright sunny warm fall days, high winds, rain, and snow greeted those in attendance this year. The Grand Ride to Aspen Ridge on Friday had all the above, and those returning to camp that evening found that some of their tents had been carried off by the breeze to places unknown. The Picard’s opened their home and shop to those that needed to get out of the elements, the family room floor resembling a giant slumber party.
This event feels more like a yearly family reunion, and all are warmly welcomed. Everyone is willing to pitch in and lend a hand when there is a mechanical hiccup, often staying up until the wee hours to get it sorted out. If repairs aren’t possible someone will gladly offer you a seat so you don’t miss any of the fun. If you have an old flattie and are in search of adventure, this is a “must” on your off-road bucket list. For information on the 2017 event or any vintage Jeep events in your area, check out the International Flat Fender Club page on Facebook or head over to thecj2apage.com. Once you’ve been, you will return to this event again and again.
The beginning of Iron Chest trail is a 1/2-mile long boulder field with no bypass. Folklore or rumor (whichever you choose to believe) says the original mine owner brought the boulders in to protect the property from claim jumpers. However, the topography of the site leans us toward myth.
After the boulder field the trail wound its way up through the aspens, across a narrow section of ledge road and on to the top. The view across Grizzly Ridge was spectacular. The tram house was still in decent condition, as were a couple of the old outbuildings.
Historical photo? Why yes, history made and remembered. This little gem known as “Callie” is a ’48 CJ-2A owned by Ragan and Cora Simpich from Fountain, Colorado. Callie boasted the smallest tires in the group and made it all the way up Iron Chest trail, even though a little assistance from a few friends was needed in one or two places. The Simpich’s are known in the flattie world as rescuers of abandoned, neglected, and forgotten Jeeps. Callie is no exception. It was rescued from a Southern California junkyard and brought back to life.
This event isn’t just about running trails. It’s a brother and sisterhood of generations. One forged on a common bond, a love for a rolling piece of history. During a brief break along the trail Jp Magazine Editor Rick Péwé, Ward Williams, and Paul Sites continued their discussion on flatties.
Thursday evening signaled the annual Pot Luck dinner. Everyone joined in for a fine feast. A drawing was held for a few door prizes. Once everyone was stuffed to the gills, the entertainment commenced with Illinois attendee Jeff Petrowich breaking out his guitar and singing some of his own Willys-inspired tunes like “The Run to Aspen Ridge.”
Event organizer Mike Picard carried out his mandatory morning drivers meeting. Participant safety is paramount on Fall Color Tour, as some of the trails can take you well above tree line and it is important to understand the risks involved. Even on the more improved of roads, many stretches are narrow and lack guardrails.
The Friday Grand Ride split the group in half for the Aspen Ridge run, and each group numbered 15-20 vehicles. One group took a southerly route, the other trekked to the north. The groups met part way through the day for lunch and group photos.
Even though the weather was less than cooperative for a good part of the Aspen Ridge trip. The sight of that many flatfenders parked together for lunch brightened the spirits of all. The aspens hadn’t hit peak color in some areas, but it still provided a nice backdrop for photos.
Paul Sites is seen here fueling up his ’48 CJ-2A affectionately known within the group as “Lumpy.” Long gone are the days when you can pull up to the pump and get fuel without stepping out of your vehicle. Flatties aren’t only cool—they’re practical.
Among the notable and rare Jeeps attending the Fall Color Tour was Fred Coldwell’s AgriJeep “CJ2-09.” Built in the fall 1944, it is one of 20 AgriJeeps that were in-house test vehicles for the peacetime civilian Jeep. In 1945, Willys Overland sold this Jeep to the Atlas Supply Company in New Jersey. The Jeep went through a few owners and one restoration before Fred purchased it in 1996. Fred has attended the Fall Color Tour almost every year.
Bob Westerman brought his X98 all the way from New York State for the Fall Color Tour. The Willys X98 was the first known prototype of a Universal Jeep with a Hurricane F-head engine. It resulted from a Willys engineering project started in June 1949 called "Front End Redesign (Model CJ-3A)." The X98 prototype has a raised cowl, a new hood profile with a raised panel in the center, and a slight curve down in the front to a radiator guard somewhat similar to the eventual CJ-5 grille. The new design retained the CJ-3A’s flat fenders. Bob is the author of the reference book The Civilian Jeep Model CJ-3A.