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March 2009 Dr. Vern - The Jeep Whisperer

Posted in Features on March 1, 2009
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Contributors: Dr. Vern

"All rise, court is in session for the mental health committal hearing for Dr. Vern." I always knew it would come to this. The government has always had a vendetta against radical thinkers like yours truly. My Jeep-related viewpoints are clearly sufficient to have me locked up in an institution. Society would then be safe from my influence, with my days kept busy weaving baskets or training to be a magazine editor. I'll even admit an ongoing bias against the legal system, because I was previously hauled into divorce court and convicted of being a man.

The question about my sanity stems from a unique view I have about old Jeeps that, well, seems downright crazy. Actually, it can apply to any old vehicles, but especially Jeeps. After a while, a Jeep becomes a living, breathing being, almost like a family member. So yeah, lock me up in the rubber room, but it all makes perfect sense to me. In my defense, if you think you might be crazy, then you probably are not. A hallmark of a proper lunatic is not even considering the possibility of being insane.

I first noticed a shift in my thinking when a friend made mention that old vehicles seemed to like me. I didn't quite understand this at first, but he elaborated that cantankerous old machines behaved for me. In a similar vein, I've been told on several occasions that animals seem to like me. Dogs, for example, are easy enough to impress. Crouch down to meet at their level, use a firm but cheerful voice, and most important of all, keep plenty of treats in your coat pocket. It's easy enough to comprehend why somebody might call me the Dog Whisperer. But now I was being told I was the Jeep Whisperer, too.

Looking at the evidence, well, it is a little inconclusive. I'm not one of those guys who religiously maintain his vehicles so I'm not sure why my Jeeps would be so pleased with me. I like 'em to run reliably, of course, but a lot of routine maintenance ventures more into the realm of few and far between. I think the engine oil in my CJ-2A is only one change removed from the Clinton administration. The brakes on my '63 Willys wagon? They are due for some major work, but I probably won't get serious about it until they stop working completely and/or start making a lot of noise.

Perhaps I'm not as far out in left field as I think I am. Who else has given a name to a vehicle? That's a sure sign of treating it like a family member. My faithful old pickup was given the nickname Bessie many years ago. At 11 MPG, she's no longer a daily driver, but she still takes care of camping, Jeep-towing, and parts-hauling duties. She's also the one who gets called out in foul weather, such as when the roads are covered in ice and your teenage daughter claims she can't make it home. You'd be amazed what can be accomplished with the combination of an overprotective father and chains on all four wheels of a devoted old pickup

Curiously, the rest of my fleet never really picked up nicknames, but they certainly have their own personas. My CJ-2A, for example, is just itching to hit the trails. It's like being around a teenager who doesn't have a fully developed preservation-of-life gene. No matter how gnarly a trail might be, it's as if my Jeep is taunting me to try it. Now that I'm old enough, it goes without saying that I have a strongly developed preservation-of-life gene. It's okay because discretion is the better part of valor. I might feel offended if my Jeep starts making chicken noises around me, but so far this hasn't happened.

Don't bother saying my lack of fortitude is probably the saddest Jeep-related thing in existence, because there's something even worse: The museum-piece Jeep. I may not be piloting my Jeep over death-defying trails, but at least it's out there scraping against tree branches and over rocks, delighting yet another generation as we explore the great outdoors. What about a Jeep destined for a museum, whether in a real exhibit or simply entombed in a garage after a restoration? Oh sure, they look nice, but it always seemed so heart-breaking for the poor Jeep so entrapped. If you're skeptical whether Jeeps can have a soul, look at one that's had all the life sucked out of it before you decide.

For a good example of a Jeep brimming with life at the other end of the spectrum, consider my '63 Willys wagon. I once had a job that let me spend most of my waking hours at home. There was always plenty of time to spend with the kids, and then I'd work on my Jeep projects while they were in school. The cushy job is long gone, I'm raising the kids on my own, and they have morphed into those most curious of creatures: Teenagers. They might want the world, but they also expect three square meals a day on the table. You may really wonder if I'm crazy, but I think my newest Jeep understands the situation. While her various problems aren't too serious, she still needs a massive injection of time and money to be safe for driving. At first I felt guilty because the wagon sat neglected while I did the Dad thing, but now I swear those big headlights are nodding in approval. This Jeep has been around 46 years, and will be here for plenty more. What are a few quick years to wait until the kids are out on their own? (Trust me, with my cooking, they'll move out as soon as humanely possible.) So I'm throwing in the towel, and you can lock me up for a while in the insane asylum. I'll just put my Jeeps in storage, but I don't think they'll mind waiting. Dr. Vern

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