As I pointed my rental car into the Allen County Fairgrounds in Lima, Ohio, for the 2017 Spring 4-Wheel Jamboree Nationals, a gusher of memories came to call. It was not my first visit to the event. As a matter of fact, I’ve covered the Spring Jambo more times than I can remember, but I hadn’t been to the event for many years. As I scanned the fairgrounds I was reminded of years prior; the feature vehicles photographed, 4x4 owners friended, the hot years, the cold and wet years, and the year the Bigfoot Racing team overserved me baked potatoes.
Jamborees, often referred to as simply “Jambos,” are a unique concoction of 4x4 disciplines. Part truck show; part mud, monster, and Tough Truck racing; and part vendor show, among other things. The Jamboree series was originally developed by 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine back in the ’80s, but was eventually sold to the company that is now Family Events. Fun fact: Family Events also owns Off-Road Expo and the Sand Sports Super Show, which means the company’s off-road roots run deep.
I was recently cleaning out my office and was surprised to find some media badges from my early days covering the Jamboree Series. My first Jamboree was the 1989 Spring Jamboree in Pecatonica, Illinois. I was a Midwest farm-residing 4x4 junkie with a penchant for photography who wanted to work for the off-road magazines, so I pleaded with the editors of Off-Road magazine and Family Events’ magazine, among others, to let me help shoot photos with them at the event. It worked, and surprisingly, eventually led to fulltime employment.
Nowadays there are Jamborees in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. Over the years they’ve been held in a variety of locations. I’ve been to Jamborees in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Pueblo, Colorado; Springfield, Illinois; Springfield, Missouri; Essex Junction, Vermont; Anderson, South Carolina; Sedalia, Missouri; Union Grove, Wisconsin; and Des Moines, Iowa. Additionally, there have been Jambos in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, among others. Thinking back to some of these events I recall being a member of a team of four magazine staffers who swooped into the Fall Jamboree in Indiana to photograph feature vehicles. Two of us were stationed at the event to select vehicles, while the other two were situated at a farm outside of Indianapolis to photograph the rigs. It was SOP to photograph 40-plus 4x4s over the course of the three-day event. This gave us the unique opportunity to showcase 4x4s of fellow wheelers on a grand scale on the pages of the magazine. A thrill that continues to this day.
Another cool aspect of all the years of Jamboree coverage, like other 4WD events, is that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of 4x4 owners. I consider this an honor and I’ve had the privilege of chatting with many and hearing about their passion for four-wheeling. It’s always interesting to see how they build their rigs, often designed to help them conquer the terrain in their area. And since many Jamboree participants love to wheel in general, I’ve even bumped into some of them on trail rides.
So there I was, in Lima this spring, photographing rigs and hanging out with 4x4 fans. Some of the rigs in the truck show were trucks I recognized from more than a decade ago—each one the owner’s pride and joy—while others were daily drivers and trail rigs. The Jamboree series may be dramatically different than events like the Jeep Jamboree, King of the Hammers or a Trucks Gone Wild event, but the end result is the same; revel in 4WD.