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A New Leader - Trail Head

Posted in News on June 5, 2014
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I got my first Jeep in the late summer of 1994. By the time it was legal for me to drive it, I’d crashed it into the garage door (released the clutch too fast). I’d figured out how to put the top up and down in a garage that I’d heated with a kerosene heater over the winter in preparation for spring. I’d already replaced the stereo, the horrible 4x6 speakers, and discovered vinyl seats and 0 degrees plus a soft top are less than ideal. I put 56,000 miles on that four-cylinder 1990 Jeep Wrangler that winter, but by the time spring of 1995 rolled around, it was time for a six-cylinder. It came in the form of a hardtop-equipped Islander edition with no A/C (just in time for the warm weather), and just like that, I was back in the top removal business.

At first I’d just have a friend help me take the top off and then I’d turtle it into the side or backyard. If you’ve never heard of top-turtling, here’s how it works: once the top is off the Jeep Wrangler, put it on the ground. Then, tip up the front edge, scoot under it, put your back flat against the ceiling and lift with your legs. Voila! An easy way to move hardtops! But living in the northeast meant frequent storms so I spent a lot of time running home, sitting under overpasses, or just getting wet. That got old so I figured out a pulley system, and with a pulley from the hardware store and climbing rope, I was able to hoist my top off the Jeep on my own up to the ceiling of the garage.

Fast forward to spring of 1996. Gas was $0.89/gallon, the Twin Towers were still standing, and if you wanted to speak with someone, you either called their house or you went to find them. Do you remember what you were doing that spring? I do. I was modifying that second Jeep Wrangler. It had a 258ci inline-six with a Carter carb that still worked, a five-speed manual transmission that I hadn’t yet broken, and all the rest of the normal Jeep Wrangler stuff. The warmer it got, the more and more I wanted to put a soft top on it; I wasn’t playing those hardtop-swapping games again. There was a Jeep-specific junkyard in town, and by this time I knew all the guys at that particular ‘yard on a first name basis because I’d been breaking this Jeep Wrangler off-road for over a year now.

This was before internet searches yielded eleventy million hits on any subject you care to ask, and while I asked the guys at the ‘yard, in the end I just wandered around the Jeeps looking for the best looking soft top I could find. I ended up with a used Bestop Supertop that would work with my hard doors. I pulled it myself, wrestled it out from between all the Jeeps, and installed it on my Jeep in the parking lot. That was fine for a while, but I set the tension too tight and ended up bending the tabs. So, I started through-bolting it to get the tension right but I never did get the adjustment at the doors dialed-in so it leaked, and I didn’t like having to pull the full steel doors all the time. Back to the ’yard for a factory steel half-door style top. After getting the new top all fit up, and stripped the doors for paint. While the doors were out for paint I stopped by a local Cumberland Farms on my way to work and saw this first issue of Jp.

I bought the magazine immediately, subscribed to it even quicker, and I’ve been reading it ever since. I have read the magazine through the stewardship of Rob Reaser, Rick Péwé, and John Cappa. Cappa eventually hired me on, and I’ve been lucky enough to work at Jp for the last nine years for both Cappa and Hazel. I am happy to be the fifth guy at the helm and plan on delivering the same great stuff y’all are used to seeing. In addition, you can look forward to more fun web-based stuff coming down the ’pike too.

As for me, I’ve owned more Jeeps than I can count over the years from flatfenders to CJ-5s and CJ-7s to YJs and TJs. I’ve even finally acquired a CJ-8 after so many years of longing for one (“Cross-Country Scrambler Recovery,” Sept. ‘06). I’m the same guy that took his M-715 to Moab with no top or heat, only to have the transmission come apart after a week of wheeling (“2,000 Miles in a M-715,” Sept. ‘12), and you can expect to see more of those kinds of antics. I respect the heritage so I’m not going to be getting old and rare Jeeps to cut the top off of them and then bend them in half trying to launch ‘em at the moon. If I could, I’d collect them all like baseball cards.

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