1. home
  2. events
  3. Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival 2016

Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival 2016

Jim AllenPhotographer, WriterBantam Jeep Heritage FestivalPhotographer

There's something very fitting about a Jeep event in Butler, Pennsylvania. After all, it’s where the Jeep began. Yes, Willys-Overland, of Toledo, Ohio, is most famous for mass producing the standardized World War II jeep and turning it into an American icon. Still, we shouldn't forget that the Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania, created the jeep template and was the first to turn a vague idea into reality. That’s just one reason Butler is such an awesome place for a big Jeep event.

It started in 2011 when the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau had an idea to do a big Jeep event. They had a five-year plan, and every event they did exceeded the previous. For 2016, the event was handed off to the Friends of the Bantam Jeep Association and this organization will run the event from now on. Most of the same people who had been doing the event previously transferred over, including a base of loyal volunteers that come in year after year to work and play at Butler. They include members of the Heritage Region Jeep Alliance, Muddy Buddys, Big Rubbers, Ohio Valley Jeep Alliance, PA Jeeps, Boy Scouts Troops 53 and 806, Masonic Lodge 272, American Legion Riders, Civil Air Patrol, CB Rangers, and Rodfathers of Butler. That isn't a complete list and there are many smaller groups and individuals that help out. A tip of the Four Wheeler hat to all of you!

The event takes place at the Cooper’s Lake Campground, a few miles northwest of Butler, near the intersection of Interstate 79 and State Route 422. Cooper’s Lake Campground is a great venue because it has all the facilities needed to host the owners and friends of the 2,151 Jeeps registered for the event. They had 135 vendors offering everything from vintage used parts to the newest and most trick aftermarket stuff, the Jeep History Exhibit, a big show ’n’ shine field, and plenty of good food.

The event isn’t static. Rausch Creek Off-Road Park, a well-known Pennsylvania destination for off-roaders, set up a great playground for Jeepers near the vendors area, but across the road were trails through the woods, some easy, some more difficult but all were muddy! Some 1,500 Jeepers signed up to run the various trails. Scenic tours were offered that offered attendees the chance to explore the natural and historic sites that abound in the area, and 824 folks signed up for those. Event Coordinator Patti Jo Lambert reports registration included folks from 30 states, as far west as Missouri, as far south as Florida, and as far north as Maine and Canada.

The Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival has become one of the premier Jeep events in the country and is certainly one of the largest in the East. If what you like to do revolves around Jeeps, mark June 9-11, 2017, on your calendars.

There are always plenty of deliciously strange Jeeps at the Bantam Festival. We didn't get to talk to the owners or builders of this 6x6 CJ, but it looks like it's been around for a while. Nothing cooler than vintage upgrades!

The Festival holds the record for the world’s longest Jeep parade. The parade doesn’t happen every year, and didn’t for 2016, but Jeeps "invade" downtown Butler one evening. With all the food, liquid refreshment, and entertainment available, it made for a great evening of Jeep camaraderie.

If you walked past this ’63 J-300 Gladiator without looking close, you missed a treat. It was built in January of that year and was the fourth DRW Jeep Gladiator of only 266 built in 1963. And it is one of the earliest Gladiators of any type built as well. Sold out of Sacramento, California, the dealer installed a Thriftside bed with extended fenders. DRWs were sold without beds and normally only a flatbed was available from Jeep. According to the original owner, the local Jeep dealer fabbed the bed. The truck still wears the original Amber Poly paint and has a vintage Ramsey, OEM-approved PTO winch.

So, you DRW pickup guys think you're tough? This ’46 CJ-2A was dual before dual was cool, and it’s dual all the way around. Part of the Omix-Ada Jeep Collection, this ’46 column shift was built in June of that year, just seven units back from when the column shift was replaced by the floor shift. The quad dual option was used where heavy implements were used and extra flotation needed. Omix-Ada has this Jeep accessorized to the hilt with period go-to-work options, and it was just one of the historic Jeeps Omix-Ada brought to the show. The current collection numbers 36 and portions of it can be seen at many Jeep events around the country, online at jeepcollection.com, or at the company’s Atlanta headquarters

You could learn a few things at the Bantam Jeep Festival! One of the possible activities was called the Glacial Tour. It wasn’t gnarly, except for the mind, which was blown when you found out the place was once under a mile of ice. The tour took the group to several spectacular geological formations in the area, stopping for some short hikes and interpretation from staff who work at the nearby Moraine and McConnells Mill state parks.

A very special display was unveiled at the Jeep History Exhibit: The Many Faces of Jeep. From the first Bantam Pilot Model of 1940 into the ’60s, this is round one for the display that will eventually cover every Jeep. Many of the earliest grilles had to be reproduced from scratch. The project was the brainchild of Bill Ringeison who took a vague request for a Jeep history display to new heights. A talented group of fabricators, including Tom Flank, did the work to refurbish or fabricate the grilles and make the display. An equally illustrious group of sponsors footed the bill. The display was set up in the Jeep history display building.

Well, you don’t see this every day. While looking for a place to shoot some of the historic WWII vehicles, we obtained permission from the Rausch Creek instructors to pose Richard Harkins’ ’43 M-16 White Halftrack on the Quadratec Jeep playground course. Richard ran the old warhorse over parts of the course instructors deemed it wouldn't totally destroy. In full armor, it weighs in the realm of 8 tons. This M-16 originally mounted quad .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns in a turret. Work pretty much stopped while the White literally crushed the course.

There are many uses for old Jeep parts, including wall art. One vendor had turned an old Tornado OHC valve cover into a coat rack and the grilles were wired so they could make great behind-the-bar wall art.

The Black Diamond course at Coopers Lake had a lot of climbs and descents, mixed in with the usual Pennsylvania rocks. This one was greasy and drivers had to take a little extra care to “thread the needle” between some trees at the bottom.

For the first time since 2011, the event ran without major rain. That didn't mean the trails were dry. So much rain had fallen in previous weeks that there was some worry that they might not be dry enough for prime time. They were plenty greasy, and those with street tires or mild all-terrains often struggled or took straps. Plenty of volunteers were on hand to help out.

There were a few rocky sections on the trail rides, and they were made a bit more exciting by the coating of mud. More than a few times, a thunk, crunch, boing, and crash echoed through the woods.

Without Spicer Corporation, the jeep would not have come together in the rapid way it did. Now known as Dana Spicer, it is still in the Jeep game, both as an OEM supplier and selling parts and crate axles. The company’s display included a number of axle crates, and they had a retro look to them. Garage art, perhaps?

It wasn't all TJ and JKs! A nicely built WJ straps on the harder of the rockcrawl lanes in the playground. Sure, the word “Jeep” most often brings to mind a bobtail, but Grand Cherokees from all eras were represented in the dirt, along with Liberty and Patriot.

You are never too old to reenact military life in the fullest, as these members of the First Frontier Volunteer Cavalry demonstrate. Soldiers had a name for what has been placed on these trays. The initials were SOS, and the laws of propriety don't allow us to explain it more here. A wise soldier didn't spell it out in earshot of the Mess Sergeant if he ever wants to eat again.

Still ready to serve! Bill Engeman's ’57 Willys truck with a Valley Industries fire conversion was a knockout at the show. Originally fielded by PPG in one of their many factories, it was designed as a first response vehicle. Get there quick and try to knock a fire down or hold it down until bigger help arrives. Engeman is a retired firefighter/paramedic who collects and restores vintage fire equipment. This truck is showing only 5,888 original miles. It's a 4x4 with the 226ci Super Hurricane flathead six. Built on a standard 115-inch wheelbase, 1-ton Willys cab and chassis, Valley called this conversion the Champion. It used a Darley 500-gpm, 150-psi front-mounted pump driven directly off the engine crankshaft. It also mounted a 150-gallon booster tank with a 150-foot, 1-inch-diameter hose reel. The chassis was modified with extra heavy-duty springs, split ring wheels with 10-ply tires and a heat exchanger on the engine to keep it cool during stationary pumping operations. Engeman restored the paint but the interior and most of the rest is still original. Dave Logan of the Omix-Ada Jeep Collection learned this truck was going up for sale and arranged to buy it for the collection.

One of the old Jeep sales slogans was, “Go anywhere, do anything!” Well, here is the poster child for that slogan! One of the foundational elements to the Omix-Ada Jeep Collection is this ’46 Harvest Tan CJ-2A column shift to which a dazzling array of period go-to-work accessories have been added. Yes, it's a fanciful display that would never have happened in the real world but it illustrates the wide variety of uses to which the early Jeeps were put. The accessories include front and rear dual wheels, Novi governor, Ramsey MX-200R PTO winch, rear PTO with drum-type angle drive, Newgren three-point hydraulic lift, Canfield wrecker attachment, Farnsworth and Middlekauff PTO-driven GE WD3200B welder conversion, Westinghouse T-1 underhood compressor, K&K sicklebar mower, and Newgren buzz saw.

The First Frontier Volunteer Cavalry set up a kid’s basic training obstacle course near their encampment. They earned stripes by successfully completing the course.

You can't have a story from Butler without paying homage to the Bantam. Here is a ’41 BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car) from the Omix-Ada Jeep Collection. Restored some years back by Ken Hake, it shows the final evolution of Bantam’s take on the jeep. Considered a prestandardized test model, 1,500 of these were ordered from Bantam for operational testing. In the end, more than 2,600 were built, many of them going to American allies under the Lend-Lease program. This is the 1,211th one built and was delivered in April 1941. They only had 45 hp, but Bantam knew how to build light and these rigs only weighed about 2,000 pounds.

SSO (Special Sales Order) Renegades are not common and Aaron Jarvis’ ’72 was a treat. The Renegade had started under Kaiser in 1970, but the ’72s were the first time AMC's touch was visible. Unlike the later RPO (Regular Production Option) paint and decal packages, the ’72s came with the 304ci V8, a limited-slip rear axle with 3.73:1 cogs, a rollbar, American Racing alloys with H78-15 Suburbanite tires, skidplates, special colors and stripes. By the standards of the day, it had as much “go” as “show.”