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5,570 Miles to Pick Up a ’49 CJ-3A

We Head Across Country to Rescue a Jeep <i><b>Bonus: Behind-the-Scenes Video of the Trip--And It Ain't All Pretty</b></i>

John CappaPhotographerVerne SimonsPhotographer, Writer

Litter, road-kill, and frontyard troll culture—there is nothing better to inspire pride in our great nation and we here at Jp could not stand not being able to see it first-hand. We had been in Los Angeles too long and needed to see what our readers on the other coast were up to. That, and Jp’s newest staffer, Verne Simons, originally from North Carolina, had rushed out to L.A. so quickly upon receiving the job that he somehow completely forgot to bring the new ’49 CJ-3A in his parents’ garage, and now yearned for it greatly. Somehow, we convinced the powers that be that a recovery story, as well as visits to Tellico and Monteagle were in order.

The solution was for Verne, John Cappa and Tori Tellem from Emap Digital (she works on our Web site) to take, er borrow, a brand new ’01 Jeep Grand Cherokee from some other four-wheel-drive magazine and blast out to the East Coast to recover the flatfender.

Unknown to us at this point, our timing for the trip was very good. We would avoid at least four major winter storms by mere days, making a trip that could have lasted many weeks, in only 11days. The flatfender’s timing, on the other hand, could not be any worse. Despite our many attempts to make it work it refused to run properly during the entire trip. For more pictures and video clips of the trip make your way to the Jp Web site at www.jpmagazine.com.

Day One

We rendezvoused in Borrego Springs for the beginning of our adventure. Little did we know the joy and discomfort that we all would share during the next nine days. The pranks started early, by turning on the Grand Cherokees seat heater while the passenger or driver is not looking you could effectively increase the temperature of their bum, causing squirming and general discomfort until the jokee has the judgement to notice the little red LED light on the switch. This trick would raise its ugly head many a time along the route east, and started a theme of pranks and retaliations that would continue until we returned to Los Angeles. We blasted out of Borrego just around sunset in a mad dash for Winslow, Arizona, where we stopped for the first night. But before we got to Winslow we were detained by a freight train, passed our first psycho on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and had a customary late night snowball fight in Flagstaff.

Day Two

The second day of our trip would later become known as the day that would not end. It started calmly enough with our first series of roadside attraction signs promising many wonders of the world, free polished wood, and 99-cent big gulps. This attraction also became the first official sighting of large concrete Dinosaurs trapped in fierce battle scenes near the ancient fallen trees. Later we passed our first large life-like vermin statue, a huge jackrabbit. Lunch was had in a shady steakhouse somewhere in New Mexico. We continued east through the night, passing many a roadside attraction for “The World’s Largest Prairie Dog,” rattlesnake heads, and alligator-foot back scratchers. John drove throughout much of the night staying alert by downing a one-liter bottle of Mountain Dew at three consecutive gas stops. The rest of the morning John shook uncontrollably and took on an eerie yellow-green hue.

Day Three

The third day was really just a continuation of the first day because we all wanted to get to Durham, NC, as quickly as possible. Breakfast was had at a roadside Waffle House. Somewhere near the Waffle House we spotted our first and only pink polka-dotted elephant. (Sure, we were sleep-deprived, but this thing was real.) By the time we arrived at Verne’s parents’ house on the evening of the third day we had traveled around 2,500 miles on seven hours of sleep. The seat heater joke had at some point been confused with the heat seater joke, and all we wanted to do was snooze for a few days.

Day Four

Waking fully refreshed despite the earlier two-day-long driving bout, Verne prepped the flatfender for the long journey ahead of it by changing all of the fluids out for some synthetics from Castrol while Tori and John shot pictures and chatted with the folks. Little did we know that the flatfender had already conspired against us by throwing off its timing at every stop, and thus only drove 43 miles out of our total of 5,570 miles traveled, despite many hours spent with the hood up and tools out. After we gobbled down lunch with Verne’s parents, trailer wires were installed on the flattie, and we loaded up and headed out for our next adventure in Tellico.

Day Five

We fired up the flattie and despite its inability to run on more than 3 cylinders, followed Ken Shupe and his friends out to the Tellico ORV Area’s trail head where the old Jeep rested while we went out for the trail ride. Upon returning the flattie fired right up in anticipation of being towed behind the Grand Cherokee for a while. When we got back to the hotel we hooked up the flatfender and made our way towards Monteagle, Tennessee, for the next day’s trail ride.

Day Six

We woke early and headed towards Brian Boyd’s grandmother’s house near Monteagle where he and some of the Middle Tennessee Trail Runners were ready to hit the trails. When we arrived at the house we once again fired up the CJ-3A to head out to the trail. On the trail, Verne promptly got stuck and needed a bit of a tug from Brian’s hybrid cab truck. After the trail ride we got some down-home cooking from Brian’s grandmother, and headed back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

Day Seven

Memphis, Tennessee: home to Elvis. To some Elvis is a god; for us Elvis was closed. We wanted to check out what Elvis had going in Memphis, so we made a stop at Graceland only to be told that the mansion was closed. We thought about checking out one of the museums, but they were all exceedingly expensive, and would not allow photographs, videos, smoking, drinking, or anything generally associated with being fun. So after getting busted for taking pictures of Elvis dolls we coughed up five bucks and got ourselves a cheesy Graceland postcard.

Day Eight

Somewhere in Arkansas, Verne decided to try the flatfender out on some paved roads, which went well until some hills were encountered. The misfiring L-head would not make enough power to climb even mild grades at a safe speed, so it was retired back to its trailer duties. Hot Springs, Arkansas, offered lunch and some steaming pools of green water. We were tempted by the wax museum, but President Carter who was seated in the museum front window wasn’t too convincing. Somewhere south of Hot Springs we drove by a man riding a bright orange lawnmower like something out of the Straight Story, so we stopped and gave him a Jp license plate. Gary Hatter was on his second trip around the country. He was looking to get his name into the Guiness Book of World Records and had thus far nearly tripled the old record for mileage on a riding mower.

Day Nine

We woke to find a light dusting of snow over both Jeeps, and most of the road. One of the first bridge crossings involved about 40 feet of uncontrolled sliding and required a stop to kiss the ground and change underwear. We now drove relatively slowly and made our way past a few wrecks on our way to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, where the flatfender was again fired up and driven around. Hard to believe when we arrived at the Caverns they were also closing for the day. So we walked around the museum and snapped a few photos. Next stop: Roswell.

Day Ten

Despite our night spent in Roswell no one was abducted or even got to see a real live alien. We did see many ads including aliens in a weak attempt to attract tourists. We headed out of Roswell on our way to White Sands in hopes of picking up some pictures of radioactive signs, but no such luck. What we did find were some patches of snow to play in.

Day Eleven

After Roswell and White Sands we decided to put some effort to getting back to Los Angeles before they hired a whole new staff to run Jp.

Day Twelve

The last day of our trip was spent rushing back to L.A. We all were relatively quiet as we contemplated how our lives would continue without having the other two members of our trip in close proximity at all times. We also realized that it would have been much cheaper, and less time consuming to just buy a Willys Jeep on the West Coast, but then again think of the adventures we would have missed:

Six roadside dinosaur parks.

Five large lifelike concrete vermin statues.

One item stolen (no comment).

One word invented: Prostatellite.

One chicken as road-kill.

One life-size pink polka-dotted elephant.

One toilet in frontyard.

Nine police pull-overs on the side of the highway that will be later aired on Cops.

Seven psychos walking down the side of the road (think Deliverance).

Fifteen adjustments of the flatfender’s timing and tinkering with the ignition.