The Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival celebrates Butler PA as the "Birthplace of the Jeep," where the American Bantam Car Company developed and produced the Bantam Pilot Model in 1940. But Bantam and Willys Jeeps are pretty much just sidebars in this huge event, which this year drew thousands of Jeeps over the course of three days. I'm guessing probably 90% of those Jeeps were Wranglers. The picture below shows just part of the festival site at Cooper's Lake, west of Butler.
In the far right background above, the Jeep History building represents an excellent effort by Bantam and Willys enthusiasts such as the Butler Flat Fender Club, to keep the heritage alive for the many thousands of Jeep fans drawn to the Festival by the off-road activities and the aftermarket parts displays.
A new exhibit unveiled in the Jeep History building this year was a collection of all the Bantam and Willys grilles from the 1940's and 50's, including a yellow CJ-3B grille. A great piece of work, which involved building the early examples from scratch.
Here are Mindy and Bob Christy with Derek and Roseanna Redmond on Friday morning. See also a better view of Bob's 1953 3B, which was part of the display of 1950s Jeeps. But in this photo you can see his newly-painted Newgren scoop mounted on the rear. Bob's Jeep went on to win first place in the Show 'n Shine contest, in the stock flatfender category.
A nice surprise in the vehicles display, was this mid-1950s Valley Fire Truck, a just-completed restoration by Bill Engeman of Wexford PA.
Exciting news: the truck has been purchased for the Omix-ADA Jeep Collection, which will be displayed at the Omix-ADA Jeep Heritage Expo in Georgia on 16 July.
The fire truck was apparently in service with PPG Industries prior to being sold as surplus in 1992. It is stocked with an interesting collection of equipment, and complete with a very stylish streamlined roof light (90K JPEG) which it picked up somewhere along the way.
There were several Jeeps from the Omix-ADA collection on hand at Butler, including this beautiful 1941 Bantam BRC-40, one of about 2,600 reconnaisance cars built by Bantam before WWII jeep production was turned over to Willys and Ford. Jim Allen helped pump a little gas into the BRC so it could be driven to a photo shoot. Dave Zibrat, President of the Butler Flat Fender Club, was holding the hood while Dave Logan of Omix-ADA started the engine.
Of course Omix-ADA, and their upgrade parts line known as Rugged Ridge, also had some newer Jeeps in their huge display in the vendor area. This one is their military-style accessorization of a 2014 Rubicon, called "Kilroy."
If you preferred more authentic military vehicles, there was a "military encampment" with WWII and later Jeeps on display, including this pair of M170 and M-725 ambulances.
Some of the kids may have gotten a bit more than they bargained for, when they signed up for the boot camp. But the parents loved it.
A lot of kids, along with some older RC fans, also hung out at the Hobby Express display of scale model Jeeps, including an off-road course for the cool and very realistic radio-controlled models being built these days.
Meanwhile, the full-size Wranglers were lined up to get out on the 5 different trails laid out for the Festival.
There were flatfenders ready to get in the mud too, although this buggy didn't have a whole lot of Willys in it.
Bill Ringeisen and Gerald Oswald, a couple of the prime movers of the history program, decided to show the Willys flag out on the trails, and took us for a tour.
Suzanne and Roseanna were in the back seat of Gerald's CJ-3B, with Bill's M38 behind, as we cruised the easy but fun trail designed for stock Jeeps.
Gerald also took us to nearby McConnells Mill State Park, where we drove under the rock formations of the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge.
We stopped beside the restored mill and the covered bridge, which was a great photo op for Gerald's '63 CJ-3B (200K JPEG).
On the way back into the Festival grounds we were passing a long line of Wranglers heading for town, when we suddenly noticed a high-hood Jeep sitting on the shoulder, waiting for the traffic to pass.
We turned around and pulled up beside perhaps the last thing we expected to see, a Mitsubishi Jeep from Japan.
Emmett Lodge had just driven in from Ohio in his 1988 Mitsubishi J53. He discovered that he couldn't afford a restored Willys 3B, but was able to buy an imported Jeep from Japan in early 2015. The J53 has a 2.7L diesel engine.
Everybody was heading into Butler on Friday evening for what I think is the signature event of the Bantam Festival -- the "Jeep Invasion." 1,200 Jeeps lining both sides of the downtown streets, which were then turned into a pedestrian mall for an estimated 20,000 Jeep fans. Needless to say, it created some traffic jams.
But once we found a parking spot, it was a great opportunity for people watching and Jeep watching, and of course photos.
This nice lifted Willys pickup and wagon had an excellent spot in front of Butler's "Chop Shop Grill."
We didn't have a chance to eat at the Chop Shop, but we had a fantastic dinner later, a few doors away at the Natili North Italian Restaurant.
The first CJ-3B we ran into was Bill Parise's '53, with its Ford Tuxedo Black paint and its distinctive wheels and front-tilting hood. I had seen photos of it in the past, with a Steelers football scene painted on the hood, but now it had a collage of patriotic military scenes, which Bill said involved 72 hours of airbrush work. See also the engine (190K JPEG).
Not exactly my thing, but Roy Magarigal's 1974 CJ-6 conversion did stand out.
Another 3B, and this was a great find -- a one-family Jeep owned by Robert and Olivia Lanning of Slippery Rock PA, near Butler. Robert got it from his older brother, who bought it new in Pittsburgh in 1962. It was originally white, was later painted blue, and then the current color, 1970's Ford Lipstick Red. At least 12 people from 3 generations have learned to drive stick shift on this Jeep, and it has had a Meyer snowplow its whole life.
Olivia made the quilt that covered the seat, using Festival T-shirts from every year since it began in 2011. It was a quick history lesson for Roseanna and me, since our last visit to Butler had been back on Father's Day 2000.
The flying goddess (120K JPEG) hood ornament (made in the USA by Gem) seemed to suit Dave Lewis' 1949 Jeepster (170K JPEG). In the background are Mitch Gehret's 1984 CJ-7 and Jeff Decker's 1950 CJ-3A (200K JPEG). All three Jeeps are from Ohio.
And from Florida, appropriately, came the only Surrey we saw at the Festival. But what a Surrey it was, with a GM V6 engine and automatic transmission. Owner Henry Andrews decided to paint the DJ in a custom copper metallic, with matching striped upholstery.
Although the only Surrey was copper, not pink, there were some other pink Jeeps to be seen, usually indicating female drivers. The Festival had several competition categories specifically for female Jeepers.
Colored LED headlights were the popular new accessory this year. And there was plenty of loud music, from DJ's set up along Main Street. (Disc Jockeys that is, not Dispatcher Jeeps.)
The young folks having fun with their JK's are the potential future keepers of the Willys flame, which is why the Jeep History component of the Festival is so important.
Saturday morning at the Show 'n Shine field, we found a couple more 3B's, in the flatfender Modified category. As it turned out, those two Jeeps took first and second places in the category. With Bob Christy winning the stock category, high hoods almost swept the flatfender awards.
Thomas Bruce, of Charleroi PA, took first with his blue '61, with lots of chrome and a very sharp interior (180K JPEG).
Glenn Meyer of St. Mary's PA, also went the V6 route, with a very original-looking Dauntless in his green '56. This is the kind of installation that sometimes makes people think there must have been CJ-3Bs with factory V6, and it took second place in the modified category.
It was great to see a good turnout for the Willys section of the Show 'n Shine, which certainly got lots of looks from the Wrangler owners.
Back in the Jeep History building, I did my presentation in the History Speakers Series, talking about the development of the CJ-3B and its very successful spread around the globe. Thanks to Hobby Express for sponsoring the Speakers Series, and to Jp magazine for posting a video of my talk on Facebook (Part 1 and Part 2.)
Then Roseanna and I had to head out for our 5-hour drive to eastern PA for the Great Willys Picnic on Sunday.
Thanks to Gerald Oswald, Bill Ringeisen, Ellen Roberts and everybody involved in the History activities at the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival. -- Derek Redmond
See Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, 2011, when Butler first claimed the Guinness Record for the world's longest Jeep parade.
See also our 2000 visit to Butler, in On the Trail of Jeep History, Part 2: Butler, Pennsylvania.
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