Operation Pineapple

Brasil to Alaska in a CJ-3B, 1955


2009 Cover page
Even today it would be an ambitious expedition. In 1955 it seemed like an impossible idea, for three Scouts to drive from Brasil to Canada to attend the 8th World Scout Jamboree, on to Alaska, and then drive home. The CJ3B Page was pleased to present this account as our May 2009 cover story, and it will appeal to anybody with a sense of adventure, particularly those of us who were once Boy Scouts. -- Derek Redmond

The Plan

PosterThe 8th World Scout Jamboree 1955 would be the first major international gathering of Scouts outside of Europe. Rover Scouts Hugo Vidal, Charles Downey and Jan Stekly, of Scout Troop Grupo Escoteiro Carajás in São Paulo, Brasil, probably saw this poster showing a Canadian Scout in front of Niagara Falls, and they dreamed of a trip through 17 countries along the new "Pan-American Highway."

Named "Operation Pineapple" because of the the tough, jagged, forbidding exterior of the tropical fruit, their journey eventually took 12 months and covered 72,000 kilometers.

Route mapThe Pan-American Highway is a network of roads from Argentina to the United States. Except for an 87-kilometer (54-mile) interruption of swampy rainforest, called the Darién Gap, the road links all the mainland nations of the Americas. According to Guinness World Records, the Pan-American Highway is the world's "longest motorable road" (Wikipedia) but because of the Darién Gap, it is still not possible to cross between South America and Central America by traditional motor vehicle.

The "highway" passes through many diverse climates and terrains, from dense jungles to cold mountain passes. Some stretches of the highway are passable only during the dry season, and in many regions driving is still occasionally hazardous.

This map (370K JPEG) shows the route taken by the three Scouts in 1955-56, using the Pan-American Highway for much of their trip up the west coast of South America and through Central America and Mexico. They continued to the Jamboree, then north to Alaska and back across the US, and returned to Brasil by ship.

The Vehicle

3 ScoutsCharlie (left), Jan (center) and Hugo (right) were given a 1954 Willys CJ-3B (serial number 57438-15279-B) for the adventure, through the efforts of J.B. Versteeg of Willys Brasil, who was involved in the Scouting movement and had met its founder Lord Baden-Powell at the 1929 World Jamboree in England.

This photo of the Jeep was taken on the 1956 return trip, the roof rack loaded with souvenirs and the rear window covered with stickers.

The Operation Pineapple logo can be seen on the side, along with the names of sponsors including São Paulo Jeep dealer Agromotor, and steel hardtop manufacturer Carraço (120K JPEG). Above the windshield is painted "Brasil-Canada," and below it appears to say "Equipped with Brasilian parts."

The Jeep was prepared with a 60-liter water tank, two spare 30-liter gas tanks, two spare tires, and a roof rack on the steel hardtop. It got a beefed-up suspension to handle the increased weight. Because of its pineapple paint job it was given the name "Green and Yellow."

Charlie was in charge of financial matters, and Hugo was the chief mechanic. Public relations and purchase of supplies was everybody's responsibility, along with washing the Jeep, and kitchen duties in rotation. Driving schedule was two hours each, with no extensions. The crew's motto was of course "Be prepared!"

The Trip

MudThey left São Paulo on 2 April 1955, aiming to reach Niagara-on-the-Lake in August of that year. They actually headed south for Uruguay and then Buenos Aires, Argentina, to reach the official start of the Pan-American Highway. (See a map of the actual route travelled (100K JPEG).) Rainfall meant fording water up to 70cm (27 in) deep on this initial segment.

After removing the mud that literally covered Green and Yellow, they headed into the Andes, where they found cliffs bordering roads little wider than their vehicle. In Santiago, Chile, they got an enthusiastic reception from local Scouts.

In Valparaiso they saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, but the Atacama desert soon meant extreme temperatures of heat during the day and cold during the night. With water in the radiator, they had to drain the block at night to avoid the danger of freezing. They also had to stretch their water, food and gas to make it to Antofogasta where they could restock.

Detouring through Boliva took them though the salty region of Salinas, and the water and salt resulted in an electrical short circuit. Then the Bolivian Altiplano brought altitudes up to 4300 meters (14,000 ft), where it was necessary to adjust the carburetor. They took a brief break in Lima, capital of Peru, and it was June 22 when they left Lima, enjoying paved roads to the international bridge that marks the border with Ecuador, a bridge painted half in the colors of each country.

At the equatorEcuador was a challenge, with both high altitudes and lower areas of heat and humidity, where they crossed the Equator (left). In Colombia they decided to take aother detour to Bogota, the capital city. But on hearing that a ship would soon be leaving to Panama, they rushed to the coast, covering 1280 kilometers, including 700 in the mountains, in 51 hours. They arrived to find that the ship was delayed.

Between northern Colombia and southern Panama are the ancient swamps of the Darién Gap, impassable to vehicles. But Pan American Airways came to the rescue with a DC-4. With rear wheels and roof rack removed, the Jeep was loaded with only 2 inches of clearance, and flown to San José, Costa Rica, where Charlie, Jan and Hugo enjoyed the friendship of Costa Rican Scouts.

Shortly after leaving San José they faced the biggest shock of the trip; on a muddy wooden bridge the Jeep slid off into a ravine and turned over. But the steel hardtop possibly saved their lives, and the Jeep suffered only minor damage.

After passing through Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, they were forced by highway and political problems in Guatemala to put the Jeep on a train for Mexico. From there it was relatively smooth sailing despite some heavy rain, and they reached the border with the United States on 11 August. In the next five days they crossed Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

The Jamboree

Courtesy Niagara Falls (ON) Public Library

Four and a half months after leaving São Paulo, Charlie, Jan and Hugo crossed the Niagara River into Canada about 20 km below the famous falls, and reached the goal of their automotive adventure.

The official Jamboree photographers Shore and Willey took the only photo I have seen showing the Jeep's rear compartment. Photo courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library.

Niagara Falls
The site of the 8th World Scout Jamboree was rolling parkland at the Fort George National Historic Site in Niagara-on-the-Lake. More than 11,000 Scouts from 71 countries and colonies attended this gathering, which was notable for the number of Scouts that crossed the Atlantic by air to attend -- 1,000 from Great Britain alone.

World Scouts
The Jamboree of New Horizons, as it was called, was held in a tent city next to the recently reconstructed War of 1812 historic site Fort George. The Jamboree was the first to be held in the Western Hemisphere, and saw the introduction of the World Membership Badge which is still worn on the uniforms of Scouts the world over.

Tales of the efforts made by Scouts to attend the Jamboree, in addition to the Brasilians in their CJ-3B, included the New Zealand contingent leaving four months ahead of the event and travelling over 30,000 miles.

Swiss Scouts
Sawyer's Inc.'s "View-Master" sent a 3D photographer to the World Jamboree to document the event, for a set of three View-Master discs in their "World Events and Festivals" series. Thanks to Scouter Kevin for scanning those View-Master reels, although the scans do not really compare to the three-dimensional View-Master images.

Viewmaster color
The most exciting find among the 21 View-Master pictures is this one, captioned "Brasilian Scouts and their much-travelled jeep," and revealing details of Green and Yellow's paint scheme.

Alaska and Home

Philadelphia After the Jamboree, Charlie, Jan and Hugo visited New York and Quebec. They were starting to look less like Scouts and more like tourists, in this photo taken in Philadelphia and published in the September 1955 issue of Willys News.

ToledoIn Toledo, Ohio, they visited the Willys factory. They were still planning continue to Alaska, and the engineers at Willys found the 3B to be in perfect mechanical condition. With proper antifreeze in the radiator, they headed west to Chicago and then up to Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Dawson Creek, mile zero of the famous Alaska Highway.

AlaskaOn 11 November they reached Alaska, where they stayed at a U.S. Air Force base. They wanted to reach the Arctic Circle, but at this time of the year it was only accessible by air. However, they travelled to Anchorage and to the settlements of Bethel and Kwethluk on the Bering Sea, and by courtesy of the Air Force they visited Fort Yukon, 12 km inside the Arctic Circle.

RioAfter changing a flat tire in Rio de Janeiro, Green and Yellow returned to São Paulo on 14 April 1956, 1 year and 12 days after its departure, and was welcomed by the governor and a huge parade.

It was a great accomplishment for the three Scouts, and we're proud that a Willys CJ-3B was part of this demonstration of the spirit of the Pan-American Highway and the spirit of Scouting.

Extreme points reached during Operation Pineapple:


A New Green and Yellow

Tub As of 2009, Hugo Vidal was the only member of the trio still living. At that time he said, "For years I tried and tried to find the real O.P. Jeep, going through national and state vehicle registrations, following many leads, contacting collectors, Jeep clubs and magazines, etc. Just for your information, the numbers (always in my wallet) are: serial 57438-15279-B and engine 4J-86619. Unfortunately this never materialized, so I recently decided to restore a look-alike, and found one in pretty good shape to start working on it."

Engine Hugo decided to cut no corners in the building of his Green and Yellow tribute Jeep. The original tub was repaired (above), and the rebuilt engine and tranmission are assembled here. See also the frame in the paint shop (80K JPEG) and the axles and disc brakes (140K JPEG).

2017 In early 2017 he updated us: "After many detours like building a new house, intensive travels, etc., I finally put the Jeep back in perfect shape."

The new Green and Yellow has been getting lots of exposure in Brasil. Hugo and his mechanic friend are seen here exhibiting the Jeep at a sports show.


Hugo was invited to bring the 1954 3B to a Jeep event, with an original yellow wheel which he had saved, and a poster showing the extreme points of Operation Pineapple as listed above.

2017 The interior of the beautifully detailed Jeep includes a custom Operation Pineapple dashboard plate.

Hugo also mentioned his new plan to participate in the 2017 "Alaska or Rust" trip: "You certainly know about The Alaska Jeep Caravan being organized for next July and I am very keen on taking part in it since that territory is specially meaningful to me. My plan is doing that with my son who lives in Florida. First step will be to purchase another good condition CJ-3B. How would you suggest we go about finding that creature?"

Well, Hugo and his son Fernando eventually decided to go along on the Caravan, but in a new Wrangler provided by Jeep. On 24 July they crossed into Canada -- see an update at eWillys. And see an article from the 18 August Whitehorse Star: Traveller reprises 1955 Alaska Highway trip (220K JPEG).

Hugo also did a 10-minute radio interview with CBC Yukon.

CarajasThanks to Hugo Vidal, to Jonathan Govier and Grupo Escoteiro Carajás for preserving the story and photos of the Pineapple Operation on their website in Portuguese, and to Denis Silva for telling us about it. Also Toby Shellard for his Carajás Scout Group Memoirs. An article originally written in Portuguese by Rogério Ferraresi appears at Allpar.com. -- Derek Redmond

I added the Operation Pineapple CJ-3B to my fantasy gallery of Matchbox toy Jeeps, The CJ3B Page Collection.

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Last updated 18 August 2017 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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