by Rich Mylar
In the last installment of Jeep Stories From the Northwest, Rich was settling down and building a new garage at his cabin in the hills of Idaho. But this time it's a couple of years earlier, and Rich is back from Vietnam but still working in his home town. -- Derek Redmond
It was April of 1973 and I was underneath my 3B, giving it a complete service in my garage back in the old hometown. The weekend was coming up in a couple of days and I was going to head up to the high country, to see Popeye and Grigs and see how the winter went for them.
As I stuck my finger in the transfer case to check the oil level, I heard someone come in the garage; it was my brother Mike and my brand new brother-in-law Roger. "Anyone home?" Mike called out.
I rolled out from under the Jeep on the creeper, saying, "Hand me the grease gun that's hanging on the wall." A few words of greeting were exchanged, and I went on greasing the Jeep as the hot motor oil drained. Roger asked me, "What are you doing?" Roger was a city boy and never been around Jeeps until he ran into me.
"I'm getting my Jeep ready to go up to see Popeye and Grigs this weekend. They live in the brush -- ya wanta go? I plan on a little trout fishing while I'm there."
A big smile exploded across Roger's face as he said, "Sure, why not!"
Mike looked Roger right in the eyes, saying, "You go to the mountains with this spud-brained brother of mine and you'll be sorry."
"What do you mean by that, Mike?" Roger asked.
Mike looked directly at Roger, saying in a serious tone, "Last year me and ol' Spud here went up to Popeye and Grigs' place in his old CJ-2A and I have never been so cold, wet and miserable in all my life. Old Spud gets the Jeep stuck and we shoveled mud for hours. It was out of one mud hole into the next; I never thought the misery was going to end. When we made camp it rained and rained and my sleeping bag was soaked. I tried to sleep, but all I did was shiver and shake."
"It's not my fault you brought that wimpy weak-sister sleeping bag along and no poncho. I told you them cute little ducks inside your bag wouldn't keep you warm where we were going."
Roger elbowed my brother, saying, "Come on Mike, this sounds like a fun trip. I've never done anything like this."
Mike put his hand on the roll bar of the 3B, looked down at his boot and thought it over for a moment, then said to me, "Last year I promised myself I would never go with you again. The only reason why I'm going to go now is to make sure my sister doesn't become a widow."
I laughed as I replied, "It wasn't so bad. So we got a little damp and cold, that was good for ya; it will harden ya up."
Mike looked at Roger, saying, "Come on let's go to the army surplus before it closes. I gotta buy a sleeping bag and some cold weather gear." They walked out of the garage and I called out, "Hey Roger, don't forget to bring your long-handles."
The next couple of days went very slowly for me, working at the army ammunition plant, doing final machine work on 81mm mortar round bodies. Finally, it was Friday night end of shift, and I headed home, a little faster than the law allows.
Just as I turned off the highway, I could see Roger's dark green pickup parked in front of my house. As my '57 Chevy truck rolled into the driveway, I saw Mike and Roger standing by my 3B and they had their gear in the back with fishing poles hanging over the tail gate. I grabbed my gear and fishing pole, as well as my camera. I had taken the top off the Jeep, and this was a decision all three of us would come to regret a few hours later on during the night, as we gained elevation in the mountains.
The F4 was warming up at a quiet throbbing idle, and finally it was time to leave. I pulled the headlight switch out and the Jeep rolled forward in first gear at the same time. It ran very well in the cold damp night air, each cylinder firing perfectly. The 3B climbed Apple Cider Hill with the temp gauge staying right at 180 degrees. A few more miles down the road, we hit a low pocket of cold air. At the road speed of 50 MPH or so, this added even more to the chilling effect of the wind.
We rolled into Sonora and I yelled softly over the whining transfer case. "Ya wanta get some coffee?" My hands and legs were going numb on me and I felt stiff and very cold. I would never admit to Mike or Roger that I took the top off far too early. Anyone who has ever charged around in a Jeep with the windshield laid down knows what I am talking about. We all love that open air freedom.
We warmed up in the Europa coffee shop and guzzled down cup after cup of their finest mud. My brother sat across the table from me asking, "Which way ya gonna go this time?"
"I'll take the short cut; the last time we went the long way."
My brother clasped his cup with both hands as he spoke: "The river may be too high to cross over this time of year."
"Yeah you may be right Mike, but we can always go back the long way," was my reply. "When we get to the river let's make camp and see what the river looks like in the morning."
I felt the blast of cold air hit me in the face as we left the coffee shop and I pulled my wool watch cap down lower over my head. We all piled in the 3B and tucked a poncho over us to ward off the wind. The Jeep charged up the steep Twain-Hart grade with the headlights piercing the bone-chilling late night air.
Roger spotted the last phone booth along side of the highway before we rolled off the pavement onto the dirt road, and he yelled out over the roaring engine and gear case whine, "Let me out at the phone booth; I'll call my wife and she'll come and get me. You guys are insane! This is too cold for me."
I pretended I could not hear Roger, and rolled on by the last phone booth we would see for a couple days. It was only a few more miles until we hit the dirt road that would take us to Popeye and Grigs' place. My hands were hurting me badly, even with my thick wool army mittens on.
We hit the dirt road at last and I had to slow the 3B down to about 25 MPH. At this speed it almost felt warm to me as the Jeep rambled and bounced along. We had made it to the river at last and shut the Jeep down. Mike grabbed his flashlight and walked down the road to the River.
Roger and I grabbed our sleeping bags and unrolled them, and closed them up with ponchos as we crawled inside to get warm. This was to be the worst night ever for me in the Jeep with the top off. I had been wind-chilled, but nothing ever like this before or since.
I could hear Rogers's teeth chattering, and I had to bite down to keep my teeth from doing the same. I heard Mike hiking back from the river and could see his yellow-colored flashlight bouncing off the trees as he made his way back to camp in the darkness.
As Mike unrolled his sleeping bag, I asked him from the breathing hole of my slowly warming army sleeping bag, "How does it look?"
"The river don't look that bad at all; it's lower than I thought it would be for this time of year."
Mike crawled into his sleeping and we all slowly drifted off to sleep as we warmed up. I was the first one to wake in the morning and I was hungry, so I got up in the chilling morning air, put on my coat, and then commenced to building a cooking fire.
The smoke stung my eyes as I cooked the bacon and eggs. I yelled out, "Get out of the sack and have something to eat." Mike was the first one up and wolfed down the breakfast as if he was in a hurry. Roger had a hard time getting up, but he finally made it to the fire pit, zipping up his coat as I stirred the bacon and flipped eggs.
"Mike is right, you are crazy. I have never been through anything like last night." Roger pointed to the frying pan saying, "You're going to eat that mess?"
"It's just a little wood ash, hell, it won't hurt ya," was my reply. "Eat up or go hungry."
Roger took the bacon and eggs, pushing the wood ash to the side of the paper plate with his fork, and he picked up speed wolfing down his breakfast. Then Roger and I loaded the 3B as Mike poured water on what was left of our campfire. I lit up the Jeep's engine; it rolled over slowly at first, as the 30-weight motor oil was very cold and thick. Then it roared to life and settled down to an idle with a slight amount of choke still on to keep it idling.
It was time to cross the river. I had turned the hubs in and put the 3B in low range. Mike grabbed my camera and shot some film of us crossing the river. I turned the Jeep around and went back across the river to pick up Mike, and Roger said, "This little Jeep of yours is amazing; I've never seen anything like this before."
I eased the Jeep out of the river on the far side, it easily crawled up the bank, and then I put it back into high range as I spoke: "From here on it is going to get a little bit muddy boys. We have to go up a hill and it can get pretty bad there."
We came to the base of the hill, and the Jeep charged forward through the mud, slinging some of it onto the windshield and on top of the front fenders. Finally, the Jeep stalled out and refused to go any further. All four wheels had broke traction, and spun freely in the slick, thawing, red colored mud.
I shut the engine down, with the 3B leaning to the right side in a deep gooey rut. I could tell my brother was angry with me again by the tone of his voice: "I knew this was going to happen; you never learn do you? I prayed the Jeep would make it up this hill."
I grabbed a plastic bucket with my new tire chains out of back of the 3B. I threw Mike a tire chain, saying as it landed at his feet, "I don't learn huh? Chain up or shut up."
We jacked up the Jeep and put chains on all four wheels. I fired the Jeep again and it crawled right out of the mud hole never slipping a wheel. The worst part of the road was behind us now and I felt much better. We ambled along on our way from mud hole to mud hole, to Popeye and Grigs' place back in the mountains.
We stopped at Grigs' log cabin and visited with him for a little while. Mike, Roger and I went to work splitting and stacking firewood by the fireplace for him in his drafty old log cabin. Grigs lived all his life without power or running water. He was somewhere in his early 80's back then, and splitting firewood was getting beyond his capabilities at that age. I am inclined to think what kept Grigs from freezing to death during the winter was all the dogs piling on him when he slept.
Grigs' cabin smelled musty and of dog as I carried in another load of firewood. Grigs asked me as I put the wood down, "Ya want to buy a copy of the book I wrote?" Grigs had wrote a book he named, "Tales of California, by Russell C. Grigsby." I gave Grigs five dollars for his 1966 edition book. I was rather surprised that it was a blue hardback copy, and he said, "You will know a few people in there, Rich." He was pulling ticks off his dogs and throwing them in the fire when we left.
It was time to go up and visit with Popeye and his wife Mary. We looked up the muddy, chewed-up steep road going to Popeye's place, and Mike said, "Ya think the Jeep will make it to Popeye's?"
"My Jeep will go anywhere Popeye's old army power wagon will go."
We had a nice long visit with Popeye and Mary, and the time quickly passed us by.
Grigs always let me camp out in an old shack on top of what he named Turkey Hill. This little tarpaper-roofed shack of Grigs' was dry and out of the wind.We had eaten supper, and sipped some of the best tasting coffee I have ever had. For some unknown reason, food always tastes better to me when I am roughing it in the Jeep. That is the one thing in my life that has never changed, in all the years I have owned my 3B.
Mike stirred the fire with a stick, and gazed deeply into the coals. I could see he was lost in his thoughts as I spoke: "I think Chris and I are draggin' up for North Idaho in early summer."
I could tell by the expression on my brother's face he was surprised that I wanted to leave the old hometown behind for a new land, and he asked, "What are you going to do up there?"
"I hear the fishin' is real good up there and there are thousands of miles of logging roads to explore. I'll get me a job logging or at some sawmill. Something will show up, it always does. I just want out of this ant farm down here."
This was the last time I would see Popeye and Grigs. A chapter in my life was about to close, but I did not realize it at the time. I still have Grigs' book sitting on my bookshelf, and whenever I see this blue book I think back to those wonderful times I shared with them in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
We'll see more of Popeye and his Power Wagon, in a future installment of Rich Mylar's Jeep Stories From the Northwest. -- Derek Redmond
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