by Larry Shank
Return to Mom, Dad, a Jeep and a Teardrop: Part 1 or to Part 2: The Movies.
The story of Harry and Harriette Shank's camping trips in the southwest United States concludes with their son Larry's restoration of their customized Jeep CJ-3B and Kenskill Teardrop trailer. -- Derek Redmond
Dad's rig became somewhat of a fixture both in the neighborhood in Glendale and in the backcountry of Arizona and Utah in the 50's, 60's and 70's. During our backcountry travels, Dad met several of the old guides and characters of the southwest. They were always intrigued with Dad's spirit of adventure (and the fact that he took his infant son into the most remote areas of the 48 states). They gave him directions that led us into Canyonlands, Monument Valley, Glen Canyon, and all over the Indian Country/Four Corners region.
The couple in the back of the Jeep in 1953 in Monument Valley is Frank and Louise (my folks' best friends, seen also in the Movies). This was Dad's favorite area to camp and explore. You could pull off the road, wagon track or goat path and camp anywhere you wanted. Mom was a stickler for a clean camp. She even picked up her cigarette butts when we left.
On a later trip in 1955, in almost the same places, they encountered the filming of a classic John Wayne / John Ford western movie, The Searchers. They returned to their campsite of the night before to find that Hollywood had taken over their site and Monument Valley in general.
Today camping is no longer allowed in the Valley. There is now the designated camp with all the "improvements," on the rim next to the Visitors Center. Dad was very concerned when that Visitors Center was built -- it spelled the end of Valley camping and free exploration of the area, and the invasion of Tourism. He was right.
Dad always needed to see "what's over the next hill". He always took a vote before going over that hill, and he always rejected the group consensus to head back. We followed a lot of Jeep and wagon tracks to nowhere, but we discovered some great scenery and had unique adventures along the way. We had enough gas, food and water for about 5 days. This allowed Dad to get good and lost several times. Mom was often scared to death, but fortunately, I didn't know any better -- it was just fun!
Many of Mom and Dad's friends joined us on these trips. Most of them have remained close to this day, partly I believe because of the unique bond these "expeditions" created. This photo shows a group ready for a trip on the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Park in 1956. Mom is on the left, Dad on the right, and me on the step.
The adventures continued until our last trip with the complete rig in the 80's. Dad continued to use his Jeep around town, but its age (and Mom and Dad's) ended the long trips to the Southwest. However, my folks did continue to use the Teardrop behind their Oldsmobile station wagon into the early 90's. My wife Pam and I took them on our last family trip with the trailer (behind my 1984 Jeep Scrambler) in 1992. The Jeep got very little use into the mid 90's. Dad aged dramatically and passed away in 2001. Mom remained alert and active until she passed in 2003.
The restoration process started in 2002 with the Teardrop. The parts and resources were available from the Teardrop Trailer Fix-It Shop. It needed a new axle, wheels, tires and fenders, plus paint and lots of TLC. That was the easy job.
The Jeep project was started in 2005, with help from CJ3B.info and the vintage Jeep suppliers. It's not 100% like it was in its prime, but it's pretty close. It looks more complete with the Willys logos highlighted and the tailgate stencil applied. A roll bar was found at a recycler's. See a left side view of the rear body extension (70K JPEG).
Some parts and accessories were completely worn out and other custom mods (like the 6volt/12volt system) were almost impossible to re-create. Plus, many of the parts Dad used in his modifications were not stock or well documented. I spent many hours determining current replacements. However, it has been restored in the spirit of Dad's original. He (the Jeep) has new paint, wiring, seats, tires, brakes, 12-volt electrics, exhaust, radiator, etc.
Take a closer look at the dashboard with the "evaporative cooler" and added gauges. The cooler was simple -- Dad just pumped water to the tube on the top and it flowed down through the straw. A vent in the windshield in front of the cooler blew air through the straw and you got wet. It worked great at 35+ MPH but was rough on the gauges, which also got wet.
Dad was a Lockheed engineer, so the first gauges (right to left) are aircraft surplus compass, altimeter and inclinometer (nose up/down). The next one was 12-volt amps and the standard gauges. Left to right: engine manifold vacuum, tachometer (belt driven from the generator) and "timing gauge." (The timing could be adjusted to accommodate poor quality fuel. This was a fuel gauge adapted to monitor timing advanced or retarded from spec. There was a small "adjustment wheel" below the dash to adjust the timing as you drove.)
The engine and the T90 transmission were rebuilt about 1980, and they seem to be in good shape. I cleaned the differentials and have flushed/changed all 90wt. oils three times. Hopefully the drive train is fairly healthy -- time will tell.
The wheel bearings were inspected and repacked by a professional shop. The speedo cable broke as a result of the speedometer failing and locking up -- a new speedo from Walcks is installed and working perfectly.
The final detail will be an appropriate sun top. There is not a big hurry on this one. I have all of the Beachwood Canvas info as a starting point. Since my wife Pam did such a great job on the seats (120K JPEG), we may try to do a top ourselves to match the extended body... we will see.
This photo with the wheels turned, shows the swivelling action of the light on the front bumper. The design of the steering headlight is really quite simple -- see a full description of Harry Shank's Steering Headlight.
I finally drove the Jeep and Teardrop on the road together for the first time in 20 years, in April 2006. All was well! We pulled the aluminum boat out of storage, and took the complete setup to a large Central California Car Show. We got quite a response from the people at the show. I was pleasantly surprised -- it looks like authentic 50's Jeeping/camping is "in."
We had the old pictures and documents from the 50' and 60's to show the history of the Jeep and trailer. Much appreciation was shown for the tradition of early 50's camping and offroading, with equipment as it was built and used then (not updated and overbuilt.) We are planning to attend more shows.
Neither the Jeep nor the Teardrop will be 100% original or "frame off" restorations, and that was not the intent. Plenty of imperfections, or "patina", remain on both to retain their character. Dad would have wanted it that way. -- Larry Shank
Larry sent the following update in 2007:
We had an exciting invitation and acceptance to a major vehicle/travel trailer event in San Francisco on June 24 -- the 41st annual Palo Alto Concours de Elegance. Their coordinator for the Vintage Trailer exhibit contacted us looking for "unique and outstanding examples of Vintage Travel and Teardrop Trailers." They are creating a campground of approximately 30 - 40 trailers in a "back in the day" setting. There was also a special interest in trailers with appropriate vintage tow vehicles. They discovered us through the vintage trailer group "Maxitear" here in Central California.
I spoke to the coordinator and directed her to George Wilkerson of "The Teardrop Fix it Shop" and the CJ3B.info feature on "The Jeep and Teardrop." She was thrilled with the photos and story! We warned her that we would be the Beverly Hillbillies coming to Stanford, among the Duesenburgs and Packards, but she said that our rig was just what she was looking for.
The Jeep has had some additional repairs since being back on the road. The T90 trans, Spicer 18 transfer case and rear axle have all been rebuilt and updated. They were in worse shape than I thought. I was very lucky that the local guru on old flat fenders (Ron Heitzman of Fresno 4 Wheel Drive Center) has become a good friend and let me assist him through the process! What a great experience... what an art in doing it right! The Jeep is now so much quieter and smoother.
We attended the Concours de Elegance -- what an event! The classic Dusenburgs, Cords, etc. were amazing; there were over 300 cars. However, our Jeep and Teardrop made quite an impression too. There were two other Willys vehicles among our group of 30+ trailers, a 1947 CJ-2A and a similar vintage Wagon, both with Teardrop trailers. It was surprising to see the level of interest in Dad's modified Jeep, especially the early V8 conversion, in a group of classic cars like these.
No one could match the complete history and pictures of our rig. We had an additional attraction that was hard to top. I transferred your production of Dad's movies to DVD and showed it on a portable player set in the galley of the Teardrop. We often had a group standing shoulder to shoulder to watch. -- Larry
Thanks to Larry for the photos and details. He takes us along to a big trailer event in CJ-3B at a Vintage Trailer Rally. -- Derek Redmond
See also Harry Shank's Steering Headlight -- how it works.
Return to Mom, Dad, a Jeep and a Teardrop: Part 1 or to Part 2: The Movies.
Also on CJ3B.info, see Alan "Tug" Wilson's CJ-3B in the Canyonlands in the 1950s.
The wonderful story of the Shank family has now been picked up by other media, including a video feature on YouTube called This Willys Jeep Has Always Been Out In The Open, a story on the Jeep in Jp magazine, a feature in RV Magazine, an educational film called The Birth of Teardrop Trailers, and Phil Noyes' new book Trailerama.
See other Jeep CJ-3B Owners and Photos.
Go to the index of Unusual CJ-3B Photos.
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