This Surplus Jeep Can Handle the Army and Teenage Drivers

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Buck Woodruff, 71, owner of the Honda Carland car dealership in Roswell, Ga., and his son Harrison Woodruff, 21, a college student, on their 1964 Jeep, as told to A.J. Baime.

Buck Woodruff: I learned to drive in an old Army Surplus Jeep that belonged to another family. I always had a love of mechanical things, going back to lawn mowers, and the Jeep struck me as pretty simple to understand. So, at age 14, I found out where the local Army Surplus depot was, nearest to where we lived in Atlanta, and my mother took me down there, as I did not have a license yet. The fellows there liked me and showed me around. That’s how I got started on Jeeps.

Jeeps were first built during World War II with four-wheel drive, to be able to go on terrain where horses could go. The original Jeeps were built out of component parts, so if something broke, you didn’t fix it, you just uncoupled the component and replaced it. The vehicles were designed so that an American GI—whether he had an education or not—could fix them. Another thing: the Jeeps I have owned didn’t have keys. GIs lose keys. So Jeeps started by a power on, power off switch, without a key.

When I was in high school, my mother and I brought home a horse trailer full of Army Surplus components, along with the carcass of a 1953 Jeep. With the help of an older fellow who was a mechanic, I fixed it up and sold it through a newspaper classified ad. All through high school, I would get one or two of these Jeeps a month, get them to run, put classifieds in newspapers, and sell them. I was making $200 to $500 a month.


Photos: A New Role For an Old Jeep

Buck and Harrison Woodruff show off their 1964 Army Surplus Jeep

Buck and Harrison Woodruff’s 1964 Army Surplus Jeep. Buck Woodruff taught his son Harrison how to drive a stick shift in this Jeep. Harrison later drove it in his high school graduation day parade.

Arvin Temkar for The Wall Street Journal

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More recently, Atlanta has become a hub for the moviemaking industry. I have an old friend that runs a business auctioning off movie props after movies are made. At his shop, I found this 1964 Jeep, and he showed me paperwork saying it was used in the movie “Selma” (2014).

Harrison Woodruff: The day my father found this Jeep, I was across the street from where he found it, taking the test for my learner’s permit. We got the Jeep home, and when we tried to turn it on, it wouldn’t start. My Dad said, “OK, the battery’s dead. Looks like we’re not going to start this Jeep the easy way.” We tried rolling it down a hill and jump-starting it, but that didn’t work, so we pushed it back up. We had to hook it to a Battery Tender. After that, my Dad started teaching me how to drive stick shift in the Jeep.

I started getting smoother and smoother, driving around the circle in our driveway. If I put the pedal to the metal, I could get it into third gear. Eventually, I made it out onto the street and my father taught me how to get around Atlanta while I tried not to stall at red lights or on hills.

Later, my little sister got her permit and she started learning to drive stick in the Jeep. It’s a good vehicle to learn in because if you grind those gears, the vehicle is built to take that abuse.

My fondest memory of the Jeep is taking it to my final day of high school. I drove it in my graduation day parade with a couple buddies.

Buck: These days, young people don’t know what is under the hood of what they drive. Kids that feel comfortable and have confidence in themselves to be able to look at a vehicle, whether it’s a car, a pickup truck, or an electric vehicle, and figure out how to drive it safely—that, to me, is a wonderful thing.

Harrison: The Jeep taught me how to engage with a vehicle. What I mean by that is, I always choose a car that has feel and sensation over something with comfort and ease. I like to feel the pebbles under the tires.

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