Keepsakes are interesting things. Sometimes they’re useful contrivances, and sometimes they serve no purpose other than eliciting a memory. But sometimes they’re the vehicle through which memories are made. And yes, that was an intentional pun because for me and my family, we seem to make the majority of our memories via motorized cars, trucks, Jeeps, and boats. It should come as no surprise considering what my day job is, but my kids have grown up with a half dozen 4x4s of all sorts in the driveway and didn’t believe me at first when I told them not every kid in their school went off-roading in Moab and hardcore trails around the country on a regular basis. And while each of my four kids has their personal favorite of all my vehicles, they all seem to have a soft spot for the family Wrangler, “Project Why-J.”
I bought the ’89 Wrangler back in September of 2008 as a non-runner. I brought my two oldest boys with me to purchase it, loading them in their car seats and shuttling them a couple hours from San Diego to Riverside. My youngest was only two years old and slept through the process as I winched the Wrangle up onto my trailer, but my oldest, who was four at the time, had fun counting the black widow webs that canvassed the undercarriage and engine bay as the Jeep slowly ascended the ramps up onto the deck. He still remembers the sight of huge, black spiders crawling all over that rig as I strapped down the axles.
After getting it cleaned up and running, I loaded my (then) family of four inside and headed out to Borrego Springs to run Coyote Canyon with my buddy and his TJ. We had a great day, except for the fact that I left the doors at home and the trail took a lot longer to get through than I anticipated. The ride back was absolutely freezing, so when we got home we made the kids hot chocolate and popcorn and watched a movie under blankets in the living room. Now, 12 years later, my oldest will still talk about that super cold Jeep ride and the hot chocolate warm-up afterwards.
Since I’ve changed so little on Why-J over the years, it’s almost never down for repairs or modifications and it’s usually ready to go when my other projects aren’t. For this simple fact, it’s been to Moab Easter Jeep Safari almost a half dozen times. It’s also one of my only 4x4s with more than two seats, so it usually gets the nod when an off-road family wagon is needed. Before our third child came along, we’d often hit Hell’s Revenge or just take it with the top off to Milt’s for a malt and a burger. As our kids increased in numbers, I would bring my three boys along in Why-J while I covered events and trial rides for the magazine. They couldn’t wait to jump out and scale ledges like spider monkeys and throw rocks whenever the Jeep came to a stop, and they still talk about all the trips and trails with vivid recollection.
As they’ve gotten older it’s still my only multi-seat trail-capable 4×4, so it’s often what we take for a quick desert outing or back to Moab. And it’s comfortable enough that even my mom has ridden in it across Hell’s Revenge. They boys still talk about taking “Mimi” up Tip Over Challenge in the Jeep, and my daughter loves to ride around town with the top off.
And now that the oldest of them is approaching driving age, they’re arguing over who gets to drive Why-J when they get their licenses. I know I’ve made memories with this little Jeep. I know I’ve got many more memories yet to make with this little Jeep. But now I’m hoping someday, assuming it stays in the family, that my grandkids might take their first off-road trip in this little red Wrangler and usher in an entirely new generation of memories. I can only hope.