I met all my body parts on an assembly line one day in 1944 at a Ford factory in Detroit City. But my design was created one night in the mind of a Shade Tree mechanic and who’s neighbor was an automobile engineer at the Ford factory in Detroit City. Auto engineer guy would take Shade Tree's ideas and transform them into a working set of drawings, showing Ford how to build a Burma Jeep.
A tacit partnership between Shade Tree and Automobile Guy was formed and that union would show Ford Motor Co. how to build something very unique and useful. It’s 2am in the morning and Shade Tree is talking to himself in bed, about how his Ford Burma Jeep should look. Because it had to navigate 700miles of road that would cross the Himalayan Mountains and be a never ending test of man and machines ability to get the job done.
Shade Tree said “I want the front end to be snub nosed like a pleasingly plump lady with a great head of frizzy black hair covered with a white hair net that people who prepare food wear. The rear end will look like a 300 pound plumber on his hands and knees looking under a kitchen sink for a water leak with his huge cheeks split in two by a plumbers crack covered thank God by a pair of bib overalls gives you an idea of how sturdy the rear end needs to be". All this would roll along on two 8.25 X 20 tires in front and two pairs in the back. The drivers side is pure joy. It has a bucket seat that sits directly to the left of a deep throated, flathead, 6 cylinder, gas slurping 4 cycle 90h.p. brut of a motor. There’s even a small door near the drivers knee so a person doesn’t have to leave his seat to find Burma’s dip stick for checking my oil and a radiator of solid brass big enough to never over heat. Shade Tree looks over at Auto Guy and says “If they will build it just like I’ve told you Ford will have done themselves proud.”
At the engine installation stop on my assembly line journey. The line stopped long enough for Big Plumber to wed Pleasingly Plump a union that they vowed to love each other’s body parts, rust, dents, broken axles and all for as long as they both could travel down life’s road. Then to consummate the union that 6 cylinder brut of an engine was lowered into my engine compartment and with the growl of gears meshing and the assembly line chain moving again (me) Burma Jeep was brought to life.
Wait a minute. I see light at the end of the tunnel. Well it looks like my trip that began with many shelves of dissimilar parts, an army of civilians, then took all those dissimilar pieces and made me into a cocksure, do anything truck, for any job. Look out world here I come. I wonder if the colors of the Burma Road will match my fresh new coat of Olive Drab paint that some guy with a paint sprayer gave me as I exited the building.
The war effort, demands that I be sent into action with all do haste. That made the first day of the rest of my life start by being loaded on to a freight train with a sticker on my windshield, it read deliver to Long Beach California. On my arrival I was off loaded and given no time at all to enjoy some drive time around Long Beach. Instead I was ordered to follow the Jeep in front of me into the bowels of a ship converted to haul several hundred Burma Jeeps. As I was loading a thought entered my mind. I was seeing myself going to war, as a tackle on Uncle Sam’s football team, with thousands of people cheering me on to victory. But I was snapped back to reality when some guy from high above, with a megaphone in his hand yelled “You're in the Army now, get your ass in gear".
The trip across the Pacific was long and tedious and it turned December 1944 into a month that would never end. The air that engulfed our ship was dank and disheveled. Why I didn’t even know the ships name except for the name we all called it “piece of shit”. Everybody on the ship lived with short tempers and fun was hard to find and daily we would ask each other “are we there yet?”. Scuttle Butt is the verbal expression of fussing about what you don’t know and on this ship it was rampant. Then with no fore warning, a shoreline came into view. Reality had finally heard our plea, I just gotta get out of this place and when we thought we couldn’t stand one more day on “piece of shit.” A guy appears with a megaphone and says “we will be unloading tomorrow at which time you will all get maps on how to pass threw Calcutta, India to our garrison next to the Burma Road.
Not in a million can you guess how satisfied I was to finally get a chance to do my job. Me a lineman at tackle position on Uncle Sam’s football team, was about ready to get sent in, to play war. Gentlemen start your engines. Onward to the jungles of India, I didn’t know there were so many rivers and streams to cross always dodging those irritating pot holes and then crossing over Pangsau Pass and all the time driving over a very winding, don’t be afraid of heights, twisting road for 700 miles to finally arrive in Kunming China. It was 3 weeks each way with a 3 to 4 ton load of supplies going to China and returning with wounded soldiers to an American hospital. It was all over in only a moment. In less than a year my glory days were over. The war would officially end on 9/2/1945 and I was out of a job and I was to learn very quickly that one minute they loved you and the next minute you were surplus.
With wars end, it was time for the Army to decide whether to just park me in India and walk away or haul a still good running truck back home? Thank goodness somebody up there loves me, because with only a weeks wait I was told to get my Burma in gear and be ready to load at the Port of Calcutta. The trip home was again long but this time the air that surrounded the ship had the scent of anticipation and laughter and the boat was no longer called “piece of shit”
Long Beach never looked so good but again I was not going to get to see the town as I was told to drive directly to a location on the Mohave Desert and wait. This was something I was learning to do quite well. While I waited the area around me continued to fill with every imaginable kind of thing used to fight a war.
Then it happened again, only this time the guy with the megaphone was a civilian. He said “gather around boys and we’re going to have ourselves an auction.” Next thing I know I’m surrounded by a bunch of rude civilians who were kicking my tires, starting my engine and looking under my hood and they didn’t even ask permission. Well boys, “what will you give me for this nice running Ford Burma Jeep” “Who will give me a hundred dollar bill”. Come on guys, did you come to just sit on your hands? I’ll bid 50 dollars, come on, this old bucket of bolts is worth more than that? Who will give me 60 dollars and the auctioneer looked out on a disinterested crowd an said “Sold for a 50 dollar bill to the guy in the bib overalls.” My, that’s not very much for a guy who was a tackle on Uncle Sam’s football team who was always ready for another trip over the Burma Road so a war could be won. How quick they forget. The next day some stranger jumps into my bucket seat and away we go and I heard him say “Bakersfield here we come.” From my glory days on the Burma Road to hauling potatoes all day to a packing shed would become my lot in life. In the summer potatoes and in the winter it was oranges but I was always ready for one more trip to a packing shed.
Then one day my owner comes by and says “sorry but we can’t license you anymore. So, no more plates no more job besides your not worth what it would cost to bring you up to license plate standards."
Is that all there is? Serve your country with dedication then work hard all my days for 20 years “that’s gratitude”. So here I go again. I’ve been consigned to an auction held every Saturday of 1965 in Bakersfield California home of Buck Owens and his Buckaroos. “Hey well alright boys, what will ya give me for this slightly tattered Burma Jeep” “Yeah, I know he’s a little beat up” Who will give me $50? Hey you in the cowboy hat, what do you think? you could use him around your ranch. Yeah, I guess I can get a year or two more out of him” I heard the gavel bang down as the auctioneer cried "SOLD”.
I took my hat off looked at it for a moment and right away, I knew that I had done the right thing. For it would be the start of a 45 year love affair with my radically, beautifully, do anything, hunk of iron. That hauled hay, gravel, manure, helped build a house and toted seed and fertilizer to plant crops of Barley or Oats.
2010, sorry dear old friend but it’s getting so hard to find repair parts because your now classified as an antique. Did ya know you're a collectible truck, sought after by World War 2 collectors. How about if I don’t allow a picker to haul you off and I just set you on that little rise over there. Then all who knew of your “good works” can come, pat your fenders and say “thanks for a job well done”