Bill Norris

Bill is relatively a new Farm Jeep Friend, but also the one who has had the most influence on Barry.  We knew of Bill in his role as senior editor of the Dispatcher magazine and as a writer and speaker and, of course, for the Holy Toledo! Calendar.  That all changed in May of 2017.  The Spring Midwest Willys Reunion was held in Farm Jeep’s home town of Columbus, IN.  We had volunteered to help in any way we could and that offer turned into a presentation on the history of Farm Jeep hydraulic lifts.  Bill asked if we would like to write an article on that subject.

Writing articles about Farm Jeeps had been on Barry’s bucket list for years.  Bill used his publishing and research expertise to make the articles happen. He also shared his vast knowledge of all things Jeep and continues to do so.  Bill’s desire to preserve history in an accurate and entertaining fashion has been an inspiration as we work to refine the Farm Jeep site.

We have asked Bill to tell his Jeep story in two parts. The first will be about his introduction to Jeeps and the second will cover his publishing adventures.

Part 1 – My Jeepography by Bill Norris

Back when I was 14, dad decided it was time to start looking for a car for me to drive even though I wouldn’t be able to for a few more years. I did not hesitate for a second when he asked me what kind of vehicle I liked. I have wanted a Jeep since I was a kid and dad approved. The hunt began.

We went to the local AMC dealership and priced a new CJ7. We left with sales brochures and figures in hand. We debated what options to get, but decided on a brown Renegade with an inline six and manual transmission.

A day or two later, dad brought home a used car magazine to show me the kind of Jeep he had always wanted when he was a kid- a flatty. After a quick look, I thought those were even cooler than the new CJs. The more I researched the Willys models, the more they impressed me with their endless list of options and capabilities.  Our attention now focused on finding one.

We soon found a fire engine red 1948 CJ2A. It wasn’t in great shape, but it ran and had a snowplow. We probably paid more for it than it was worth, but we were new to the game and really weren’t aware of its value. I made money plowing with it, which I turned around and invested in Jeep parts. I had more fun than profit though, and I learned a lot tinkering on that ’48.

1.       Our first 1948 CJ2A had a very convenient half cab, which allowed me to throw our Toro S200 in the back for snow blowing where the plow couldn’t reach.

There wasn’t much interest in the early Jeeps at that time. It was hard to find information but I was able to locate some original sales brochures, service manuals and the all important parts manual. Amazingly, we were still able to buy some parts at the local Jeep dealer.

The next summer we came across another ’48 that was in better shape- it actually had a floor. Dad thought this one was more street worthy as it has seat belts and turn signals. It wasn’t very original, but it looked good. I wound up driving that one to high school and enjoyed every minute of it. Any excuse to get behind the wheel, I was game.

The following summer, we found yet another CJ2A for sale, actually it found us. Mom’s cousin was selling his 1948 and got wind that dad and I had been bitten by the Jeep bug. We weren’t really in the market to buy another, but you can never see too many Jeeps. Logically, we made the trek up north. His ’48 was nice, but not very original. We remembered he had another one in the barn and asked to see it. It was a 1947 painted baby blue with red and white circus-looking wheels. It had an MB engine in it, but was otherwise very complete and original. We decided we had to have it and would actually attempt a nut and bolt restoration. The Willys hadn’t run in years, so we hitched it up to our wood-grained station wagon and flat towed it home.

2. Our 1947 after we brought it home. I like to think my photography skills improved a bit since.

At that point, there were already two Jeeps in my parent’s two and a half car garage, and my dear mother’s car slept outside. The things I put my mom through make me cringe now- tracking oil in the house and staining her good towels with grease. If she doesn’t make it to heaven, I don’t stand a chance.

The jeeps were narrow enough that we got all three in the garage. We began tearing the ’47 apart immediately and found some surprises right away. There was a bird’s nest in the intake manifold, which I can’t explain because the carb was in place. We found numerous wasp nests in the frame rails, but think they must have vacated on the three hour ride home. The frame was very solid but very twisted. The parking brake skid plate was bent down 90 degrees. However, the more we took apart, the more complete and original it appeared to be. It even had the original exhaust system including hangers and clamps.

My dad had ulterior motives when he bought all those Jeeps- he thought they would be good bonding projects for us, keep me busy and out of trouble, and that I would be a more responsible driver if I worked on the car I was going to drive.

A couple of years into the project, dad was out of town on a business trip when he had a heart attack during lunch. Amazingly, three people were at his table that knew CPR, but because he was eating they needed to clear his passageway before they could resuscitate him. This cost valuable time and consequently, dad suffered considerable and irreversible brain damage. He lost his eye sight, some memory and hearing among other things. He essentially would have to go through the painstaking process of learning the basics of life all over again. He was no longer able to work and was forced into a medical retirement at 48 years old. I was 17 and my youngest sister was only 11.

After a few years of adjusting and accepting our new situation, we felt it only made sense to sell the two ‘48s. However, we began working on the 1947 again. Now, it took on a new purpose. Instead of something to help me, it now helped dad. He was limited in what he could do physically, but it gave him the chance to use his mind. He would figure out ways to overcome obstacles we encountered in the restoration. He was finally excited to spend time in the garage again.

We disassembled the whole thing and started putting it back together. Every mechanical component was rebuilt or replaced, while trying to retain as much originality as possible.

We took all the sheet metal to a local shop to have it bead blasted. When we went to pick up the pieces, all that was left was the grill, cowl, windshield and front fenders. Everything else was basically reduced to an orange powder. This was now our biggest and most expensive hurdle.

I got to know the guys at the local auto parts store fairly well. One of them named Jeff asked me how my project was coming. Little did I know he, his dad and grandfather all painted and restored cars. A week later we loaded up what remained of the Jeep into the back of my buddy’s F-150 and took it to his shop.

Jeff took two years to finish the body. It was well worth the wait though. He faithfully reproduced every piece. We got what patch panels were available at the time, from various sources and researched to see if they were correct. Most were not and had to be shipped back. Some panels weren’t even available like the transmission tunnel. With his ingenuity, Jeff fabricated one from a Dodge Caravan roof.

The Jeep was originally Michigan Yellow with Pasture Green wheels. Dad had a toy CJ2A when he was a kid that was Harvest Tan. He suggested we paint it that color along with corresponding Sunset Red wheels. Jeff did, and we were really happy the way the combination turned out.

When we got the Jeep back together mechanically and put the body on the chassis 14 years had passed. Dad’s physical limitations and my working full time to put myself through college put dampers on our progress. I worked on the Jeep any chance I could get. Honestly, I probably would have had better grades if the Jeep weren’t around to distract me. When it came to choosing between working on the Jeep or doing homework, the Jeep won more often than it should have.

3. Little did my new wife realize she married the Jeep as much as she did me.

We finally took it on its maiden voyage around the neighborhood. We restored it to be a trailer queen, but after the first test drive we decided it was way too much fun to leave stashed in the garage. I have since put about 10,000 miles on the 2A.

4. A picture of dad on our first trip out of the garage.

The next spring, we found a 1947 Bantam trailer. It was the perfect addition for the Jeep. It too, was very complete and original, but rough. It even had the factory Arrow tail lamp still in place. We did the body work on it ourselves and was my first attempt at painting something, and it shows. But, it looks relatively good from a distance and is a great compliment to the 2A as it is essentially the ‘trunk’ for the Jeep holding chairs, coolers and break down tools.  

5. We found our civilian Bantam trailer on e-bay. We drove four hours each way to pick it up not thinking how old the tires were and if they would make it home. Thankfully, they did without incident.

Since completing the restoration, we found a lot of fun in hunting down options to bolt on. The Jeep now has a factory capstan winch, 9 piece canvas top, Willys crested foglamps, Skinner Fuel Filter, Novi engine governor, full rear PTO including a pulley drive which now powers a very rare Westinghouse T-1 air compressor.

6. Our restored Jeep and trailer.

Dad passed away in 2008 after suffering his fourth heart attack. It’s impossible for me to drive the Jeep without thinking of him every time. I’ve had numerous offers from people to buy it, but I never could with the sentiment it holds. I’ll happily let my kids fight over it when I can no longer drive.

7. My oldest son recently acquired his driver’s permit. He soon asked me how to drive the old Willys. He was a natural and picked it up quickly. I’m sure dad was happily watching him.
The local city newspaper did a story on our Jeep a few years back.

Fall 2023 Update

In the fall of 2023, Bill sent us a note that we thought we make a great follow-up to this story:

My son Anthony recently voluntold me he signed up our CJ2A for his homecoming parade. He runs cross country and thought it would be cool to ride in it with a few buddies. I told him sure, it sounded like fun. I just finished fixing four major drivetrain leaks and was ready for another excuse to drive it.

The evening of the parade, we pulled into the staging area. I counted 15 newer Wranglers, mostly Rubicons, and pulled in next to one. It had a considerable lift on it and huge tires. The driver looked at my Jeep, looked at me  and said ‘you win.’

I then went to locate a coordinator to find out where I was supposed to be in the lineup. I assumed I was taking my son and a couple of other cross country kids. I found the teacher in charge who told me to pull up in the front of the line, which I did. She told me it was pretty much decided I had the ‘coolest car there’ and would be driving members of the court. I felt a bit bad as Anthony had to ride in the back of a new Ram, but at least he was with his team and he was satisfied.

I was frankly shocked how many people knew what my Jeep was. I rarely get a second look when I drive it around. I even had a little girl come up and tell me her grandpa has a 1950 Willys and asked to take a picture of it to send to him.

Once Members of the court were assigned cars, a few actually negotiated to see who would ride with me. However, for one girl, not having a car stereo was a deal breaker. It was a perfect weather evening so I offered to put the windshield down, which generated other kids’ interest.I got a real kick out of their process. In the end, Jacob and Natalie ‘won.’