Harry Sheets has always been part of our Farm Jeep live. At least we can’t remember not knowing Harry and benefiting from his experience and, of course his parts business. Harry and Jo live in Crawfordsville, IN, close enough to make it easy for us to visit. Sometimes we bought big stuff, like an engine for the 3a and at other times little stuff. We always got good advice and felt like we were visiting with an old friend.
As the years have passed, we seemed to make fewer trips to Harry’s shop and visited more at shows. Regardless of the location, Harry gave the same hearty hello and the offer of liquid refreshment. Harry and Jo built their business (Midwest Willys) from a part-time venture to a full-time business helping Jeep owners world-wide. But we will let them tell the story.
by Harry & Jo Sheets
When Harry was about 3 or 4 years old, his dad worked for a service station. In the winter, he would drive home this old Willys jeep with a blade on the front so that he could get back and forth to work in the snow. Harry would ride with him, and from that day forward he was hooked! He always wanted to own a Willys.
In 1983, we bought a 1960 cj5 that had belonged to the New Market, Indiana fire department. We had to dig deep to pay the $600 for it, but he finally got his dream! He had to put some work into it, but it ran and we were really happy. We spent many nice days just ‘road farming’ with our little girl in the back seat, a cooler with pop and some pretzels. It was the best way to spend the day.
In 1997, Harry found a 1962 FC 170 living in the weeds and managed to buy it from the farmer. It still ran, and so we adopted ‘Weedpatch’. Then he found a 1953 panel delivery and then a 1956 cj5. As his collection started to grow, he needed parts to fix them up – but in the beginning there was no internet, so it was all word of mouth. Every time he found a part, it was still attached to an entire jeep, so he would drag the whole thing home in order to get that valued part. Soon our back property was starting to look like a junk yard. Jo had recently gotten her own computer and the internet was fairly new. So, she went out and searched for somewhere to sell these other jeeps and/or parts. The Willys Tech Board was a wonderful find, she started listing parts and selling them.
As sales got better, we formed Midwest Willys LLC. We both worked full time and started dragging home more and more jeeps and selling more and more parts. One day a man stopped by on his way home from the ‘Midwest Willys Jeep Reunion’ and gave us a sticker from the event. We had never attended, but decided to go the next year.
Harry worked in agriculture and was usually in busy season when the next show came around in September, but it rained the day before, so we threw some parts into our pickup and drove to Jefferson City. The next morning, we saw vendors set up and felt like we only brought junk, so Harry said we should just go home, but since we drove down we went ahead and opened the tailgate – suddenly we were surrounded with everyone in the parking lot wanting to help unload and buy the parts! It was like a gold rush. Since we only had original, used parts everyone seemed to think it was great. That was the beginning of 17 years of vending at the spring and fall shows, which really helped boost our business.
We met some of the most fantastic people over the years. Our business continued to grow and in 2006 Harry left his 31 year career to work full time. In 2014 Jo left her job to help him, as it grew to the point he couldn’t do it alone.
We continue to work with the business, travel to pick up parts and entire jeeps and along the way we are very lucky to be able to visit with friends that have almost become family over the years. As Harry says, ‘there’s a lot of great people in the Willys World”. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we will continue to enjoy it as long as possible.