To Top

Cajun Jeeps and Mint Juleps

• CATEGORIES: Features • TAGS: .
2016-09-28-calvin-mccarthur1

Mike is to the left, I am behind the jeep, and Mark is to the right. We are looking over a jeep that they believe was one of MacArthur’s from the Philippines.

As I mentioned in an earlier post late Monday evening, Mike Ragsdale emailed me about a friend of his, Calvin Ishmael, who died this past June. Calvin had amassed an extensive collection of jeeps and parts. He’d been afflicted all his life with the dreaded Willys sickness, the poor guy. With his passing, his family was organizing and then selling what he’d been gathering for more that a half century (fifty-one years by Calvin’s own count). Mike thought that, since we were so close to Baton Rouge, we might want to come down and see Calvin’s place before it was sold.

Ann and her mother were excited for an adventure into Louisiana, so on Tuesday we left around noon and drove late into the evening. On Wednesday morning we met with Mike and feasted on a Cajun speciality, the Beignet, a sweet fried pastry tossed in powered sugar.

beignets

Somehow we didn’t get a photo of the beignets, so this one is from the internet.

Inside a café that had been around quite a few years, Mike explained that he’d been an avid reader of eWillys for sometime and had bought several jeeps off the site. At some point Mike needed some parts. Hearing that Calvin was a local with parts, Mike contacted him. One thing led to another and a close friendship blossomed. Mike explained that Calvin came from a large family, but no one else had the passion for jeeps that Calvin did, so with his death they were hoping to sell some of his jeeps and his extensive parts collection.

With our Beignets consumed, Mike explained that he’d lead the way to Calvin’s warehouse near Baton Rouge where we’d meet Calvin’s youngest brother Mark, the man who would lead our tour.

2016-09-28-calvin-david-mike-outside

When we arrived, it wasn’t difficult to spot which warehouse was Calvins; rusty jeeps marked the spot.

2016-09-28-calvin1

2016-09-28-calvin-boneyard4

2016-09-28-calvin-boneyard6

2016-09-28-calvin-boneyard5

While we waited for Mark, Mike and I poked around two boneyards. Most were M-38s or M-38A1s, but there were a few WWII jeeps, some CJs, and even a CJV-35U. I got a photo of the serial plate, but I can’t make out what the serial number. Though much of the 35U’s body was rusty, it still had some original parts that would interest restorers. That was true of many of the jeeps sitting outside.

2016-09-28-calvin-cjv35u

I thought this top was particularly interesting. It looked custom made, maybe from a Koenig top? What’s especially unusual was addition of twist tabs that appeared to be added to allow canvas (or other material) panels to be attached or removed from the sides and rear.

2016-09-28-calvin-hardtop-softsides1 2016-09-28-calvin-hardtop-softsides2

About the time I’d finished inspecting all the outside jeeps, Mark arrived. He was good humored and welcoming. Since I’d never met his brother Calvin, I asked Mark how Calvin’s passion for jeeps began. Not surprisingly, he blamed their father, a WWII Navy veteran who had two ships shot out from beneath him in the ocean. Mark said that one day when Calvin was about six his father brought home a small metal jeep (what a terrible thing to do to a child, lol). That was it. Calvin was hooked.

Since I’d already seen the outside jeeps, Mark took us inside the warehouse. He warned that while it didn’t look very organized Calvin could tell you where everything was. As we stepped inside, it was clear that to the average eye the place would like stacks of junk. But, to someone familiar with vintage jeeps, it was easy to see there were jeep parts all over. In fact, I felt the urge to move very slowly, because every nook and cranny was filled with either parts or boxes of parts.

2016-09-28-calvin-inside5

12 to 15 jeeps just under this one are alone.

Mark began to pull NOS parts out of boxes and show me examples of what they had. The way he explained it, his brother had made some large purchases from Willys Overland as they exited the business of building military jeeps. Subsequently, Calvin, with Mark’s help and others, began assembling and selling limited numbers of NOS military jeeps. Calvin also proudly sold parts to the US military without gouging them to fix some of the M-38A1s the government put into service during the first Iraq War.

2016-09-28-calvin-inside

A red ex-fire M-38 jeep had a great view from a third tier shelf.

As we moved beyond the parts shelves into the main part of the warehouse, Mark explained that when Calvin was old enough, he built a custom M-38A1, with a V8 and spring over axles to improve its mudability. He called it a Stumpjumper. It was the first of its kind in the area. The jeep proved so popular that others asked him to build similar jeeps. This led to Calvin starting a jeep business (Calvin’s Jeep Service if I remember correctly). It was this early move that got him into the business of jeeps.

2016-09-28-calvin-mb-gpw-arctic-top

Mark & Calvin believe this is a rare factory installed arctic top on n MB.

But for Calvin, jeeps were always more a passion than his livelihood. Mark pointed to some of the large equipment among all the jeeps and parts. He explained that his brother was a contractor that helped construct the large, local refineries and repaired the huge ships that plied the Mississippi waterways. It was those type of endeavors that provided the means for Calvin to pursue his passion for jeeps.

2016-09-28-calvin-inside4 2016-09-28-calvin-inside8

2016-09-28-calvin-inside6

Mark described his brother as enthusiastic about whatever he undertook. In his twenties, Calvin joined the MVCC, then in the 1980s joined the MVPA. It was at some point during this time that he joined forces with author Dr. Steven Ambrose (of Band of Brothers fame), and several other well-known people to launch a D-Day museum, but funding proved to big a hurdle. A second attempt failed as well. However, the third time proved successful, with the National WWII Museum opening on June 6, 2000. It was an achievement that made him very proud.

Mark then turned to one of Calvin’s more interesting jeeps. Both brothers believed that after the jeep arrived in the Philippines, it was rebuilt specially for MacArthur. As you can see, there are some interesting items installed, but the most unusual aspect is that it weighs 1000 pounds more than the standard jeep. Mark said he and Calvin added up the extras on the jeep (including some extra engine covers that Ann didn’t get a chance to photograph) and that did not explain the additional weight. I couldn’t help but wonder if the body had been reinforced, because Ann pointed out that it sounded more solid when she knocked on the side with her knuckles. She and I knocked on several nearby jeeps and the MacArthur jeep definitely had a much more solid sound. See the pics below:

2016-09-28-calvin-mccarthur2 2016-09-28-calvin-mccarthur4 2016-09-28-calvin-mccarthur6 2016-09-28-calvin-mccarthur7

Over the years, Calvin’s search for jeeps took him all over the US. He kept some and sold others. Mark pointed out one of Calvin’s favorite M-38A1s only had about 1500 miles on it. It was stored way up on the shelves, with maybe fifteen other jeeps (I couldn’t see how many were up there). At this point, I began to poke around the place, but it was so full of stuff there was no way I could get to everything.

2016-09-28-calvin-inside7

The M-38A1 has very low miles. It was one of Calvin’s favorites.

On the far side I ran across a red M-170, one that had been a fire jeep somewhere. Not far from it on top of another shelf was a red M-38, also a former fire jeep. There were jeeps from the Georgia Forestry department, along with this Civil Defense M-38:

2016-09-28-calvin-civil-defense-m38

Mike, Mark, and I then made our way over to Mike’s newest jeep, a GPW that had been modified by someone. Sure, it needs some restoration, but the body and frame are in great shape. Here’s Mike and I in front of his newest baby (don’t tell his wife just yet!)

2016-09-28-calvin-david-mike

Mike and I in front of his GPW. He is a part of War Ponies, a jeep group in the Baton Rouge area. You can find the group on Facebook.

One interesting feature of this GPW is the heater installed between the seats. Anyone know anything about them?

2016-09-28-mikes-gpw1 2016-09-28-mikes-gpw2

As I mentioned, Mike and Calvin grew close over the years. They were so close that when Calvin died a few months ago, Mike had the honor of driving Calvin’s ashes from the funeral to the cemetery in, of course, a jeep. The ashes were carried in an ammo box, with a “Sarge” toy jeep on top and a jeep sticker on the side. Also on the side in big letters was Calvin’s nickname, “Pa-poo”, a name that stuck after he had problems saying papa as a child.

calvin-funeral

MIke in the driver’s seat of his M-38. Mark is in the passenger seat. Somewhere in there is an ammo box with Calvin’s ashes.

About now you are probably asking yourself, what will happen to the jeeps and parts? And, you may be wondering if Mark has something you need. Those questions will remain unanswered for the near future. Mark told me his family does not need to liquidate the parts or jeeps. Moreover, he doesn’t want to be deluged with calls, so he preferred not to disclose all that they have with me (and I never asked for specifics, nor did I even ask if they had any parts for Rusty). My goal was simply to enjoy the rare opportunity to share Calvin’s passion for jeeps with Mike and Mark and to pass on the message that nothing immediate will be happening with the jeeps or parts.

Thanks to both Mike and Mark for their time, hospitality, and stories. Ann and I had a great time!

At the end of our visit, Mike suggested we drive south to see Oak Alley, one of the more famous local sugar cane plantations. The plantation has been featured in several movies and tv shows, none of which I’d seen. The plantation consists of the main house, slave houses, a restaurant, gift shop, and other things to do and see. For me, the best part of the visit was sipping a mint julep on the veranda. It was mighty tasty on a hot, muggy afternoon.

2016-09-28-oak-alley-mint-julip8

Here are a few pics of the main house:

2016-09-28-oak-alley-4

2016-09-28-oak-alley-1

Here is the oak alley designed to bring cool breezes from the Mississippi (just over the dike) toward the house.

2016-09-28-oak-alley-6

2016-09-28-oak-alley6Here’s the happiest we saw Rosemary the entire trip. The man in the cart asked her about her OSMO, a device she uses for making videos. She giggled and laughed for fifteen minutes with him.

2016-09-28-oak-alley-3

It was nearly 4:30pm when we finished our plantation tour. After some discussion, we passed on our desire to see New Orleans and the WWII museum. It just didn’t seem a practical place to go in the motorhome. Instead, we chose to go get some Louisiana style food for dinner and then hit the road. We all agreed it felt like time to go home.

A Yelp search led us to Philay’s Catfish N’ More. I tried the fried fish Philay over rice, topped w/ crawfish etouff. It was quite good. Ann had some blackened fish. Rosemary, avoided the Cajun food, choosing a club sandwich. That might not have been a good idea ….

After dinner we began our trek home. We decided to push through to Grapevine, because we thought driving through the Dallas-Fort Worth area would easier at 2AM. We also dreaded our phones leading us astray again, so with little traffic, we figured it would be better.

It wasn’t.

Ann was driving by then and I was doing eWillys updates when she noticed our GPS’s began giving confusing directions as we neared Dallas. Once again, with an iPhone in one hand and an Android phone in the other, we attempted to make it through to Grapevine. And, once again, those damn phones gave us troubles. For example, there was almost no traffic, yet both phones stupidly directed us onto a TOLL express way. Why? I haven’t a clue.

We are hardly novices at navigation, having used the same phones to go through NYC, Boston, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and more. But in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, our phones became possessed. I don’t know if it was the construction or something else, but both phones did a poor job.

By 3AM, we were finally settled at the upscale Walmart (if there such a thing) in Grapevine. Two and a half hours later we were awakened by Rosemary. We don’t know if it was the club sandwich or something else she ate, but she was very sick. So, we took off at 5:30am Thursday morning and have been driving like mad ever since. We plan to stop in Cortez Thursday night, then drive all the way home on Friday.

 

13 Comments on “Cajun Jeeps and Mint Juleps

  1. Allen Fabre

    You were very close to my home place. We had a great place you could have parked your RV and crashed for the night. Mark lives right down the street from us. My cousins know him well. If you ever hit BR again give me a shout and we will show you some southern hospitality. I can also give you a ride in the Tux.

  2. David Eilers Post author

    Pascal: I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Allen: I appreciate the offer. We really do want to complete a southern tour at some point. I also want to see New Orleans and all it has to offer. I can’t imagine a better way to see some of BR than in Tux Park 🙂

  3. Craig/Vermont

    Great pics + article !!!…I noticed that the ‘MacArthur Jeep’ has a larger than usual ID Data tag on the glove box door…did it have extra info on it ?

  4. mike ragsdale

    I’m glad you enjoyed the Juleps. My wife and I enjoy going there for them. Sorry to hear about Rosemary, I hope that she is better. It was nice visiting with you guys. Always love spending time with people who share our passion for these musty, leaking, ticking, smoking , old pieces of historic machinery and the undeniable connection they have to peoples hearts. Mark and I will keep you updated on any developments and progress. Y’all come back now, ya hear… OIIIIIIIIO

  5. mike ragsdale

    Rick, I can assure you nothing is going to the dump. Mark is one of the most knowledgeable
    Willys Jeeps authorities on the planet. They just need a little time to catch their breath and decide a direction. if you want to email me EXACTLY what you are looking for , I will check and see if the parts are available and what they will cost…thanks
    mikeragsdale@eatel.net

  6. sfc carlos garcia

    looks great maybe one day i will reach the same goal right now i have 10 jeep and one wc 1/2 ton dodge i would live to see that collection

  7. keith

    I went back thru my old emails and it looks like my first visit to Calvin’s place was May 2nd , 2011. I had heard of him for years, but had not been able to show up in person until then.
    I did my best to visit him once or twice a year for a day or two. A planned one hour visit commonly turned into two 10 hour days. He was a great man and I will do my best to pass along the insight, inspiration, and data he provided.

  8. Michael Parker

    Calvin was invaluable during the build of my M38A1. He personally walked us through oil, gas, and carb line mods needed for a 12v conversion. He provided a rear third member, new steering assembly, NOS gas tank, sender unit, horn assembly, the list is extensive. He patiently spent hours on the phone with us to get the work done right. I miss him greatly. What great Willys guy!

  9. John H. in CT

    David, thanks for sharing this great story. Regarding the WWII museum, having read many of Ambrose’s books, it was on my bucket list. Last year I finally had the opportunity to visit. Unfortunately, if you know your history you may likely be disappointed. It is geared to folks who might believe that we fought the British in WWII for our independence. ( Many of our public schools don’t even teach American history anymore or do so poorly.) It is a very simplistic treatment. On the positive side, I have never seen such a collection of pistols, rifles and machine guns, especially the german weapons, in one museum. The volunteers are aldo helpful, many being retired veterans, and the facilities are very nice. Just don’t expect to come away with any great new insights.

  10. Mom

    By the looks of Calvin’s extensive collection, you could have spent 2-3 more days oogling over everything. My goodness, what an amazing amount of Jeep parts. Now I see why your trip took a U-turn.

    The plantation looks like the epitome of what a plantation should look like. Beautiful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe without commenting