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Dad Rolls His Jeep Down a Hill at Icicle Creek, Wa

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UPDATE: First posted in 2010, this is a follow up to the post below which shows my family’s first jeep, a somewhat modified CJ-5.

One fine, sunny, beautiful Saturday during the summer of 1975 (or thereabouts – no family member can quite remember the exact year) my father drove his CJ-5 up a chuck-hole filled hillside trail at Icicle Creek, near Leavenworth, Wa.  He didn’t make it to the top; instead, he rolled his CJ-5 down the hillside.  Herein is the story and images.

I suppose it is appropriate that the images of dad’s wreck in the WWJC Scrapbook aren’t as clear as I had hoped, because the memory of it is also fuzzy.  I’ve tried to color correct and sharpen the pictures as best as I could, but even the clearest of pictures can’t really tell the story of the impact of his tumble down that hill.

It was a club weekend on the ‘east side of the mountains’ in Leavenworth, Washington.  For Washington Jeepers, the east side of the mountains means anything on the east slope of the Cascade Mountain range, where the surroundings transform from western muddy trails, deep dark green of cedar trees, and gray, drizzly, cool weather into Ponderosa Pines, sunshine, sagebrush, and dust.  Within an hour of Seattle, you could (and still can) transform your jeeping experience entirely.

This particular weekend I remember, and  say this without certainty as these are more like flickers of a 10-year-old’s memory, that we were staying in some kind of community-center-like building where we all slept on the floor in sleeping bags in a large open community room (I later learned this was a University of Washington property).  For the club, it was one big campout.

For me this seemed perfectly normal as the club really was a big extended family — these were people I saw more than my own aunts and uncles, grandma and grandpas.

The day of the tumble, I remember escaping the summer heat by playing in the river under a canopy of pine/fir trees and bushes. Like a Hollywood movie where one moment is bucolic, then the next instant life transforms completely, my club friends and I heard a voice telling us that dad had an accident, that mom needed to get to the hospital, but that Dad appeared to be ok.

The next thing I knew, mom was gone….

I don’t remember much else until the jeep was towed into camp, bent, twisted, the life beat out of it.  Dad and mom arrived soon afterwards, with dad sporting a Band Aid and stitches on his forehead from a loose shoulder belt that wacked him during the crash.

After multiple renditions from differing perspectives, this is the most accurate story of the crash that I can remember.

Jim Carter had made it up a rut-filled hill in Otis, a built flat fender based on the CJ-3A Chassis with a Parkette body, but not without some difficulty.  Next, the Ayers family had tried to make it up in their CJ-3B, but the ruts proved too much and they were forced to pull off of the hill, but managed not to tip over on the side hill.  After they were winched up the hill, it was dad’s turn.

Dad was driving a CJ-5 had a Chev 327 with 4:11 gears and a posi rear end. It was never anything fancy, just the family jeep that carried dad to work on the weekdays and the family into adventure on the weekends.

Importantly, the CJ-5 also had a rollcage which he had installed early that spring.  Roll cages had become popular and were becoming pretty standard fair for WWJC Jeeps.

So normally, the family jeep would have had our family in it; but curiously, the kids stayed behind on this day, hence the reason we were playing at the river.  With mom watching over us, Dad had been traveling with a Club member named Karen Brown.  Before going up the hill, Dad had suggested to Karen she jump out of the passenger seat before he tried to climb the hill. He was a bit worried about this hill.

With Karen out, dad made a run at the hill.  Everything was fine until he was about 3/4’s up the hill when the front popped up enough to bounce the back up slightly too. When the jeep came back down, all the weight landed on the rear wheels.  At that point, forces collided in a perfect storm that caused the rear drive line to corkscrew apart.  Dad said he knew immediately that he had a problem so he pulled onto the sidehill like the Ayers did.  The problem was that his jeep didn’t want to stay there.

I felt the jeep lurch and I could tell it was going to roll.  So, I held onto the steering wheel and muttered, ‘here we go’.  I don’t remember much about the roll other than I grabbed a hold of the steering wheel with all my might.  I could hear the sounds of stuff falling out, metal crunching and felt the pain from getting hit by a loose shoulder strap.

The other club members watched helplessly as Dad started his roll.  In little time, the jeep would execute 3 barrel rolls and 2 end over end cart wheels, reaching 10 ft or so in the air.  The windshield would get thrown a 100ft and land without a scratch or crack (and would be reused). The fenders, hood, grille and rear corners looked like a loosing fighter whose blood oozed black oil and green radiator fluid.

The roll cage would crack in places where dad welded it, but the professional welds held (leading dad to make sure he built an even stronger roll cage with his rebuild).  The impact on the rear rollcage loop caused the rear quarter panels to collapse (So, in the next rebuild, dad built a sub-loop that went from underneath the rear quarter panels and connected to the frame).

When that beaten and bruised jeep was pulled into camp, I was in awe, too young to understand how much work was involved to rebuild it.

Though we’d remain in the club for another 10 years or so, looking back I now understand how this event caused a break with the club — the lack of involvement in the club combined with the my sister’s blooming interest with horses lead to less and less time with our extended jeep club family.

At 45 (this post was written in 2010) , I am now 3 years older than Dad was when he wrecked at age 42.  I suppose there is something fitting about the both of us rebuilding a jeep at the same age, he rebuilding after a wrecked Jeep and me rebuilding after metaphorically rolling down a hill in a big crash with a business.  I suppose we both had the tumbles of our lives ….

Though it was never Jim Carter’s fault, I later learned that Jim, who had known dad since they were kids growing up on the same street on Walker Lane in Salt Lake City, Utah (and it was Jim and his wife Patti who name me), felt a great deal of guilt over the incident. It had been his idea to do the run. Dad’s crash took a lot of the fun out of trail driving for Jim, so the Carters shifted more towards racing rather than jeeping.

Over the next year or two I watched Dad as he rebuilt the jeep. He was able to save the running gear, but started with a different frame, body and front clip. He added a more sturdy roll cage with a double-loop in the middle, along with front and rear loops. He tied everything into the frame. That jeep was a tank! Instead of the 327, he moved up to a 350. He added power steering and, I think, fiat bucket seats in the front. He also added bucket seats in the rear for my sister and I, but I can’t remember what those were from.

Here’s Dad and I at Milk Lake in the Cascades in the rebuilt jeep.


Dad and jeeping in 1981 at Milk Lake in the Cascade Mountains. By this time, I was 16 and doing the driving.

Though Dad finished the jeep by 1977, he was never very comfortable driving it on trails after that. We almost left the club, but then I was bitten by the jeep bug around the age of 15. So, I started driving the jeep when we did trail rides and he accompanied me. I am not sure how much he enjoyed it, but he soldiered through it. By the time I was 18, he stopped going and I was on my own. The jeep effectively became mine, as it was my commuter vehicle to high school.

About four years later, after building my trail & race flattie, I dissembled his jeep to make a racer, but then I moved to the San Juan Islands. I eventually sold his jeep for parts to a nearby friend.


5 Comments on “Dad Rolls His Jeep Down a Hill at Icicle Creek, Wa

  1. Mom

    Haven’t seen these photos for many years. Sure brings back the nightmare that had great results. Just a few stitches, a band aid, stiff neck and a head ache. Cant complain. Very fortunate considering the severity of the trip down the hill. I remember the other members saying they did not want to approach the Jeep because they were afraid of what they would find.

  2. Mitch

    Obviously I’ve only seen the pics because I was born in 78…I’ve not heard the story of how severe it really was until now. WOW! 3 barrel rolls and 2 end over end…..I recall numerous WWJC Christmas parties looking over the pics and asking about it, but just getting a general.. “Karl had a pretty bad rollover and was lucky”. Hearing the story is great. Not great in the sense that he had a bad rollover but great in the outcome of it after knowing how bad it was.

    I saw almost the exact thing this year at the PNW trail jam and was running the video camera when an older couple took a bad bounce on a hill and broke the rear driveline which sent them quickly back down hill and into a bank on the driver side which rolled them into a tree on the passenger side.. Thankfully no one was hurt in that incident either. Consider that this was a couple in their early 80’s.

    Dave- I’d be happy to attach a short write-up of this to the club scrapbook for history’s sake…..

  3. deilers

    Hi Mitch, I’ll send you a version in Word that I used to create this post which will make that process easier. I’ll integrate mom’s comments into the narrative as well. I’ll send that this afternoon.

    It would be useful to get Patty and Jim’s input as well as they probably could contribute and/or clarify as well.


  4. neal jung

    thats a tough story — its always scary climbing steep hills — be sure to turn your steering wheel back and forth to let the front tires bite — lose traction ? — jam it in reverse and back straight down — dont use the clutch , compression braking — roll cage ? — never heard of them — seat belts ? — they werent invented yet — in 1965 we flipped a 61 scout off a jeep road , it didnt go end to end like your fathers cj-5 , it barrel rolled , luckily it had the steel travel top — we refilled the fluids , built a road through the manzanita with axes and shovels and drove it back up to the jeep road in low range — i think we were drinking wine , red mountain wine , ernest and julio gallo , came in gallon jugs , actually tasted pretty good — at rock concerts people would put ” hippie vitamins ” in the wine , then the fun started , like at altamont speedway 12/6/69 , i was there and so was the jug , then all hell broke loose , hells angels that is , they were killing flower children like ants , the rolling stones were trying to play , sympathy for the devil , then mick jagger would stop singing and say ” people cool out , just cool out , why are we fighting and what are we fighting for ? ” — i personally blame ERNIE AND JULIO GALLO <– NAPA , SONOMA AND MENDOCINO

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