Chapter 1: Bringing Home Homer


Weeks of trolling through Craigslist and local used car lots and nothing had caught my eye. It was either too expensive, too far gone or enough miles to haven driven to the moon and back. The search for a 4 wheel drive for my wife was not looking promising.

Until one faithful day, that is. I ran across a beautiful Sunset Orange CJ5 down in Vegas. It was a 1971 with the odd-fire Buick motor. “Everything works” the ad claimed, which would be a miracle for a Jeep that old. For Jeep that was older than me, I knew there would be baggage. Heck, just look at all that I have. 

Homer at Home

As I drove the couple hours down there, I was reminded of my first ever car buying experience. I was 15 and I have been saving up but my wallet wasn’t fat. My parents and I had this deal that if I got As in school, they would pay for half of my first car. But even doubling my budget didn’t get me that far into the “it runs” pile, much less the “reliable” category. 

So I looked for the fixer uppers. Something cheap that needed work. AKA the rust buckets. AKA the shit boxes. 

I also wanted something old and fun. There isn’t much overlap on that Venn diagram. Undettered, I eventually ran across a Ford Falcon Ranchero. It had beautiful long lines and a V8. And was a complete rust bucket that had been sitting under a tree since before I was born. But it was salvageable, I thought, and I was in love and so we towed it home and parked it. 

Where it sat. 

Every time I looked at it, the rust got worse. Brake lines, fuel lines, fuel tank… all gone. All fenders were rotten from the inside. What looked like surface rust was systemic cancer. I was afraid a hard wind would blow it all away. 

We ended up abandoning it in lieu of a 1972 Honda N600 that needed assembly and paint, but at least was solid. My mother reminded me that the Ranchero sat under our carport, in HER spot, while acorns rained down on her new minivan. She finally put her foot down and gave us 2 weeks to get rid of it before she had it towed to the junkyard. We put it up for sale and it sold. I waved goodbye with a tear in my eye and a hard lesson learned: don’t let your emotions dictate your purchases. 

I’m not sure that lesson stuck. 

When I arrived and looked at the CJ, it was actually in better shape than I expected. A little rot at the body braces, a little bondo here and there, just starting to crack. But the body and paint were good enough to look good from 15 feet away or 15mph. 

Crawling under the CJ, as one does, I noticed a wiring hanging loose about 2 inches from a bare terminal. It was a simple plug in. I vaguely wondered what that was without bothering to see what the sensor was for. While crawling over the rest of the Jeep, the owner mentioned that the brake lights hadn’t worked the night before. Now, what I plugged in didn’t remind me of a brake switch, but I tried the brakes and magic! the lights worked again. 

I went back under and looked again at the switch. It was a spring loaded plastic toggle switch, the kind for making silly electrical projects with your nephew, mounted in the way of the brake lever. It was simple and effective, yet I questioned its waterproofness and long-term reliability. 

Homer’s Wiring Woes

Moving on… 

As far as history, I didn’t get much good intel. You see, the current owner had acquired this particular CJ5 from an old rental tenant of hers that moved several states away and just sold her the jeep on the cheap. She had another tenant of hers go through the CJ and get it saleable in exchange for a couple months of rent. He actually did a pretty good job of fixing all the little stuff, it seemed. Beyond that, it’s history has been forgotten like yesterday’s news. Time to move forward. 

We hop in for a short drive. The brakes are manual drum brakes she warns me. That was too be expected. It fired right up with a raucous roar and backed up with no issues. Threw it in 1st (left and down, don’t forget) and it actually barked the tires setting off. Plenty of torque, good power… Makes me want to laugh. I probably did. 

I pop it into neutral and start braking extremely early for stop sign… as in a full residential block early, just in case. It was completely necessary. It took a lot of leg to slow it to a stop, which happened to be just after the stop sign but before the crossroad. The brakes were like your least-favorite coworker: they are there, they just didn’t do anything. 

Homer Posing

Now I know what to expect and let the engine help slow us down. The rest of the drive is a smile growing assault of NHV, noise harshness and vibration. It bounces like a 3 year old kid after 14 pixy sticks. Jumps out of its own way on the gas and is having so much fun it can barely be stopped. And it isn’t quiet about it. 

As for the rest, the HVAC ducting is non-existent. The wiring makes one laugh like the Joker. But it was solid and straight on the frame and looked good enough. There are no major issues, at least nothing big enough to dissuade the kid in me from buying a new toy. 

What lesson learned? 

Negotiate, throw money at seller, hook it up to flat tow and book it home. No major issues towing except for slow speed sharp maneuvers in parking lots. It follows me home like the proverbial puppy. I expected much worse and the entire way home I kept envisioning movie style crashes and explosions with oncoming traffic. But we made it home without making the 6 o’clock news.   

I now own my first old Jeep. Or, more dramatically… And so it begins.

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