Here at Big Chuck’s Robot Warehouse and Auto Body Center, we have a lot of piles. I get them for myself, but it turns out, I get them often for other people, too! Being back South now means I have access to many rust-free husks of once-useful machinery, which is unheard of in the northeast as everything slowly dissolves from road salt if not salty sea air from the coast.
Vehicles more than 10 or 15 years old were rare sights on Boston roads, as nobody keeps them beyond the age when nut and bolts on the underside get hard to remove and rust bubbles start peeking out from places. “Little Rust” is always a lie in used car ads (which are horribly expensive if it’s even remotely still together) and underbody inspections are part and parcel for purchasing anything. It was a constant battle keeping Mikuvan from dissolving with preparation every fall and remedying every spring.
While the same rust-free “Abject Vehicle Market” is true (and better) for the western states, the nice thing about the southeast is that it’s still a short one day’s drive from much of New England. So as a result, in the past couple of months, I’ve played “pile relay” by fetching and storing something that my Northerner friends have purchased nearby, for pickup later when they’re able to make it down. I’ve inspected a couple more things for purchase later or by other means and other people. These adventures have taken me all over the Former Confederacy, usually down some miles of 2-lane county roads and dirt roads where I wonder how they’ll ever find the body if I don’t make it back out.
Collectively, we’ve called this pattern of “Hey, can you go recover this terrible pile that’s been sitting in the forest for 10 years?” OPERATION: PileDriver. Here’s a selection of the exploits of Big Chuck’s Towing and Recovery, which is now desperately in need of its own logo, T-shirt, and website.
The Freedom Jeep
Pretty much everything here is going to be Jeeps, because these friends have a peculiar interest in collecting and restoring various old Jeeps. The first one of these adventures I was called upon for was for a barn-find 1942 Ford GPW, basically the original Jeep. It was located near Centre, Alabama, roughly a 2 hour trip by state routes and back roads.
This was to be highly American™ activity. It’s the weekend of Independence Day, the most premium of all-American days, and I’m taking Vantruck (an all-American object), to fetch something which is known and proven by its serial number to have served in World War II, an all-American defining experience. America!
Of course, the first thing to do was to take on lots and lots of gas, also a favorite American pasttime. I set out from Atlanta around 9am and was planning on meeting the seller around lunchtime. I went northwestward on I-75 before splitting off on US 411 towards and beyond Rome, GA.
The story was the usual; Granpappy passed away and left me this barn full of 1. rat poops, and 2. machinery that I now need to deal with. Likely the same fate assigned to my own grandchildren, let’s all be honest. This Ford GPW was full of more itself, as well as probably many pounds of rat turds.
There was also even more of itself (and likely most of another Jeep, I couldn’t tell) in parts strewn about the barn.
Luckily, the 60-something year old tires did hold air once we hit them with a compressor, but one of the rear wheels was seized up, probably seized brakes. So the seller towed the Jeep towards the barn door before I moved into position.
I brought along all my “Pile Getting” gear in Vantruck’s tool chest. This has expanded to include two 50 foot chains, a chain binder, the 4-ton Harbor Freight come-along, and a drill-powered cable winch. I “invested” in most of the gear for the Murdervan recovery trip, and pulling a little lightweight Jeep onto the trailer deck was pretty straightforward.
Indeed, a very American picture. The whole trip was about 6 hours or so – two to get out there, two to load up, and two back home.
Oh, yeah, I didn’t clean off any more rat poops than I had to. The rest of it just blew off all over the road as soon as I picked up any speed. Sorry not sorry, everyone behind me. Enjoy your face full of Freedom.
This assemblage got a lot of thumbs up and nods as I rolled back home. After I confirmed everything was back home, the Pennsylvania Jeep Bros began driving down.
Here we are the next morning, doing a butt-to-butt trailer transfer.
And away they go. They managed to bomb down to me and back home to Pennsylvania in the span of one weekend, taking turns driving. Now that’s some dedication, which is probably well worth it for this well-preserved WWII certified-legit GPW. It’s currently undergoing a complete restoration.
The next adventure was in October, and involved going back to Alabama (….again) a little south of Heflin.
This was one of those “Miles down 2 lane county roads” adventures I alluded to. Perfect country song territory, no doubt. Vantruck and trailer were about 110% of the width of the lane, generally speaking.
The object affectionately named Moldë by the Jeep Bros is a 1989 Jeep Comanche, the “jeeptruck” that eventually finds itself as the Jeep Gladiator today. Whereas the Gladiator is a “midsize” truck of today (a.k.a huge), the Comanche was a compact truck that shared most parts with the XJ Cherokee.
It was very, very MOLDY. The story with this one was a “Ran When Parked” scenario….back in 2011? or so. It’s been sitting in the woods somewhere in mid-Alabama since then, so the entire thing was covered in lichens, spiders, and other small mammal nests. The interior was pretty disgusting, albeit easily cleanable looking and really not all that much worse than Sadvan was. Of course, instinctively, I dove under to perform the New England Underbody Inspection and promptly found myself covered in organisms.
The seller has 4 or 5 other Jeeps of varying vintages and plenty of other motorized implements in varying states of despair on his property. He moved to this little spot in Alabama after retiring, it seems. Hey, more power to you. One day I’m sure I’ll have the same, but in strange vans and giant-ass drones (as by that time, I’m sure I can pick up a junked Uber Air or what have you cheap on Facelist)
This load was actually even simpler than Freedom Jeep; for you see, the property is on a long slope that ends at its lowest point at the road. I just set up Vantruck and the trailer on the driveway, got into the Moldë oh god it’s crawling on me fuck FUCK and the seller pushed down the hill to build up steam while I aimed carefully. You only load once.
And here you have two vehicles, neither of which are common found in truck form, in tow formation. The memes write themselves and I’m happy to encourage their proliferation. As usual with anything Vantruck does, it was a hoot pulling into gas stations and at red lights.
The Comanche was light enough that I could actually push it backward up the yard slope after locking out the U-haul trailer’s surge brake. Therefore, I positioned it in the Yard Hole so it could roll off, but not before….
…positioning Mikuvan inside to be a yard shuttle. I set the parking brake slightly so it wouldn’t just freely roll down the trailer ramp, and then just wound up one of Vantruck’s tow chains to about 4 feet long and pulled it over to the “Pile Corner” of the yard. The best part was that Mikuvan can make the turn around behind the pile of tree debris that neither I nor the landlord have taken initiative to clear up, so I was able to just pull the thing into a good resting spot.
This trip was performed on behalf of Alex of Wedge Industries, whom I also picked up the Benchmaster Master of Benches from when I went the other way. There’s just a freely-flowing trade of heavy and questionably-working machinery up and down the I-81 corridor.
Operation Florida Man
The third and most recent pile adventure finally saw me go somewhere besides Alabama to the Lake City, Florida vicinity. This time, it wasn’t even a complete Jeep, but the husk of one. So, no car trailer for this haul, just a 6 x 12 utility trailer.
It was a rainy and foggy day the whole way down to Florida, as this time was about when the entire eastern seaboard was being smacked around by a winter storm. Quite possibly the most awkward weekend weather-wise to do it, but hey, gotta get ’em Jeeps.
The wonderful thing about this affair was that Vantruck rolled its 100,000 mile mark somewhere just over the Florida border. I bought it at 75,000 miles – original and documented, not a rollover figure! so that means I’ve put about 25,000 miles on it.
If you go by the average per-gallon gasoline cost of the 2017-2021 timeframe, and the usual mileage this thing gets, that means I’ve spent anywhere between $6500 to $7500 on it just in gas.
Why do I put up with you….
Here we go, once again down some network of Florida county roads. How the hell do you guys keep finding these things. The sandy consistency of these unpaved Florida back roads is interesting. It’s a solid surface, but you can definitely start the slip and slide quite easily. I suppose I’m used to either pavement or packed gravel, which is a different vibe. I passed a few flocks of kids riding ATVs and side-by-sides, plus the odd tractor or two.
I didn’t take many photos of the process, as rain was moving in and there was only the seller and I to load up. This is the husk and frame of a 1962 Jeep CJ5, one of the first civilian models made after World War II, plus a bunch of spare parts.
The Jeep Bros let me know exactly where to space up the frame and body to not damage them by strapping them down, so I packed a bunch of my cut-up workbench spare 4×4 lumber pieces. It turns out that Jeep husks aren’t very heavy. I was concerned about just picking up a vehicle frame and throwing it in a trailer, but it wasn’t bad actually. It was like lifting a very long, deformed Overhaul.
This trip took almost 12 hours because of the weather. What was supposed to be a 4.5 hours in and 4.5 hours out trip instead was beset by heavy rain and fog, at times with “terrifying pile-up crash video” level visibility, so I really had to keep it slow. Traffic coming back to Atlanta made it even worse.
This isn’t to say they had it any better. They set out the day before, but got caught up in one of the many ice storms along I-81 and didn’t make enough progress in one day. The next day saw more ice storms and snow, before also fading to rain. This photo was taken something like 10PM instead of the anticipated 6 or 7.
So there you have it, a curated selection of the adventures of Big Chuck’s Towing and Recovery. It’s funny to me that as more of my friends are aging into houses and yards, no longer artificially limited by city or dorm/apartment living, the amount of heavy things we’re accruing is rapidly increasing. Chances are I’ll go on more of these PileDriver adventures this year.
I’m half-heartedly building up Spool Bus to be the fetching vehicle. While Vantruck is a funny meme, the fuel economy is an unmitigated disaster and having dual rear wheels makes it fatter than it needs to be for most car-ish-sized hauling. Spool Bus has in fact been part of two additional recent pile-getting trips already, which will make it onto this site as time progresses.