How I came to know the CJ5.
by Walter Conell
The '79 CJ5 I restored in 2008
It was 1973 when a very good friend of mine bought his first CJ5 - I was 19 and he 20. When we went anywhere, we took that jeep and in February of 1974, we took a trip from a little town called Schertz, Texas (where we lived), to Reno Nevada to visit his relatives and see the sights. We had $240.00 cash on us and a gas credit card his dad let us use. Gas was $.75 a gallon then and that little V8 engine got 21 mpg. The total mileage we racked up on that trip was 3,990 miles, and that cost then about $145.00 in gas!
The only problem we ran into during the whole trip occurred near a west Texas town of Van Horn, then a very small town- don't blink. My friend, John, fell asleep at the wheel and the Jeep ran off on the shoulder of the road (a newly paved I-10). The noise woke him and in the attempt to gain control left us skidding sideways doing 70 mph on the pavement. I remember looking up from sleeping, and looking out the side window at the stripes whizzing by from the side of the Jeep... definitely from the wrong direction! We slid off the road, got out, looked at the skid marks and wondered how the Jeep ever stayed upright. With no roll bar it could have been ugly.
We decided it would be a good idea to begin switching drivers every 150 miles. One drives while one gets some sleep. Driving around the clock has it's disadvantages.
We drove straight to Las Vegas, but not before stopping at Hoover Dam. Then, you could park ON the Dam which we did, and as the sun rose, we got a very good look at that wonder- Wow! We were the only ones there- nice!
Vegas was awful quiet. Hardly a car on the road or a person to be seen. Quite different from the impression we got that Vegas never goes to sleep. In fact, we pulled over into a parking lot where we saw a police car with it's headlights on and engine running to ask directions. The officer was asleep and when John asked why I didn't ask him where we needed to go, I said "he's sleeping, has a gun, and I'm not going to bang on a sleeping Cops window"! Heh! We did finally find his Aunts house and got a good nights sleep and "food"- we were starved.
The road from Vegas to Reno back then was empty and there was no speed limit! We saw the sign- "Speed Limits End"- could that really be true? Well it was. Ever
travel along at 75 mph and have an old 59 ford pickup pass you as if your sitting still? I remember the 444 miles of absolute nothing but desert and tiny one building towns with a speed limit of 25 mph in the middle of no man's land. Not knowing what the Cops do or how they may be hiding, we obliged the limit and slowed down.
We saw Reno, Pyramid Lake, Lake Tahoe and drove in the blinding deep snow and I remember being cold all the time as the heater in that Jeep was anemic and after all, we were Texans in 7 degree weather.
John's uncle owned "Hanks Radiator shop" there in Reno where we stayed two nights before heading home out of money and food but had the gas card- thank goodness!
If you ever get out in the middle of the desert somewhere between midnight and 2 a.m.- stop and look up at the stars. You'll be transformed! I tell you- being 19 and traveling around in new territory with your best friend is something that stays with you all your life. Do it while your young and cherish every moment, as it may come along only once before responsibilities and work begin to set in!!
We were gone two weeks and when we got back, I had to have a Jeep. I found a 1971 CJ5 with the V6 (best engine ever) and being just 3 years old, was in new condition. John and I enjoyed Jeepin all over the countryside for about 10 years until the wife and I had our first child. We had to have a better transport for the baby, so I sold the Jeep. Shouldn't have done that- regretted it.
It took 23 years later for me to find and afford another CJ5, but find one I did. I took the 79 CJ5 apart (body off) and restored it to it's original condition as well as possible, and to remind me of my age, registered it as an Antique.
I enjoy driving it and remembering John and that trip we took in our impressionable years. I want to preserve this Jeep for the sake of good memories, but also for the respect it deserves in giving so many, so many things.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it! :)
Walter Conell.Larry's Comment: Thanks for the great story Walter...and that 1979 CJ5 Renegade is beautiful! You did really nice work on the restoration.
Also, I know about those excursions from our youth. They are some of the best memories in the world. However, I still plan on making a few more memories while I can.
From one Texan to another...Thanks again!