When their names weren’t announced as the first place winner during the Dubois County Motorcycle Club’s Show & Shine, it was okay. Jason Green and his son, Jon, felt good about their chances to place in the annual contest.
Then, second place was announced. It went to another Jeep.
Jon had seen the two winners; both were great entries and deserving of the awards, he thought.
But the pair felt they still had a chance to at least walk away with a third-place trophy. However, the announcer moved on to another class in the annual Strassenfest contest. Jason and Jon shrugged it off. Apparently, there isn’t a third place in the competition.
“So we were doubling up emotionally, mentally and discussing fixing some things for next time,” Jason said. “Then, we heard them call out Best in Class.”
And the announcer named the 1942 Ford GPW Jason and Jon have been slowly restoring over the past four years as the winner.
With the undercurrent of love and friendship, the pair floated home from the contest. The years of working together had culminated in an overwhelmingly unforgettable moment of accomplishment. Jason savoring the time they spent together and his son’s victory. Jon amazed at what his perseverance had accomplished in a journey that began by missing church.
Jon was a gearhead before he was a teenager. He’d been fascinated with cars since he could build them with Legos. And at age 11, he already had a couple of ideas of what he would like to be driving.
Those dream cars varied from day to day but centered around muscle cars like the classic Corvette or ’68 Mustang. “I would always change my mind on what my dream car was,” he admitted.
Pairing his son’s future needs with , Jason decided the pair could find something to work on together. Something that could be done by the time Jon was ready to get behind the wheel.
Christmas came around that year, and Jon was ready to dive into building something motorized. He and Jason were considering building a gocart modeled off a military-style Jeep as a beginner project. Jon was slightly enthused by the idea, so he began researching the iconic vehicle.
That research into the historical Willys Jeeps clarified his vision for a four-wheeled future. He decided that the vintage vehicle was what he wanted to be driving when he got his license.
The whimsical nature of a preteen boy’s dream car aside, the opportunity to make the Jeep a reality didn’t occur until about eight months later. The family was heading to church and had to pick up Jon’s older sister, Marianna, on the way. Unfortunately, she wasn’t ready and needed to go back home before going to church. Frustrating in the moment for Jason and his wife, Bibi, but serendipitous for Jon.
By the time Marianna was ready, it was too late to head to Redemption Christian Church where they normally worshiped and served. But, they could attend St. Joseph for Mass.
As they headed down Newton Street, Jon spied the Jeep of his dreams in the yard of a house next to the water tower. He and his dad had been looking for this exact vehicle since Christmas, and here it was, about a mile from their home.
Jon had previously had a hold-on-to-your-teeth moment while they were driving when he frantically pointed out a hot rod Corvette to his dad while they were driving. His son’s frenetic gesticulating led Jason to think they were heading for a crash, so he slammed on the brakes.
This time, Jon played it cool and casually pointed out the military green Jeep.
“I just slowly let him know there was a Jeep right there,” Jon said.
But his dad was frustrated and on a mission to church.
At church, Jon sat in Mass with nothing but the Jeep filling his head. “I couldn’t concentrate at all,” he said.
Although it didn’t have a ‘For Sale’ sign on it, Jason decided to stop by the house to check the vintage Jeep out on their way home after church.
He knocked on the door and asked the lady, Bonnie Leinenbach, if they could look at it. “She said, ‘Sure, it’s for sale if you want it,'” Jason explained.
Some people may know the Jeep for its Halloween appearances that included a couple of skeleton occupants.
Bonnie told them her husband, Larry, had purchased the Jeep in California with aspirations to restore it. He had passed away a few years earlier, though, and the Jeep hadn’t moved much since.
While much of the Jeep is original, they found out the motor had been replaced with a Chevy 350. “We didn’t know if the engine was blown,” Jason said. “But there were no valve covers, the oil pan was trashed, the carburetor was trashed.
Bonnie told them it was for sale as is.
“She said, ‘Good luck,'” Jon mentioned sardonically.
Undaunted, the pair decided to buy it, splitting the cost down the middle.
It took them about a month to tear it down and rebuild the engine. Jon could hardly hold in his excitement as the engine fired up for the first time. “It was September 27 of 2018 and it was one of the happiest moments of my life,” he said.
Here is a video.
As these things go, after a hard month of work getting the engine running, work slowed considerably. It took about a year to get it running well enough to go for a drive. That quick drive around the block and over to Ireland only revealed the extent of the work that remained. Work that was continually relegated to slivers of time between school, Jason’s job and being busy with life.
“I had no clue. I was thinking, ‘Yay, we’re done,” Jon remembered about that inaugural trip through the neighborhood.
He had been watching videos about vintage Jeep restorations. They were taking four and five years to complete.
“I didn’t think it would take us that long, but yeah, it did,” he said.
Jason’s mechanical aptitude came from working in a garage as a teenager. He watched as Jon took what he could teach him and begin to add to that knowledge through research and video tutorials on his own.
Eventually, Jon could work on the Jeep by himself. Jason was simultaneously immensely proud of his son’s mechanical and problem-solving skills while maddingly frustrated at the teenage mess his garage had become.
Then, Covid happened, and a lot of what had stalled the progress on the Jeep was paused.
Jon found time to work on his dream car. He’d wake up early to get all of his schoolwork done by around lunch and then spend the rest of the day working on the Jeep.
And he was ecstatic. The Jeep was looking great. He had even told his middle school teacher, Mrs. Susan Ahlbrand, that he was going to drive the Jeep in the Strassenfest parade in the summer of 2021.
But Jason was a little more safety conscious. He told Jon that they had to take the entire Jeep apart again. “Jon thought he was almost done when I told him he was focusing on the paint and finish when we had structure to worry about,” Jason said.
So, in the summer of 2021, the Jeep was back in pieces in the garage. The goal was to get it done by March of 2022. In April, with a new brake system, reworked electrical system, new leaf springs, the gas tank moved from under the driver’s seat to the rear of the vehicle and other necessary modifications to ensure Jon’s safety and the drivability of the Jeep, they took another drive around the block.
The Jeep was pretty much ready, so they entered it in the Vintage Jeep Class at the Show & Shine.
Jason is process-oriented, while Jon is all about the finish line. The give and take of father and son played out through the years of work. Jon being told repeatedly not yet when he wanted to turn the engine over again. And Jason watching his son eventually begin to figure things out on his own.
“I was the teacher for the first two years, but after that, Jon knew as much as I did about his Jeep and how to build it,” Jason said.
Jon’s mom watched the pair over the years as they worked. “It was a great bonding experience,” Bibi said, adding that it was more than the passing of knowledge from father to son. “It was about the time they spent together.”
She admired her son’s perseverance and patience through the process as well. “I think it built a lot of character in John,” she said.
Driving home from the contest last week, Jason found it tough to hold back the tears.
“I was in the passenger seat, and I just realized his dream had become a reality,” he said about his son. “He had a vision. He was willing to put in the work and the time. And, he did it.”