SEMA News—July 2011

Gone Jeepin’

In the summer of 1957, Petersen photographer Bob D’Olivo rode with a convoy of 251 Jeeps as it crossed Northern California’s infamous Rubicon Trail for what was then the fifth Jeeper’s Jamboree. As it still does today, the ’57 Jamboree convened in Georgetown, a small mining town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The group traveled some 40 miles over graded logging roads to Wentworth Springs, where it picked up the tough, rocky trail to Rubicon Springs. That 12-mile stretch “proved that only a four-wheel-drive vehicle like a small maneuverable Jeep could make the trip,” D’Olivo wrote in the November 1957 issue of Motor Trend. Then, as now, the trail conditions were tough, “even for the rough-and-ready Jeeps,” he said. “High in the Sierras, an occasional assist was required from a power winch and cable.”

D’Olivo went on to describe another Jeep Jamboree tradition that continues to this day:

“Overnight camp was made at Rubicon Springs, elevation 6,000 ft., with sleeping bags a must. A mountain man barbecue, fishing, floor show, bonfire, group singing and assorted liquid refreshments filled the evening.”

The Jamborees got their start in 1953, when members of the Georgetown Rotary Club were looking for a way to pump some life into the local economy. Just 55 Jeeps made the first trek; nearly 400 4x4s will saddle up for the crawl to the Springs when the 59th Jeeper’s Jamboree leaves Georgetown this July. The trip is now open to non-Jeep vehicles, though, they still must be short-wheelbase, nimble rigs—Toyota Land Cruisers, Suzuki Samurais, Bronco IIs and the like—to tackle the 10-out-of-10-rated trail.

One of the Rotarians who founded the Jamboree, Mark A. Smith, broke away from the original group in the early ’80s and started his own adventure travel company, Jeep Jamboree USA. Smith and his crew now stage 30 weekend-long Jeep Jamborees from Maine to California, taking some 7,000 Jeep enthusiasts on everything from hardcore trails to backcountry roads.

“We take Jeep owners and turn them into Jeepers,” say the JJ USA folks—Jeepers who spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars to upgrade the trail-worthiness of their rigs.

“Do you have a four-wheel-drive Jeep and an urge to jounce?” D’Olivo asked at the end of his story, inviting readers to take part in the next Jamboree. “A few sore words of advice: Be sure your Jeep seat upholstery is adequately padded…ouch!”

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