Iam grateful for many things and I’ve just discovered one that I’d never thought of before: my surname is not Willys. (Think about it.) Whether or not the inventor John Willys (1873-1935) liked his family name I don’t know. But It doesn’t matter; the Willys Jeep appeared in 1941 and was a blessing to military units anywhere and everywhere – and when the war was over, farmers everywhere loved it.
Find the steepest hard-baked field you can, have it scattered with crevasses and just go. The Jeep could carry a quarter-ton over this sort of terrain with ease. Of course, things could go wrong. Not many, but when something as reliable as a Jeep goes wrong it does take you by surprise.
I was in India, between jobs and making myself useful as Driver.
‘Get this lot over to Armoury,’ said the Flight Sergeant, pointing to a stack of crates. ‘Take the Jeep.’
And so I met the Jeep. It was 1944. The terrain from Transport to Armoury was virtual wasteland. Well-baked wasteland. I loaded, got in, checked the feel of the gears and clutch, found the ignition, started up and went. It was great. I got the feel of it and I began to like it. My bottom and the seat parted company frequently.
And then it happened.
I felt the accelerator leave the sole of my shoe and drop to the floor. We leaped forwards, engine screaming at full revs. I glanced down. The pedal was just lying there.
Now, you’re thinking,‘Why didn’t you just switch off, you idiot.’ But that isn’t what I was thinking. No. I am a straightforward thinker in these matters and, to me, the obvious solution was to lift the pedal and keep my toe under it. While looking ahead, I crouched and felt around for the pedal. I could feel it but I couldn’t get my fingers under it. It was, smooth, heavily worn, and flush with the metal floor.
By the time I had thought of the ignition we were quite a long way past the Armoury. I braked, we stopped. I got out, shaking, and walked back to the workshop.
Don’t ask me what I said because I’ve forgotten.
Text and illustration ©Paul Wigmore 2010