Paul White never was much of a classic car guy.
And then his friend and former neighbor called with a suggestion. Maybe White would be interested in owning a 1949 Willys-Overland Jeepster?
"I think he was looking for a good home for it," White said, recalling with a chuckle his conversation with Jack Weyrens about five years ago. "He wanted to sell it to someone who would take nice care of it."
White eventually purchased the vehicle two years ago and brought it to his Litchfield home about a year ago. Ever since, he's researched the Jeepster story and slowly become the "car guy" he never thought he was.
That's what brought him to Red Rooster Days Monday in Dassel for the festival's Classic Car Show. He also is considering an appearance at the Church of St. Philip's Bazaar Sunday, Sept. 8.
"I kind of got the bug," White said of his slow build to car connoisseur.
All initially fostered by his neighbor.
White, a representative for Thrivent Financial, and Weyrens, a longtime district court judge, were neighbors for nearly two decades, living on adjacent properties on the north edge of Litchfield. Weyrens and his wife, Kate, eventually moved to St. Paul in retirement. But they maintained a close friendship with White, his wife, Pam, and their family.
Weyrens became a kind of mentor to the Whites' son, who was just a baby when the Whites moved in next door, but grew up to attend law school and become an attorney.
Living next door to "the judge," White knew well, as did others, of Weyrens' attraction to old cars. As White recalls, Weyrens, who died in May 2018, was fond of driving his Packards to work at the Meeker County Courthouse on a regular basis — even if the practice didn't quite follow legal restriction.
The cars were adorned with collector's plates, which technically permitted them being driven only to and from shows or other collector events, not as regular transportation to work.
One story has it that the judge's propensity pushing the limits of the law in this fashion was brought up to local law enforcement who, White said with a laugh, responded by telling the informant, "I'm not going to pull over the judge!"
True story or not, it was well known that Weyrens enjoyed motoring around and tinkering with old cars. And about two years ago, as his health began to fail, Weyrens "sent this really nice letter," that White saw as encouragement to purchase the 1949 Jeepster that Weyrens had purchased in 2010.
The two eventually struck a deal, with the caveat that Weyrens would continue to store the vehicle while White arranged for storage accommodations in Litchfield. A year later, about a week before White was to pick up the car, Weyrens fell ill and died.
Days before his death, Weyrens took his grandchildren for a ride in the Jeepster, and even though the car now is owned by White, he has left a standing invitation for Weyrens' children and grandchildren to visit any time to enjoy another ride in the car.
In the meantime, White has been doing his research. Among the things he's found:
- Willys-Overland Motors was the second-largest vehicle manufacturer in the United States in 1948, the result of all of the vehicles — Jeeps — it made for the military.
- When World War II ended, Willys-Overland attempted to repurpose many of the military Jeep parts for civilian automobiles, the Jeepster being one attempt.
- With its design similar to the military vehicle, the Jeepster was thought to be a wise move by the company, because soldiers returning home would be familiar with it. However, "guys coming back from World War II didn't want reminders" of the war, and the Jeepster failed to take off.
- White's 1949 Jeepster is one of 19,000 manufactured by Willys-Overland Motors between 1948 and 1951.
Part of "getting the bug" for White was his joining the Midstates Jeepster Association, a group dedicated to those 19,000 vehicles and their owners. Earlier this spring, White attended the association's spring rally in Pontiac, Illinois, trailering his Jeepster to the event.
"It's fun," White said. "I've tried to keep it (the vehicle) all original ... like Jack said. I enjoy driving it. It's kind of fun, (a car) 70 years old going down the road."