It's a Jeep Thing

   There are certain brands that just epitomize Americana.  Names like Pepsi, General Electric, and Harley Davidson come to mind.  These companies are more than just established businesses; they are culturally iconic and to be loyal to any of them says something about who you are and what you are all about. 
   Another one of these brands is Jeep.  With roots going back as far as 1941, Jeep is the oldest brand of sport utility vehicles and as such, has been able to lay claim to being the go-to vehicle for outdoor, off-roading enthusiasts.  In fact, if you’ve paid attention to Jeep’s advertising over the years, you’ve seen a very consistent theme - dominate off-road capabilities.  Today the Jeep Wrangler is one of very few SUV’s with solid front and rear axels.  These axels are durable, strong and precise.  The construction also tends to allow owners to “lift” their Jeeps with aftermarket suspensions, which ultimately improves the vehicle’s off-road abilities. 
   On June 20-22, the city of Bradford, PA will see its fair share of “lifted” Jeeps.  During those three days the streets - and more importantly the backwoods of Bradford - will be taken over by Jeep lovers from all over the country.
   “We will have participants from Canada, the New England states, south to Florida and west to Missouri,” said Jim Gunter, the local coordinator for the Penn’s Woods Jeep Jamboree.  “At $295 per adult the Jamboree is not for everyone, but anyone who comes has a great time as we treat them like family. We know they are on vacation and we make it special for them. I have been to 13 of the 30 Jamborees from Maine to California and know we have the best home base in the University of Pittsburgh, Bradford.”
   The Bradford event is the largest Jeep Jamboree in the country with 140 participant Jeeps and 18 Guide Jeeps. The event is expected to attract over 300 people.  Registration for all Jamborees opened at midnight on Dec. 1, 2012 and sold out in 36 hours. The backlog count in January was 57 Jeeps, so it’s safe to say that enthusiasm for the event is at an all-time high.
   Jeep Jamborees take place all over the nation.  Check out for information on all the Jeep adventure activities.  Seventeen years ago, Gunter and a friend (who has since retired from the event) decided that Bradford would be the ideal location to host a Jamboree after they participated in their first one.  Gunter said that he immediately began looking for a Jeep of his own on his way home from the event.  He eventually decided on a 1986 CJ7 that he has since been upgrading a little at a time.  After his daughter finished 8 years and three tours of duty in the Army, he helped her build her own CJ7 from a rust bucket that they found and purchased.  The following year he helped his wife build her own CJ7. 
    “The atmosphere is addictive,” said Mindi Lane, a former Jeep Jamboree participant.  “You see everyone on the trails and trying cool lines and routes.  Adrenaline gets flowing and by the time the event is done, if you don’t already own a Jeep you can’t help but want one afterwards.”
   Family is a huge component of this distinctive Jeep culture.  Many registrants for the Bradford Jamboree are veteran participants.  “Most of our Jeep Team has been together for the full 16 years and has become an extended family,” said Gunter.  “Friends have married, had kids, children have grown to be (Jamboree) guides themselves. We have a unique bond and we share that connection with our guests.”
   “The Jeeping itself is fun,” said Lane.  “But just as fun are the post trail activities.  The after party, the bonfires, getting to meet and hang out with new people who share a passion for something that you love as well … those are the things that make the event so special.”
   Those who partake in the Jamboree can expect a very packed schedule.  There is reasonably priced housing at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford campus where people can enjoy walking around before and after the trail rides in the safe environment, while sharing Jeeping stories. The campus chef and staff go all out pleasing the participants with top-notch meals.
   Participants are encouraged to come to the Jamboree to enjoy the area before the Thursday night sign-in.  By doing so they get a chance to check out the local eateries and attractions like the Zippo/Case Museum.
   Thursday afternoon, all participants must bring their Jeeps for an evaluation. Trained Guides look over the Jeeps to confirm they meet the Jeep Jamboree requirements. The Guides will begin a discussion with the participant to help them select a trail level that is appropriate for them and their Jeep. This is a good time to ask questions about the venue, places to see and things to do.
   Starting at 5pm, the participants check in and register, then select trails for Friday and Saturday.
   There are 8 trails at Penn's Woods, rated from 3 to 7. The national scale is 1 to 10; from easy 2-wheel drive trails to trails that only highly modified Jeeps can pass. The Guides are there to answer questions and verify their Jeep is a good fit for the trail and that they have an adequate experience level.
   After breakfast on Friday morning, participants pick up a box lunch for the trail and line their Jeep up with the selected group. A required drivers meeting is at 8:30am to go over safety information, then everyone heads out to the trails.
   All trails have 4 guides and are on private properties where formal agreements and insurance policies are in place. Drivers follow pre-determined trails in a slow 4-wheel drive, low range, 1st and 2nd gear, nose to tail drive. When coming to an obstacle, the lead Jeep Guides will be guiding the participants through it.
   On some trails, the Guides are foresters and narrate interesting facts of the area as they pass through active oil/gas drilling and logging.  It is all about camaraderie.  “You will find at a challenging obstacle, that most will get out of their Jeeps and cheer on the person in the challenge,” said Gunter. 
   Everyone returns to the Campus for the evening meal, entertainment, and some relaxation after a long and exciting day.
   Saturday’s format is very similar to Friday.  After the Saturday dinner, there is a drawing with many giveaways from sponsors, including a set of tires, a winch, a free future Jamboree and much more.
   Sunday is set aside to explore the area and then to finally travel home.
   It’s important to recognize the Jamboree for what it is.  “The Jamboree is all about enjoying the outdoors, testing your and your Jeep's abilities in a safe and controlled environment,” stated Gunter.  “Meeting like-minded participants and accomplishing things thought near impossible. You must be in a Jeep and have pre-registered and a signed waiver to join the trail rides. No spectators are allowed. This is not a race. There are no trophies. We adhere to the ‘Tread Lightly’ program and are good stewards of the environment.”
   So while this is not a spectator event, if you’re in the greater Bradford area during the period of June 20-22, there is a great chance you’ll see some impressive Jeeps.  And if you weren’t able to sign up this year, make sure to mark your calendar and sign up early next season.
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