My Jeep Gets a Name

Courtesy of the State of Washington.

I’ve owned my 1999 Jeep Wrangler since June or August 1999. I bought it new from a Scottsdale dealership. The man who would become my wasband was away (again) at the time, so I made the purchase alone and picked it up with a friend.

The Black Junker

It wasn’t my first Jeep. I’d bought the first used, at my wasband’s recommendation. “Don’t buy a new one,” he’d told me. “It’ll just get all scratched up and you’ll be upset.”

So I bought a used black hardtop Jeep without air conditioning from one of his friends in New Jersey. We drove it across the country to Arizona together. I got sick along the way — it may have been altitude sickness from our drive through Colorado or dehydration because I simply don’t drink enough — and we wound up spending the night in Winslow, just four hours short of our final destination. (Or maybe I’m confusing that trip with the time we drove his old Mustang across the country?)

I sold the hard top and traded the full doors for half doors. We pulled out the boom box speakers — which I gave away to my neighbor’s kids years later. I may have replaced the stereo, which never worked quite right. I don’t remember. Frankly, I don’t want to remember that vehicle.

All I do remember is that damn thing absolutely refusing to start more than a few times when I drove it around town. If it wouldn’t start in front of the supermarket, it might not start 15 miles down a two-track, out of the cell phone service area. I wanted a Jeep for off-roading and it needed to be reliable. This one simply didn’t fit the bill.

Some advice is just plain bad. (I shudder to think of what my life would be like now if I’d taken all of my wasband’s advice over the years. After all, it hasn’t done much for him, either.)

I sold that black piece of junk before owning it even a full year.

The Red Jeep

Jeep and Windmill
When I “rediscovered” photography in the late 2000s, I used the Jeep extensively to explore the desert with my camera. Windmills were one of my favorite subjects.

I replaced it with a brand spanking new 6-cylinder, 5-speed manual 1999 Jeep Wrangler with a soft top and air conditioning. It was “loaded stock” meaning that I got the best transmission, suspension, tires, etc. that were still considered stock. Afterwards, I added door steps, installed by my wasband. (I’m surprised he didn’t submit a bill to the court for labor.) I also bought a bimini top, but I only used it one season.

Jeep in Snow
My Jeep had no trouble driving 5 miles to a mesa top on unplowed gravel roads in 20 inches of snow.

I gave that Jeep quite a workout over the following years, taking it as far as Moab for some slick-rock climbing. I beat the crap out of it regularly. It’s been on back roads around Wickenburg and near Prescott and at the Grand Canyon. It’s been in deep snow and across flooded creeks. It’s been places I probably should not have taken it. But then again, isn’t that what a Jeep is for?

Most of the year, the side and back windows were off of it. It got rained on and in a lot.

Jeep Roads
Jack the Dog was a frequent companion on my Jeep excursions.

Sometimes I took off the doors. In fact, I lost the bolts that hold the door hinges on. Every time I took the doors off before driving up to Prescott it would rain or hail.

Oh, yeah. I scratched it, too. But I haven’t shed a tear about that. Arizona pinstriping is what those off-road scratches are called and my Jeep wears them like a badge of honor.

When I went away to Washington in the summer starting in 2008, I missed it. After all, I was stuck driving a big diesel pickup for months on end. I’m a small vehicle person; I like a short car with a narrow wheelbase and tight turning radius. The Jeep was all that and more. It was always good to come home to it and get it back out into the desert. This past winter, in fact, I even joined a local Jeep club and joined them for a few desert drives.

Jeep Drive
My Jeep, with me and Penny the Tiny Dog aboard, was one of about two dozen 4WD vehicles on this rainy drive through the desert near Wickenburg’s Vulture Peak in January 2013.

The Jeep Moves North

Through Nevada
You don’t know straight, flat roads until you’ve driven north or south through Nevada.

I drove the Jeep from Wickenburg, AZ to Quincy, WA in May 2013. It was not a drive I was looking forward to and it was not a drive I enjoyed.

You see, a real Jeep is plenty of fun on dirt roads and two-tracks out in the desert or in the mountains, but it’s no fun at all on highways. My Jeep’s soft top tended to flap at highway speeds. The interior was loud. The ride was stiff.

I made it tolerable by wearing earbuds attached to my phone and listening to podcasts and music along the way. Penny just slept. I wondered whether the 1200 miles with noise like that would damage her hearing, but she seems to be okay.

Once I got the Jeep to Washington, I drove it almost all the time, leaving my big truck parked. It wasn’t a gas mileage thing — my truck gets way better mileage than the old Chevy I drove in previous years. It was just such a pleasure to drive something small and nimble. Something easy to park.

And, of course, once I got the Jeep to Washington, it made sense to register it there.

Alf the Jeep
Here I am with Penny just yesterday after a drive around the forest not far from my home in Washington.

And that’s how it got its name: Alf. See? It’s right on the license plate.

Yes, the State of Washington issued plates for the Jeep starting with ALF. That’s Alf. Obviously that has to be the Jeep’s name.

You see, unlike some other people I know, I don’t name my vehicles. How can I? No name jumps out at me so I simply don’t give them a name.

But this name did jump out at me. And it’s easy to remember. And, somehow, it’s suitable for an off-road vehicle that gets the crap beat out of it regularly.

My Jeep has 52,000 miles on it and it’s 14 years old. I think we’ll be sharing a lot of adventures — now up here in the Pacific Northwest — for many years to come.

2 thoughts on “My Jeep Gets a Name

  1. I’m impressed you drove the Wrangler that far. I really hate highway driving in mine. It is my fun car that comes out on the weekends and in a blast go through the mud, up forest roads, and pretty much anywhere in. The only good part about driving it to work is that it is easy to parallel park.

    • It was a long, horrible drive, made worse by an awful overnight stay in Winnemucca. Now the drive up in my Honda S2000….well, that’s another story altogether.

      But you really can’t beat a Jeep for playing in the mud or on two-track roads. Yesterday’s drive up into the mountains was a lot of fun. Saw deer and wild turkeys, too!

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