Run­ning the Ru­bi­con Trail

The Jeep­ers Jam­boree rules the roost

Jp Magazine - - Ta­ble Of Con­tents - By Chris Col­lard jped­i­tor@jp­magazine.com Pho­tog­ra­phy: Chris Col­lard

If we look deep into the an­nals of Jeep­ing, to the be­gin­ning, we’ll find our­selves on

New Year’s Day 1941, with a group of en­gi­neers in a chilly, smoke-filled cor­ner of­fice of the Willys-Over­land plant in Toledo, Ohio. In July of the pre­vi­ous year, the U.S. mil­i­tary, gear­ing up to en­ter the con­flict in Europe, called out to the Amer­i­can auto in­dus­try for the de­vel­op­ment of a light re­con­nais­sance ve­hi­cle, and in No­vem­ber of that year the Willys Quad made its de­but. The Willys-Over­land team had been granted the gov­ern­ment con­tract, and they pored over thin fi­nan­cials, short pro­duc­tion dead­lines, and the daunt­ing task of re­fin­ing the Quad into a plat­form that could win a war. Flash-for­ward 13 years, af­ter World War II, and a hand­ful of MBs, pre­de­ces­sors of the mighty Quad, were me­an­der­ing their way over an old rocky two-track in Cal­i­for­nia’s Sierra Ne­vada. It was a scout­ing trip for an event that would change the way the world viewed the Jeep, and it would be­come known as the “grand­daddy” of four-wheel-drive events—the Jeep­ers Jam­boree. This

July, we joined Jam­boree Pres­i­dent Bob Sweeney for their 66th an­nual cross­ing of the Ru­bi­con Trail to learn more about the re­gion and the event’s rich his­tory.

Long be­fore forty-nin­ers crossed the Sier­ras en route to the gold fields of Cal­i­for­nia, Na­tive Amer­i­cans tra­versed the gran­ite path from Lake Ta­hoe to the western foothills. By 1861, the Cen­tral Pa­cific Rail­road had ac­quired Ru­bi­con Springs as booty for their ef­forts in build­ing the western half of the Transcon­ti­nen­tal Rail­road. It wasn’t un­til 1867, when min­ing brothers Ge­orge and John Hun­sucker “set­tled” in the val­ley, that word of the Ru­bi­con slipped into the main­stream of Western lex­i­con. Al­though they would not tech­ni­cally own the land for an­other 20 years, the Hun­suck­ers built ac­com­mo­da­tions to at­tract tourists, bot­tled and mar­keted the spring’s min­eral water as hav­ing heal­ing prop­er­ties, and har­vested the meadow’s thick grass as live­stock feed. It was dur­ing their ten­ure that Bob Sweeney’s sec­ond great-grand­fa­ther en­tered the pic­ture. With the threat of the route be­ing closed, brought on by tim­ber in­ter­ests in the area, Sweeney lob­bied the State of Cal­i­for­nia and El Do­rado County to des­ig­nate the wagon track to Ta­hoe as an of­fi­cial county road. The ap­peal was granted in 1887 and re­mains in ef­fect to this day, though it is an “un­main­tained” road.

We find the Sweeney name back in the Ru­bi­con’s lime­light in 1952. Bob’s grand­fa­ther, Jim, along with Mark A. Smith and a hand­ful of Ge­orge­town Ro­tar­i­ans, turned the wheels of their

MBs to­ward the Hun­suck­ers’ home­stead with an idea in mind: cre­ate a fundrais­ing event for the town’s wan­ing econ­omy. The fol­low­ing year, 55 Jeeps and 155

peo­ple set off for Ru­bi­con Springs. The rest, we’ll say, has be­come his­tory.

We’ve wit­nessed the 40th, 50th, and 60th Jam­borees come and go, each bring­ing a new crop of Jeep­ing en­thu­si­asts who de­part with mem­o­ries that may be forged into the chron­i­cles of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The Ru­bi­con Trail has be­come known through­out the world, and driv­ing it is a Top 10 “bucket list” item for mil­lions of peo­ple. As for the Jeep­ers Jam­boree, it is with­out ques­tion the orig­i­nal “grand­daddy” of four-wheel-drive venues.

Tra­di­tion runs deep here, and the event con­tin­ues to sup­port the lo­cal com­mu­nity. The Ge­orge­town Ro­tary club runs the ice cream parlor and vol­un­teers from Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 119 op­er­ate the kitchen and the bar, both of which raise con­sid­er­able funds for var­i­ous char­i­ta­ble causes. Each year we look for­ward to our an­nual pil­grim­age to the Jam­boree, not only to sup­port the Amer­i­can Le­gion (aka, the bar), but also to take in one of the best so­cial Jeep gath­er­ings on the planet (aka, the river party). Hope to see you there next year! See jeep­er­s­jam­boree.com for more info.

Al­though the orig­i­nal trail be­gan near Went­worth Springs, in past decades the Gran­ite Bowl and an ob­sta­cle known asGate­keeper, ac­cessed via Loon Lake, have be­come the of­fi­cial start­ing point.

Jeeps line up for Gate­keeper as the sunrises over the Sierra Ne­vada. In re­cent years, the anti-ac­cess crowd has had their crosshairs on the Ru­bi­con. To keep the trail open to the pub­lic, var­i­ous groups—Ru­bi­con Trail Foun­da­tion, Friends of the Ru­bi­con, Jeep­ers Jam­boree, and Jeep Jam­boree USA— uti­lized grant fund­ing and do­na­tions to con­struct this mil­lion-dol­lar bridge over El­lis Creek.

Back in the day, the trail was marked with “bor­rowed” street signs. To­day it is well marked, and per­ma­nent bath­rooms have been placed along the 10-mile route to Ru­bi­con Springs.

Jeep­ers Jam­boree at­tracts peo­ple from across the coun­try and around the world. Christopher Davis­son brought his 1979 CJ-7 all the way from Illi­nois to join the fun.

A Wran­gler Ru­bi­con tra­verses the top of Walker Hill en route to Spi­der Lake.

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