Willys Jeep: The Long and Painful (Frame) Journey is Over

8 months.

It’s been 8 months since I took the frame, completely free from other parts of the Jeep, to get the front crossmember to get welded. It’s been 7 months since I was able to bring the sandblasted frame home and deal with the reality of not being anywhere near completed. It’s been a very long road since then.

Now, however, I’m extremely happy – one might even say encouraged – to say that the Willys Jeep frame is finally, blissfully, fixed and ready for assembly. 

Battery Tray AngleI don’t know about you, but I actually like those “before and after” type reality shows. Shows like “Car Warriors,” “Wheeler Dealers,” and “Overhaulin'” all come to mind (because they’re car-related), but it’s really any show that has a before/after reveal towards the end of the show. Most people like, perhaps, the drama that comes when issues arise between the ‘real people,’ but for me the payoff is always the work.

What you don’t always see – and definitely rarely get a true sensation about – is all the work that goes on in between the times the camera is there. I knew before I started (and when I started documenting everything with the camera) that there was going to be a lot of work “in-between” the shots, and it’s true.

What I didn’t expect was how taking pictures actually helped motivate me. I didn’t realize how much I was looking forward to being able to see how far we had actually come, how much work we had really done (I say ‘we’ because while it’s true I did the the majority of the work I would have been stuck if it hadn’t been for my fiancée’s help at crucial points).

Being able to take the pictures yesterday and today, and assemble the before/after photos, was a huge payoff. What’s even better (as I write this I’m feeling better about the project than I have in months) is that I know that when the project is finally completed, this is just a minor shadow of the feeling of accomplishment I’ll have at that point.

For now, though, I’m completely fine with taking a moment and enjoying the fruits of all that labor.

As I’ve written before, there were many, many trouble-spots on this frame. Some of them I wasn’t sure were solvable or possible to fix at all. I remember when I had only been a month into the project and came across the first of many nasty surprises. However, that was nothing compared to when I saw this:

I thought this was a dealbreaker

I thought this was a dealbreaker

Quite frankly, it was this discovery that I thought the frame was toast. I began doing research on whether or not to buy another frame or fix this one. Doing some research I found it wouldn’t be that simple. You can buy a completely brand-new tubular frame for this model, but that would effectively be killing the Jeep’s soul (hey, my rules; I make them up).

I thought about buying another Jeep, stripping it down to get to the frame and use it as a donor. I even went so far as to drive up to Sacramento to see about buying one, but it turned out that frame had been modified and wasn’t going to work for me. Even so, on the drive I started to think about donor cars in general, and would I want to take apart a donor car if it was in better condition? If not, would that mean that I had just wasted a year disassembling the Badger? Educational lessons notwithstanding (that’s a very expensive lesson), I still wanted the Badger back on its feet.

Deciding to forge ahead, I returned the frame to the welder’s to get straightened and the massive cracks repaired. I didn’t have much hope that it would happen, and as it turned out, it was only going to get worse.

The patient is in traction but resting comfortably.

The patient is in traction but resting comfortably.

The welders recommended going to TJ’s Auto in San Jose, and I’m very glad that they did (for reasons that will become clear later. I gave TJ the original specs of the frame for measurement, and sure enough, he was spot on. His adjustment of the frame was exact. With a newly adjusted frame, I took it back to Freeman Frame, as they had done the welding for me in the first place.

The patient is in surgery

The patient is in surgery

Thing is, the first time I took the frame to get welded I didn’t think that the job was all that clean. I mean, as I wrote earlier, the weld’s definitely weren’t pretty.

This time, though, I was a bit more concerned about the weld itself. Having never done this before, I wasn’t sure if there was some sort of welding/metallurgical mojo of which I was unaware, but I thought that the supporting plate was way, way too small:

I think the bandage is smaller than the wound.

I think the bandage is smaller than the wound.

I kind of glossed over the fact (in the first post) that they hadn’t been ground down, and when they were done for the second time I had the same problem. I needed to return to the frame with my own grinder and reduce some of the splatter. I’m sure there’s a welding term for it, but I knew I didn’t want to powdercoat a frame that had what looked like little beehives all over it.

(By the way, I don’t want to put down Freeman Frame. These were great guys, and I liked them very much. I’m caught in a rough position because while I like them, I feel they should have taken a bit more care and quality in their work for welding. I suppose that to be fair, welding wasn’t really their advertised strong suit, but I think they should probably have been a bit more up front about that).

Showing off the bedside manner

Showing off the bedside manner

To be honest, though, I didn’t really mind doing it. I mean, I wanted to do most of the work myself anyway, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. What was a big deal – huge deal, in fact – was that when the beehives were removed what was left didn’t look very solid at all.

(Frame is upside down in this photo)

(Frame is upside down in this photo)

Which brings us back to TJ.

I brought the frame back to him, because he had mentioned that he also does welding. I am so, so glad he does.

TJ to the rescue

TJ to the rescue

(By the way, TJ has the most awesome portable BBQ rig I have ever seen. You think you like to BBQ? You got nothing on TJ!)

Keg, BBQ, Smoker, Grille, on a Lazy Susan trailer. Nom nom nom...

Keg, BBQ, Smoker, Grille, on a Lazy Susan trailer. Nom nom nom…

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah…

Knowing that there was hope for the frame (thanks to TJ, who also ground down his work beautifully and even found a couple of other touch-ups on the frame that I had missed, and didn’t charge me for it). I went ahead and got a few additional replacement parts, including a transmission crossmember…

I know it's hard to see the difference...

I know it’s hard to see the difference…

… and some new pivot joints. After all, if you’re going to replace two, you might as well replace all four.

The new bits are the ones that are shiny. (duh!)

The new bits are the ones that are shiny. (duh!)

Once that was done, there was nothing holding me back from getting it sandblasted and powder-coated.

Well, except for money. And time. As it turned out, the company that did the sandblasting the first time (and the one that I wanted to go back to this time as well) is only open from 8-4 M-Thursday, and 8-2 on Friday. Given my travel schedule, this

After socking away a few more pennies, I finally managed to get the frame over there in mid-June. Due to their schedule, it wasn’t ready until this week. Yesterday I picked it up. In the next post, I’ll put together the before and after pictures (there’s a sample at the top of this blog post as well). To me, those are the most dramatic pictures, and as I wrote above the things that have been motivating me all this time (and giving me encouragement to continue).

For now, though, until the Before & After Photo Essay post, I’ll leave you with this teaser sample:

More to come...

More to come…

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