By Raiza Giorgi
Even though Kevin Connor isn’t a veteran, his military jeep is — and he feels a sense of duty to keep it running to honor those who have served. He and his wife have been a part of the local Flat Fender Friends group for more than 10 years.
“It’s a great opportunity to honor our veterans and give people a look at history and what the jeep came from,” Connor said.
The Flat Fenders are veterans and non-veterans who have an affinity for restored military vehicles. They are widely seen in the valley’s many parades and other events and will be driving in the upcoming Fourth of July Parade in Solvang.
“Our biggest gathering is typically the Fourth of July parade, as we love driving our veterans and seeing the patriotism,” said founding member Dennis Beebe.
Beebe, a retired Air Force colonel, said the group has been around for about 15 years. They have lovingly restored jeeps and more recent military vehicles that have seen service from World War II to Afghanistan.
Beebe acquired his 1942 Ford GPW (known as a jeep) from the used car lot next to Olivera’s in Buellton. It had been covered in putty and didn’t even look like a military jeep. Beebe started researching military vehicles and talking to people about how they should look.
“Our other founding member, Bruce McBroom, literally pulled his jeep next to mine and we measured where the holes should be so we could mount the spare tire and other hardware distinctive to them,” Beebe said.
Jeeps were the primary light transport vehicle of the military during World War II and the post-war period. They were shipped overseas and used in all areas of combat because they were off-road-capable and lightweight, Beebe said.
“A lot of the vehicles you see in our area never actually went overseas because the vehicles they shipped over were left there when the wars ended. The ships would transport the military servicemen and women home, not the jeeps,” he added.
“A lot of people think that they are all Willys Jeeps, but people forget that a lot were actually made by Ford. Ford was reluctant to make something designed by someone else, and they gave their Jeeps subtle differences,” Beebe said.
Beebe noted that the jeeps and other vehicles that people see in local parades are from a range of wars. Some were used during World War II, such as one that belonged to founding member Jim Axtell. Although his was never used in the war, Axtell bought his jeep brand-new from the Army. Axtell sold it to McBroom, and Beebe stores it for him.
“I told Jim he can be a member as long as he can climb in and out on his own,” Beebe laughed. “To this day he still can, and he just turned 100.”
Another one of their members, Herman Pfauter of Santa Barbara, was a teenager in Germany when he saw the Allied jeeps rolling through his village. He instantly feel in love with the American vehicles, and he has the largest collection of anyone in the group. Now in his 80s, Pfauter has found a home for some of his jeeps by donating and building a structure for the Estrella Warbird Museum in Paso Robles.
“We even have a member that lives in France. Fabian Libre has a jeep and contacted us to be a part of the group. He named his ‘Kunk’s Klunk’ after Jim Kunkle’s P-38 he flew in World War II during D-Day. He even let Jim drive it when he was in Normandy for the 75th anniversary,” Beebe said.
A few of the members have jeeps from the Korean War, Vietnam War and more recent Humvees.
“We don’t have a lot of requirements to be a part of our club. There’s only three, maybe four, rules,” Beebe laughed. Those rules are no dues, no newsletters, no regular meetings and no uniform.
To get more information, email Beebe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 4 parade
The grand marshals of this year’s July 4 parade, with the theme “We, the People,” will be Putty and Carol Mills. Putty is a member of the Flat Fender Friends, and we will have a story about the couple in our July 2 issue.
The parade, sponsored by Solvang Rotary, will start at 11 a.m. at Mission Santa Ines. It will go down Mission Drive to Fifth Street, left onto Copenhagen Drive and back to the Mission. To be a part of the parade, visit the Rotary’s website at www.solvangrotary.com and send in an application form.