Part 1 - A New Project

We had heard the wind and rain, but it was the siren made us get out of bed. It’s a sound that many in the Midwestern US are familiar with: a tornado warning.

Alyssa grabbed our dog and his bed as we made our way into the interior bathroom. I ran through the house, grabbing the essentials, the only lights coming from my phone and the lightning flashes outside. As I went from room to room, debris slammed against the house, and I peaked through a window. In another flash of lightning, I could tell the ground was white, intermingled with small twigs. Alyssa yelled for me, concerned for my safety, and I returned to our makeshift shelter to wait out the storm.

The storm raged until it didn’t. The siren was silenced, and as the last drops of rain fell, I walked outside to assess the damage from the past hour. I wasn’t alone; neighbors were outside too, their cell-phone flashlights illuminating small patches of the ground in front of them. The ground was covered in debris and small white pellets. I picked one up, roughly the size of a quarter. It was cold to the touch. Ice. Hail.

My truck, an ’07 F-150 SuperCab, had been parked on the street, exposed. In the middle of the night, it was hard to see much, but aside from a few small dents in the hood, the truck looked alright. In the morning, I discovered the truth.

Neighbors had siding ripped from their homes, windows shattered, and debris covered living, dining, and bedrooms. Their cars looked like golf balls, many with shattered glass and pools of water inside. We had been lucky. Our air conditioner had taken a beating, and although my truck had some dents and broken trim pieces, it survived.

The insurance company thought otherwise. While the dents were small enough to be repaired easily, there were too many to be cost effective. The hood, roof, and entire passenger side were slated to be replaced, but even that would be too expensive. My truck, along with most other vehicles nearby, was declared a total loss. A few days later, they loaded my truck onto their flatbed and drove away.

I hadn’t been in the market for a new vehicle. Sure, I might have looked around and even taken a test drive or two, but I was happy with the F150 I’d been driving for the past few years and if I felt like a change, well, I could take the wife’s Fusion and there was always my motorcycle. Still, I hadn’t used my truck like a truck should be. It had been a commuter vehicle for me, taking me to and from the office, not for hauling or heavy lifting. If I was going to get a new vehicle, it wouldn’t be the same as what I had just had.

Living in a small west-Texas town on the Mexican border, there wasn’t much choice in car buying, and what choices I had were all hail-damaged. Still, I searched through the traditional auto sales sites looking for my next vehicle, wondering what it would be. Somehow, I stumbled onto the Jurassic Park Jeep Forum and the seed was planted. Jurassic Park had always been my favorite movie. Even when I was a kid, I made a miniature version of the park out of Legos and K’Nex toys. I joked with Alyssa about building my own Jeep, gauging her reaction, mildly surprised when she wasn’t against the idea.

The movie vehicle in question was a 1992 Jeep Wrangler Sahara which, while new at the time, was now 24 years old. Few jeeps from that era showed in my searches, and those that did were either too heavily modified, too rusted or ragged, or just far too expensive. Luckily for me, not only did newer Wranglers look nearly identical but they were given luxuries like cup holders and airbags.

After a week or two of looking, I found a 2004 Wrangler with a 6-cylinder engine, a manual transmission, and low miles. After driving halfway across Texas to look at it in person, I signed my name on the line, handed over my money, and grabbed the keys.

Jacob Mast