Fun on wheels
What: Jeep owners will gather for the eighth annual O'Daniel Jeep Jam at O'Daniel Jeep, 5611 Illinois Road
When: Saturday. Check-in and registration, 7:30 a.m.; escorted parade to Kessie Jeep Farm near South Whitley, 9:15 a.m.; celebration/free family fun party at O'Daniel, 4-7:30 p.m.
Cost: Party is free; $50 for off-road event with pre-registration required for off-road portion. Participants must sign waiver and have valid driver's license.
Information: 435-5337, email cwruskaup@ odanielauto.com or visit https://www.facebook.com/odzjeepjam.
Mike Harrigan speaks of his Jeep with great pride.
“Our Jeep is a white, 1983 CJ5 with a skyjacker 3-inch lift,” the Fort Wayne resident explains. “It has 33-inch BF Goodrich tires, a Painless wiring kit and a Flowmaster exhaust.”
On Saturday, Harrigan and his family will join 2,000 other Jeep enthusiasts for the eighth annual O'Daniel Jeep Jam, held at O'Daniel's location at 5611 Illinois Road. An off-road portion of the event, limited to 300 registered drivers, is held at the Kessie Jeep Farm near South Whitley.
“Jeep Jam wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Pam and Tom Kessie,” says Craig Ruskaup, sales manager at O'Daniel Jeep and one of the organizers of the event. “We ran out of (space on) the land we had been using, and the Kessies stepped up and saved Jeep Jam. Their family has done more for JJ than anyone, and the piece of property is off-road heaven.”
The first Jeep Jams were simply parties for O'Daniel customers and Jeep lovers. It wasn't until midway between years two and three that the event developed a focus. They had been approached by the Disabled American Veterans, which needed money to purchase a vehicle to transport veterans to Indianapolis for medical treatment.
“That gave new life to Jeep Jam,” says Ruskaup who estimates the event has raised more than $60,000 in the last five years. “Pretty amazing — selling $1 hot dogs — that, on a single day, a car dealership can raise $20,000 (in 2012), thanks to an incredible community donating all our food and the great silent auction items.”
This year's silent auction includes a guitar, a three-month membership to Spiece, a 3-foot Norway spruce (planted), furnace services, use of a Fort Wayne Komets suite, an RKI-Crossover steel pickup tool box, a one-year family membership to the YMCA, a Tom Crean-autographed IU basketball and a slew of other items donated by area businesses and individuals.
“We have two locker differentials valued at over $2,000 apiece,” adds Ruskaup, “but the ladies in the office haven't left out the women,” as Vera Bradley items have made the list.
The fun starts at 7:30 a.m. with check-in and registration, followed by an escorted parade to the Kessie Farm through downtown South Whitley.
“We are met by a town full of happy people, including the fire department waving a flag on top of their ladder truck,” says Ruskaup. “We get instruction and rules for off-roading, a blessing of the Jeeps and then about five hours of complete fun!”
Speedway Concrete & Aggregate constructs an off-road course for the event.
“We have trails from mild to wild — the easiest trails to trails that no Jeep will be able to pass,” Ruskaup says.
Trail guides are available at all times, and no alcohol or dangerous driving is permitted. Tom Kessie and other members of the South Whitley Volunteer Fire Department are also on hand.
“It has to be a Jeep product to participate in the off-road portion,” cautions Ruskaup. “No Rams, only Jeep products.”
For those who do not off-road, there is plenty to do at the dealership beginning at 4 p.m.
Three obstacle courses are set up, along with a complete remote control course sponsored by Phil's Hobby Shop. Carnival games for kids, pedal car racing, Jeep muddy ditch rides, great food and cold beer are also available, says Ruskaup. Hundreds of custom Jeeps will be on display, and two live bands will entertain.
“Icy the Eagle from the Komets and Santa Claus are even here!” he adds.
New for 2013 is the invitation to any vehicle made by Chrysler, and Ruskaup expects old muscle cars and monster trucks in the mix.
“Every year we look forward to meeting other Jeepers from the tri-state area,” says Harrigan, who is participating for the fifth year. “(Jeep Jam) is geared toward all different kinds of Jeeps and Jeepers, so there's a wide variety of people and Jeeps.”
“Jeep is a way of life, not just transportation,” adds Ruskaup. “When you own a Jeep, you look for a reason to go for a drive. You volunteer to go to the store. A Jeep is a time machine — it will take you back in time, bringing back your youth.”