Thursday, February 22, 2024

Off the road and on the record at JeepFest ‘21

To a certain crowd, JeepFest is the equivalent of Mardi Gras.

Jeep fans are the Trekkies of the car enthusiast world. Their fandom knows no bounds and they remain obsessively devoted to the world’s favorite Toledo-made off-road vehicle, year after year returning to JeepFest in Downtown Toledo. 

It’s a hot, steamy day and Adams Street and Huron Street lremds me of the Central Ave. lot at Yark Jeep. There’s Jeeps of all makes, models, years, and colors, with the proud owners usually available to show off their prized vehicles. I peek inside a 1984 Jeep Wagoneer, featuring tan wood-panel siding; it looks like the Griswold Family Truckster from “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” The interior walls are carpeted, which brings back memories of that strange time in the ‘80s where we carpeted the weirdest stuff. 

I have a stop-and-chat with the owners of the ‘84 Wagoneer–Greg Cheney of McCutchinville, Ohio and his 16-year old daughter Brianna, who has just inherited the vehicle from her proud dad.

“We come every year to JeepFest, we’ve only missed one parade the entire time it’s been going on,” said Greg, who also owns a 1976 Wagoneer that he plans to enter in a future JeepFest parade, perhaps next year. 

And there are thousands of people just like the Cheneys here. Levis Square features different bands playing all day and there are dozens of booths set up promoting different Jeep related organizations. We walk a few blocks to Hensville, where the family attractions are set up: bounce houses, a rock-climbing wall, and even a little pool where kids can learn to kayak. 

While most of the license plates are from Ohio and Indiana, there are Jeeps from Florida, California, Georgia, and Texas on display here. One thing is certain–everyone who has assembled in Downtown Toledo is having a great time.

That’s not to say JeepFest is without a touch of surrealism. My former boss and three term Toledo Mayor Carleton S. Finkbeiner is milling about, campaigning for yet another run for the 22nd floor of One Government Center, and a guy is waving a sign saying “Carty –Papa Don’t Take No Mess.” Papa? Carty is now trying to market himself as a grandfather-type figure, but it’s hard to see that  guy offering you a piece of Werther’s Original candy. Wanting to avoid a scene, I stay out of his sight and turn my attention towards a beautiful replica of the Jeep from “Jurassic Park.” There are Jeep vehicles from the 1940s and later models, including mint-condition Jeepsters. I’m not really a car guy, but I’m loving how friendly everyone is to each other. A Jeep fan is automatically a friend to another Jeep fan and it’s kind of beautiful.

ProMedica, Dana, Yark, and the dozens of other sponsors who have joined forces to put on the JeepFest deserve high-fives. It’s a great event that does Toledo proud. This was my first Fest but it won’t be my last, that’s for damn sure. Great job, JeepFest committee. You made me glad to be a Toledoan.

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