WORTH TWP — Rain could mean a ruined day for activities like swimming, biking or hiking, but for off-roading Jeep enthusiasts, rain only adds to the challenge, the amount of mud and the adrenaline rush of an obstacle course.
The fourth annual Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival opened at Cooper's Lake Campground on a rainy Friday, attracting families, collectors and spectators.
Watching and/or trying obstacles, checking out vendors, and an historical Jeep exhibit kept visitors busy.
The playground, an obstacle course with boulders, telephone poll bridges and plenty of mud, hummed with excitement Friday afternoon. The sun peaked through the clouds after a rain shower paused events, and drivers were anxious to try out the extra muddy obstacles, while spectators watched from bleachers.
“It's a low-speed thrill ride,” said Adam Eckley, while his Jeep roared, bumping and jerking through the boulders he was driving on. “It's the most fun you'll have at 5 mph.”
Eckley works at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park in Tremont, Schuylkill County. Park workers designed the playground and trails at Cooper's Lake.
He often takes new drivers out on courses for the first time to show them what it's like to drive, testing out grip and suspension during the ride.
Eckley kept a poker face, even as his Jeep tilted sideways at a 45 degree angle through the rock crawling area. He effortlessly straightened out with the help of a nearby spotter.
“You're trying to pick the hardest way through and the easiest way out,” Eckley explained.
Meanwhile, from a safe distance away, visitors watched Jeeps take turns driving through the obstacle course.
Jeeps have been a bonding experience for Bill and Garrett Wagner of Bel Air, Md.
The father and son duo have built and modified three Jeeps together. Garrett, 16, recently got his license, so he's just starting to try off-roading.
“Taking them out is the payoff,” his dad Bill said, “But for father and son, (building them) is time well spent.”
For the Nichols family of Shaler, Jeep ownership could run in their blood.
“You could say we're a Jeep family,” said Clay Nichols.
He came with his wife, Christy; his brother and sister-in-law, John and Tawnya Nichols, and their daughters, Alexa, 10, and Addison, 6, of Latrobe. They are camping at Cooper's Lake for the weekend. It's become an annual family retreat.
“This is the girls' first year. So far, they like it,” Tawnya Nichols said.
“I want to have a Jeep when I grow up,” Alexa said.
Alexa wants a camo one while her younger sister, Addison, wants a pink one someday.
They hope to try some of the obstacles over the weekend in their Jeeps.
“I learn something new every time I come here,” said Christy Nichols. “It's something different.”
On the other side of the campground was a Jeep exhibit, showcasing Jeep models from 1941 to 2014. It's for any Jeep fan who appreciates the vehicle's history and how it's evolved through the decades.
Bill Ringeisen of Evans City owns six Jeeps. He said he's not a collector, but a hobbyist.
“Ever since I was little, I wanted an Army Jeep,” he said.
He's restored a few, but one of the Jeeps he hasn't restored yet he also showcased. It's a military Jeep from 1945.
An old layer of red paint covered most of it's original olive color. Someday soon he hopes to restore it to it's original condition, using all original parts, no reproductions.
Passers-by were intrigued because of the stark difference between a Jeep that's been restored and one that hasn't.
“It's in ideal condition to restore because it has all of the original parts,” Ringeisen said.