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73-year-old Jeep Willy shows Jeepers how to beat the mud pit

Off-Road Glory
The Hare family — Dwayne, Wendy and 13-year-old Brody — of Hanover, York County, manned the first Jeep of the day to make it through the mud pit in their Orange 1950 CJ-3A on Friday, June 9, 2023. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

WORTH TWP — "She ain't failed me yet,“ Jeep owner Patty Wager said as she waited for chance to drive through the mud pit in her gray and pink Wrangler, affectionately named Jeepsy Soul.

“We’re going to try to like (heck),” Wagner said,“ and she hasn’t been stuck yet.”

Despite the confidence, Jeepsy Soul did indeed get stuck.

Jeepsy Soul met the same fate of many Jeeps attempting to cross the mud pit at the Jeep Playground Event at the Bantam Jeep Heritage Fesitval on Friday, June 9, 2023, at Cooper’s Lake Campground. An almost endless row of a variety of Jeeps lined up in an effort to cross a muddy trench, spanning about 8 feet, to no avail.

That was until a 1950 Willys Jeep CJ-3A showed up.

It was not clear that Dwayne Hare’s pride and joy was going to make it over the muddy hurdle that had been plaguing Jeep drivers all day. Hare’s tires seemed to be spinning in place, just inches from clearing the pit.

“I heard something grabbing in the rear,” said Hare, who brought his wife, Wendy, and 13-year-old son, Brody, along for the ride in his 1950 CJ-3A. “That’s when I knew if I could keep going, I would make it.”

And despite a muddy battle, Hare, of Hanover, York County, was able to cross the pit to the cheers of a growing crowd.

“I didn’t think anybody was going to make it today,” said Cory Flood, of Butler. “I’ve been here all day, and it didn’t seem like nobody was going to do it.”

Hare’s performance came in front of a large gathering of spectators who filled the stands as word around the festival spread that nobody had been able to conquer the mud pit.

Shouts of encouragement and cheers could be heard directed at drivers attempting to be the first to cross the path.

“I made it pretty far,” said Alisha Dean, owner of a 2015 JK Wrangler named Bruce Willis. “My goal was to be the first Jeep all day to make through. I was very close — I made it over that final hump, but I sank down into it.”

The Jeep Playground Event, a festival favorite, gave participants the opportunity to try various obstacles, such as climbing up piles of dirt, driving over obstacles, maneuvering around poles and, most importantly, getting muddy.

This is the second year Michael Dietrick and his wife, Christina, have been managing the playground event.

“Last year we never pulled a vehicle out during the three days,” he said. “This year, it seems like we can’t get anybody to make it through.”

As more Jeeps failed the challenge, the mud pit drew more spectators and drivers.

“I’ve never seen a line like that for the mud pit,” Michael Dietrick said. “Last year I think people were avoiding it, because nobody was getting stuck. This year, everyone is in the line for the mud pit.”

Tom McKee, who has volunteered for seven years to pull the Jeeps out of the mud, was in for a busy day.

“Once they do get stuck, we use the backhoe,” McKee said. “We go in with the strap that’s already hooked to them. We hook the strap to the backhoe and then we pull them back out here. And today we just keep repeating that.”

Nick Colangeli sprays water into the mud pit on Friday afternoon, June 9, 2023, at this year’s Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Worth Township. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

McKee said he enjoys watching the drivers’ determination.

“It’s a sense of accomplishment, getting through something like this,” McKee said. “Today we haven’t added much water to the pit, so it’s been really difficult.”

The McCloskey family of Butler and their green four-door Jeep, named The Creeper, received cheers as their Jeep came within about 6 inches of being the first vehicle to get out of the mud pit.

“There’s that little hump there right in the middle,” said Nate McCloskey, driver of The Creeper. “Right about three-quarters into it, there’s a crest and it’s stopping you from getting over, and it’s soupy as heck.”

Driver Nate McCloskey, along with Gina, 7-year-old Carter and 12-year-old Ashlynn, of Butler, attempt to be the first Jeep through the mud pit on Friday afternoon, June 9, 2023. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

Although most Jeeps were unable to navigate through the mud pit, there still was a lot to be excited about at the Jeep Playground.

“You know what they say,” Dean said. “Nothing’s happier than a Jeep in mud.”

Attendees drive their Jeeps over multiple rock trails on Friday afternoon, June 9, 2023, at this year’s Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Worth Township. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Attendees drive their Jeep toward the water pit Friday afternoon, June 9, 2023, after attempting to make it through the mud pit at this year’s Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Worth Township. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Otto Parrish, 3, of Lewisburg, Union County, takes his Jeep through a mud puddle Friday afternoon, June 9, 2023, at this year’s Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Worth Township. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

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