1959 was a momentous and pivotal year. Fidel Castro became prime minister of Cuba. Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union as U.S. states.
Rock’n’roll was heating up the airwaves, and the California Association of Jeep Clubs was formed in April 1959 in Tulare, Calif.
Steve Morris, a member of the Sacramento Jeepers, was elected as the first president of the Jeep Association, an organization that would retain that name until 1962, when it officially became the California Association of Four-Wheel Drive Clubs.
The effect of Jeeps on the world of recreation is very similar to the effect of the automobile on transportation. Both opened new, previously unthinkable worlds of possibilities.
“We weren’t very large in the beginning; however, we were well-organized,” said Morris. “With the U.S. Forest Service threatening to close our forests to motorized travel, we knew immediately that we needed a strong organization with statewide clout.”
Forrest Sheppa of the Tulare County Four-Wheel Drive Club searched the state for every known Jeep club he could locate and invited each club to that initial meeting in Tulare. Sheppa was elected as the first association vice president.
Clubs responding to the invitation and becoming charter members at the first meeting were the Hillhoppers of Hayward, Desert Foxes of Long Beach, Quad Jeep Club from Burbank, Four-Wheel Drive Club of Monterey, Sacramento Jeepers, Chuckwalla Jeep Club of West Covina, and the El Dorado Sheepherders from Placerville. Interestingly, the Chuckwalla Club organized in 1956 with 29 registered members.
Other charter clubs were the Tulare County 4-Wheel Drive Club from Visalia, Four Wheelers of Orange County of Santa Ana, Hemet Jeep Club, Hill Toppers of Culver City, Hadji Jeep Club of Los Angeles, Hill N Gully Riders from Riverside and the Sidewinders Jeep Cavalcade of Indio.
At the Tulare meeting, the board of directors voted that members would pay dues of $2 per vehicle per year and each club would pay $10 per year. After collecting a total of $360 in dues and with initial expenses of $335, the association began its long journey with a total of $25 surplus in the bank. The Jeep Association emblem was designed and originated by Ed Callahan, a member of the Desert Foxes Jeep Club.
Founded as a non-profit organization, the association was comprised of member clubs, individuals, and business firms. This group of diverse individuals was united under a common objective: the betterment of four-wheel drive oriented outdoor recreation.
It was called a Jeep Association simply because sport utility vehicles (SUV) hadn’t yet arrived on the scene and owners were driving the MB, which became popularly known as the Jeep; followed by the CJ-2A (civilian Jeep) and the CJ-3A. Then in 1955, improved versions of military Jeeps were in production — the CJ-5 and CJ-6. During those early days, rigs did not have differential lockers and all the other add-ons we have today, so they were exploring the deserts and the out-of-the-way locations by pushing, pulling, and sometimes winching by hand.
Morris explained that the first year of the Jeep association was productive. “We established rules for cross-country travel that included not crossing meadows, avoiding wheel spinning, not climbing hills with loose soil, and not crossing streams unnecessarily and not disturbing livestock and wildlife. We also fought land closures in the Eldorado National Forest and Los Padres National Forest.”
Other first year accomplishments included starting a state association newsletter, designing an association decal, appointing a membership committee, and recommending a state rally to showcase association goals to non-members.
During its second year of operation, the association put all its forces into high gear. Members established communications with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service, and the State Division of Beaches and Parks. In addition, the association began letter-writing campaigns to state legislators. Another significant milestone was a soil erosion test conducted in the high Sierras. They tested Jeep tracks in meadows, gullies and in the hills and the results showed that many tracks healed themselves and tracks in the gullies and hills totally filled in.
The Sixties ushered in new ideas and new four-wheel drive vehicles. International introduced two of those truck-like passenger vehicles: the Travelall, alongside the Scout, a smaller two-door SUV aimed to compete with the Jeep CJ. The Scout and the Jeep were considered the first-generation SUVs.
Recognizing the fast-growing changes in the four-wheel drive world, officials of the California Association of Jeep Clubs officially changed its name to the California Association of Four-Wheel Drive Clubs in 1962 to include all 4X4 vehicles. New officers were elected, and by-laws were changed.
Competition continued to build in the industry. Ford unveiled the Bronco in 1966, followed three years later by the full-size Chevrolet Blazer. International and its competitors increasingly targeted suburban families with ads portraying young couples shopping or vacationing.
The Sixties also saw the birth of many events that continue today. On December 17, 1960, the Jeep Association conducted its first statewide raffle for a new Jeep. The Labor Day State Rally at Pismo Beach, that included drags, hill climbing, men and women’s obstacle course driving, began in September of 1960. The very popular Desert Safari, hosted by the Tierra Del Sol club of San Diego, launched its first desert event in March 1963 and Sierra Trek in the high Sierra saw its beginnings in August of 1966.
In September of 1967, the South Lake Tahoe Hi Lo’s kicked off their Gamblers Rodeo and the Sierra Treasure Hunters launched its Mother Lode Rally in February of 1969. The Randsburg Round-Up began on Memorial Day of 1969 and in 1972 the event name was changed to Hi Desert Round-Up.
During 1963, the association adopted its Education Program to combat littering in the backcountry.
By 1964, the association had grown from its original 14 charter members clubs to 32 clubs. In addition, dealers and manufacturers were accepted in 1964 as associate members. During 1965, plans were being drawn up to divide the association into three distinct districts and in 1966 it became official that there would be a Northern, Central, and Southern District, each with its own officers and fund-raising events. It was also during this period of time that the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs became the 13th Chapter of the California Wildlife Federation and provided a representative at each of its meetings.
By 1971, manufacturers were marketing all sorts of four-wheel drive vehicles, including all of the predecessors to today’s ever-popular sport utility vehicle. Californians were becoming more and more interested in being able to drive directly from their home to access hunting areas, fishing holes, primitive camping areas or simply sightseeing off the pavement in the backcountry.
The early Jeeps were often unregistered for highway travel and thus restricted as to where they might travel. Another rig was typically needed to haul the “hard-core off-road machine” to the mountains, the coast, or the desert.
The 1970’s also became a period for the association to become very proactive in land use issues and safety. During this period, officials and members helped promote responsible use of public lands by developing programs and projects to teach conservation, education and safety to its members and the public.
It was also in the early 70’s the idea was born that the association should have a Natural Resources Consultant. While he was called a Field Representative at that time, Ed Dunkley, who was known as “Mr. Everything” to the association, served as the first Field Representative, Office Administrator, trip leader, and unofficial historian.