Natchez man restores 1944 Jeep from World War II

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 1, 2021

By Hunter Cloud

The Natchez Democrat

In a quarry outside of Natchez, John Griffin Dicks has a 1944 Jeep that rolls over logs, climbs up hills without acceleration and handles mud like it was engineered to do in World War II.

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Dicks’s Jeep was first shipped to France in August 1944, two months after the invasion of Normandy, and it spent about 60 years in France until a man bought it in 2005 and had it shipped to Covington, Louisiana.

Dicks saw it on Facebook Marketplace, went to took a look at it and bought from the man in Covington.

Since then, Dicks and his wife, Józefina Gocman Dicks, have rebuilt the transmission together. Dicks rebuilt the fuel pump that he said was made by a company in Paris, France, that does not exist anymore. Dicks also did some work on the carburetor but he said he enjoys the mechanical work.

“That thing is like a big jigsaw puzzle to me,” Dicks said. “After that, everything works fine. On the bottom of the engine, it has the manufacture date of August 1944, which tells you that it is the original motor to the Jeep.”

For about five years, the Jeep sat in a garage, he said, adding it fortunately did not sit outside for that many years. Dicks rented a trailer and drove back with the Jeep during one of the hurricanes hitting the Gulf.

A major history buff, Dicks said he always read about World War II in history books. To have something from that time period from the U.S. is special, he said.

The Jeep now serves a purpose for him and his wife.

“To continue taking care of it, it feels like a piece from a museum,” Dicks said. “It is cool to have something, to have that type of history, and it is still functional. You can still use it as something to go places.”

Painted just below the windshield is the word Wolfhound and an insignia from the 101st Airborne Division. Dicks said the Jeep may have belonged to the 101st Airborne but he has no way of knowing.

On the underside of the hood are letters fading with no clear word is distinguishable. Dicks said the Jeep also has different coats of paint chipping away. Other features of the Jeep include headlights that turn around and shine on the Jeep’s engine and a fold-down windscreen.

Insurance cards from France are on the front windshield and blinkers on the rear and in the front where black out headlights should go are due to modern usage, Dicks said. Black out headlights were used to keep planes from seeing jeeps at night but still allow the driver to see the road.

There are no seatbelts in the vehicle, a gas tank is underneath the driver’s seat and it only holds 10 gallons of fuel. A switch and button are used to start the Jeep, and there is no heat or air in the vehicle, but heat from the engine does the trick, Dicks said.

Dicks’s family has been in Natchez for 200 years, he said. Along with the Jeep, Dicks has collected other items including an M1 Garand, a Lee-Enfield rifle, his great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s discharge papers from the Confederate Army, a desk from his great-great-great-great grandfather and his grandfather’s war bonds from World War II.

A passion for history is one of the reasons Dicks said he wanted the Jeep and he added he wanted to keep it out of the hands of a British collector. Also being able to keep it intact and working was important to him.

Under the hood, the Jeep runs off of a 6 volt battery — most modern cars have a 12 volt — and has the original carburetor. Repairs for the Jeep are pretty easy Dicks said. He just opens the hood and looks at what the issue is and fixes it himself.

Because the odometer only goes up to 99,000 miles, it is impossible to know how many miles the Jeep has on it, but it still runs and will get up to 55 on the highway. He said he uses the

Jeep for light cruising and off road work.

When Dicks and his wife drive to town, he said they receive lots of odd looks and questions. While no one has made an offer to Dicks to buy the Jeep, he said he will not part with it.

Mrs. Dicks said her husband finds two things important: her and the jeep, adding she is happy they have it.

“At least it is in good hands,” she said. “So many things are going away. It is worth keeping it here.”