Restoring jeep becomes a family affair for Evans City man

Bill Ringeisen, of Evans City, sits in his restored 1942 military jeep.
Bill Ringeisen, of Evans City, sits in his restored 1942 military jeep.
| Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Bill Ringeisen spotted an old jeep in a Squirrel Hill chicken coop nearly 20 years ago, bought it and spent the next two years rebuilding it with his father, George Sr.; brother, George Jr.; and son, Bradley.

The jeep, a 1942 Ford GPW, led convoys during World War II, which George Sr. served in while in Italy.

“He helped me restore it,” Bill, 58, of Evans City said. “I put his service number on the hood. All vehicles had a registration number, and I took those off and put his dog tag numbers on it. He had tears when he saw it.”

Ringeisen, whose jeep will be on display at the fourth annual Bantam Jeep Festival at Cooper's Lake Campground from June 13 to 15, is one of many local jeep owners who help coordinate the event.

The event, which drew more than 1,500 jeeps and their owners last year, celebrates The American Bantam Car Company's invention of the jeep in 1940 for the military. The company, which was based in Butler, was sold in 1956 to what is now the AK Steel Holding Corporation.

“Butler is the birthplace of the jeep, and mine is like the sister or brother of the original jeep,” said Ringeisen, who helps coordinate the History Exhibit.

“It's fantastic having the birthplace here and bringing in people from so many states and different countries, such as Canada and Australia, to our little town.”

Other local jeep owners, such as Ringeisen's friend Wayne Kovac, have gotten in on the action in recent years as the event grows and needs more organizers.

Kovac, 64, of Evans City helps coordinate logistics such as setting up and tearing down parts of the event and helps direct security. He will also use his wife's white 2001 Jeep TJ Wrangler Sahara for the festival's first ever Bantam Jeep Muddy 5K race.

They bought the jeep two years ago after his wife, Sharon, traded in her original white 2000 Jeep Wrangler for a Chevrolet TrailBlazer.

“I'd been searching the Internet, and I found one in Erie that belonged to a military guy,” Kovac said. “We went up there, and I knew we wouldn't pass on it.”

Mark Lebda, co-chairperson of the vendor committee, said he'll spend the entire weekend at Coopers Lake Campground to stay on top of coordinating dozens of vendors.

While Lebda said he will be busy throughout the weekend, he plans on taking his 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4 x 4 off-roading on a beginner trail at Cooper's Lake. His wife, Nancy, owns a 2011 Jeep Liberty.

“We're a two jeep family,” Mark said.

There are intermediate trails and advanced trails that jeeps can be driven on, as well as, competitions that drivers can register for.

Patti Jo Lambert, the festival director, said she expects between 1,700 and 1,800 jeeps at this year event. Adult spectators can pay $7 to attend the festival, and children cost $3 each.

Jeep owners who have not pre-registered their vehicles for activities can complete an $85 on-site registration. Some activities might not be available due to capacity restrictions.

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Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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