Writer: STEVE KNIGHT | Photography: Courtesy | Sept.-Oct. 2017
This time it is the red Jeep in the lead position struggling to get out of the creek and up a steep, muddy bank at an off-road park near Kilgore. The driver, Zac Tinkle, announces over the CB radio that he needs help.
Chris Chambless pulls into position from behind to help his friend out of the mess. Lane Jordan, Tinkle’s father-inlaw, crosses the creek at another point and comes back to help.
Once all are up the muddy creek bank, the ribbing begins. It’s all in a day’s fun for members of the East Texas Jeep Club, a loose-knit band of Jeep owners who are taking an original workhorse vehicle, which became a grocery-getter, back to its rugged roots.
Asked whether members consider themselves gearheads or adventure seekers, Chambless says: “It is a combination of the two really. It is working on cars, wrenching on them and then really being able to go out and doing something.”
Tinkle agrees. “You want to do some modification, tinker with it, and then go out there (off road) and try it out. When you
get to try it out you realize I either did good here or I did bad, then you go back to the garage and try to modify it some more to get up that next hill, that steeper hill or deeper mud hole, whatever you’re into.”
Born out of World War II, the Jeep originally was a civilian workhorse vehicle. It especially was popular with veterans, hunters and those working where four-wheel drive was needed, such as on farms.
As the United States became more urban and car manufacturers added power steering and air conditioning, Jeeps were relegated to a niche following. Looking for more buyers,
the manufacturer transformed the Jeep to a street vehicle with air conditioning, carpeting and a removable hard top.
Now, a new generation is returning Jeeps to their off-road roots. They buy older models and use parts to modify them for off-roading.
WANT TO JOIN: Besides Tyler, East Texas Jeep Club has chapters in Henderson, Longview, Lufkin and Nacogdoches. For more information, go online to ETXJC.org and East Texas Jeep Club on Facebook.
Tinkle was introduced to offroading by his future wife, Kalli, and Jordan. Chambless started when, while in college, he bought a Jeep for $1,000. Neither could leave their Jeep alone. They began making modifications and never stopped — even as they changed models.
And while making modifications is a big thing, it would be meaningless without the thrill of reaching the top of a boulder-choked trail or clearing a mud hole.
“It (off-roading) will scare you from time to time,” Chambless says. “That is what gets you chasing parts (to buy). At a certain point, you get a little jaded and you want to go bigger and that is when it gets expensive.”
Tinkle says it doesn’t matter whether it is climbing an expert hill or taking a lazy run through creek bottoms, there is no such thing as a bad ride. “Every time, my heart gets going, like just after this little ride. … You are trying to do something with your Jeep that probably isn’t supposed to be done, but you modified it to do that. It’s a little bitof everything. You are going to try to do something you are not sure if you can do or not, and you get the biggest adrenaline rush when you get to the top and get that feeling of success.”
When club members meet at an off-road park, they test themselves and their Jeep’s abilities.
“We are more at it for the adventure,” Tinklesays. “We don’t want to go blast through the woods real quick. We want to see what is in the woods. We want to go at a reasonablepace, but there are some points, like on these muddy hills, you have to give it some gas, but at the same time there is a saying, ‘tread lightly.’ We don’t want to rut it (the ground) up. … I don’t want to say we are tree huggers, but we want
to protect the environment.”
The club often rides in a former gravel pit at Barnwell Mountain near Gilmer, Texas. The site has 27 miles of trails rated from beginner level to expert level. It also has traveled to offroad parks in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
“We bill the club as event-based family-friendly,” Tinkle says. “Bring your wife, your kids, your husband, bring anybody. We are going to go Jeeping and have a good time.”
Steve Knight is the outdoor writer for the Tyler Morning Telegraph and contributes to the web site TexasAllOutdoors.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Steve on Facebook at Texas All Outdoors.