April 24, 2021 — Picture shifting into four-wheel drive and accelerating up the side of a towering coastal dune or navigate a winding mountain trail. You could be driving an all-terrain vehicle or motor bike, or you could be off-road jeeping. The simple definition of this word is “to ride or travel in a Jeep.” To many Jeep-lovers, however, jeeping often denotes something more active and adventurous. Like other vehicles often seen on the dunes, such as the Ford Broncos that flock to Florence once a year for a round-up, Jeeps are lifestyle vehicles.
In Florence, Cal Applebee has leaned into his love of vehicles with a particular fondness for Jeeps. Taking a lifetime of car knowledge — Applebee has had dozens of cars in his life — he created Jeeps R Us Florence, a new club for Jeep owners.
The idea stemmed from the Oregon Coast Military Museum’s (OCMM) Jeep Junction Show and Shine, which was held for three years at Johnson Motors in Florence. The event was a way to
look at the military past of the Jeep, including how the vehicle was created and played a significant role in World War II.
“Some of the non-military, regular modern Jeep Wrangler owners were saying, ‘What we ought to do is do some trail rides,’ because everyone wants to get out in our Jeeps,” Applebee said. “This last year in 2020, we started doing that.”
Applebee had contacts from his work with the OCMM, the Veteran’s Day Parade and the Florence Area Chamber Commerce. He put together a list of people who might be interested in a Jeep meetup and ended up with more than 50 names.
“I put an email out and everybody gathered together one morning. We had around 17 Jeeps show up that first time,” he said. “We typically run anywhere from nine to 20 Jeeps on a run.”
Jeeps R Us gathers on the second Saturday of each month.
“We schedule a run or we stage someplace here in town together, and we take off on a backroads tour,” Applebee said. “We're not hardcore off roaders or anything like that, but we do have a group of members who like to go out on the dunes as well. They do that on a regular basis.”
The “Dunes Squad,” as he called them, typically goes out mid-week to avoid weekend crowds.
“We have scheduled a couple events where we've taken novices like myself out and tried the dunes to see if we would like it or not,” he said.
Unfortunately, that is how Applebee learned of a problem with the front axle of his Jeep Wrangler. His fellow club members had to help him out of a few sand traps out on the dunes.
“I got it fixed and then took it out on another event that did just fine,” he said. “A lot of the members in the club are very eager to help each other.”
The club’s rides often include traveling on trails, lesser-known roads and the highway to. So far, their trips have included taking North Fork Road up to Yachats and Richardson Road down to Swisshome, as well as driving around Mapleton, Smith River, Ada and Siltcoos Station.
“I always try to do about a two or three hour run, and then people come back to town and they kick tires. Some of them meet together for lunch afterwards and things like that,” Applebee said.
First, the club is a vehicle to get out on the road, but it also allows people to bond over their Jeeps and the experiences they make from driving them. All ages have joined in, with one family bringing their kids along for the ride.
Club members also try to include non-backroad events, like a poker run and scavenger hunt.
“That was a lot of fun, because a lot of these folks are fairly new to Florence. So it gave them a chance to get out and about and see what's out there around the Florence area,” Applebee said. “But then the funny thing was, there were some of the locals who've been around here their whole lives, missed some of the clues.”
Jeeps R Us is not a formal club, with officers or membership dues.
“The real emphasis is Jeep owners and Jeep enthusiasts,” Applebee said.
The club does have a logo and Facebook page, but Applebee focuses more on the monthly events and a “Jeep Junction” newsletter that goes out once a month.
“It has articles on members and their Jeeps, heritage-type information on vintage Jeeps and how Jeeps evolved,” Applebee.
Up until he retired from being the director of OCMM in 2019, Applebee wrote the “Military Heritage Chronicles” as part of Siuslaw News’ monthly Community Voices section. In it, he often wrote about his vehicles and Jeeps in particular.
“I counted up the other day, and I have had somewhere around 33 or 34 Jeeps in the last 27 years,” he said.
Some of those are historic military Jeeps, which other club members also have. Those are just a little bit harder to get to highway speeds, Applebee said.
“When we did the Veterans Honor Cruise back on Veterans Day, 22 Jeeps participated in that,” he said.
Other vehicles were part of the November cruise, held last year in place of Florence’s Veterans Day Parade. The club teamed up Rhody Cruisers and Rods N Rhodies for the event, which drove around Florence and past area retirement homes.
The same car groups are looking at ways to celebrate Independence Day in July.
“We're going to do another cruise and we're going to call it the All-American Cruise,” Applebee said.
The plan is to start in Florence, drive around a designated route and end with a tailgate party.
“It’s just a way for everybody to get together drive their rigs,” Applebee said. “That'll be open anybody who wants to participate.”
The club’s events are contingent on the state’s guidelines and restrictions under the COVID-19 pandemic. But with participants driving their own vehicles, a vehicle club is one way to maintain social distance and limit indoor gatherings. After all, “off road” is about as far from the indoors as you can get.
If people want to get involved with Jeeps R Us Florence, they can contact Applebee at [email protected] to get added the email list.