PLATTSBURGH — It was 1962, and 12-year-old Bruce Jarvis was exploring Schuyler Island near Port Douglas with his friend David Friburg.
What the pair found would become an invaluable connection between Bruce and his dad, Ralph.
“We were cutting across the island in an area that had been used as a farm and saw what appeared to be a tent,” Bruce recalled of that day more than a half-century ago. “What we found was the top of a root cellar.”
As the pair cleared away debris and entered the root cellar, they found an old motor vehicle that looked intriguing but was also in pretty bad shape.
“When I got home, I told Dad about it,” Bruce continued. “He knew at the time that the person who owned the island (New York Sen. George Eustis Paine of Willsboro) was selling the island to the state. He contacted Mr. Paine and inquired about buying the vehicle.”
TOWED TO SHORE
The owner agreed to sell the vehicle for $100, but it was up to the Jarvis family to find a way to transport it to the mainland.
“That was big bucks back in those days,” the elder Jarvis said as he listened to his son retell how the 1946 Willys-Overland JC2A Universal Jeep came to be a fixture of the Jarvis family.
There is no way of telling how long the Jeep may have been stored in the root cellar, but it was probably brought to the island in the late 1940s or early 1950s and used as a tractor on the island’s farmland.
“The tires were shot full of holes, and the motor was seized up,” Bruce said. “Our plan was to fix up the tires and bring it over (to the mainland) on the ice.”
However, Lake Champlain did not freeze solidly that winter, and the family had to look for another option. In early spring, they towed the family’s swim raft that they used for diving at their camp off Trembleau Point out to the island. Their plan was to place the Jeep on the raft and tow it back to shore.