The Port Arthur News
When he was born, a gallon of gas could be purchased for 24 cents, a gallon of milk for $1.01, and a loaf of bread for 19 cents. “I Like Ike” buttons were still all the rage, because President Dwight D. Eisenhower was holding on to a 58 percent approval rating in the middle of his second term.
But you won’t hear Old Willy reminisce about the glory days ? these days, he counts himself lucky to be running at all.
“Old Willy” is the name affectionately given to a 1958 Jeep Willys by Al Crawford, who purchased the then 6-year-old car from a woman in Tacoma, Wash., in 1964, to keep at his cabin in Eagle Pass, N.M.
These days, Willy resides in Nederland with Crawford’s niece, Kristi Bean. His original engine remains intact, but he has since received a new interior, complete with carpet, new brakes and new hosers.
“We’ve got him running good now,” said Kristi’s husband, Donald, as he sat in a lawn chair beside Willy at the Nederland Heritage Festival on Sunday. “We’ve made him where he’s road-worthy. We drive him as often as we can, especially on pretty days.”
“We love driving him down Nederland Avenue,” Kristi added. “Everybody stares.”
Donald believes that Willy could stand another paint job, but Kristi is hesitant. Willy’s original color ? a vibrant shade of turquoise ? is no longer in circulation.
“They don’t make that color anymore,” Kristi said. “We tried to do it and it didn’t turn out well, so we’re kind of reluctant.”
Kristi said her uncle, who lives in Denton, hasn’t been behind the wheel since Willy came to Texas in 2010. But they keep him updated on his old friend.
“We send him pictures of Willy, telling him all about our adventures with him,” Kristi said.
The most exciting adventure occurred in 2010, when Donald transported Willy from Eagle Pass all the way to Nederland via trailer ? which, he said, was no easy task. Willy had been stationary for so long that his brakes had locked.
“We rocked him and rocked him, and finally got him broke loose ? except for that (left rear) tire,” Donald recalled. “It was in the mountains, and we had an incline and S-curve to go through. That tire dragged all the way home.”
Although Donald is confident that Willy could make the journey back to his home in New Mexico, the family has played it safe. The farthest Willy has traveled since arriving in Nederland is across the ferry to Galveston ? where, Donald said, he made quite a splash.
“They loved him,” Donald said. “Everybody was going, ‘What is that? That’s a beach buggy!’”
Some of the cars on display at the festival were up for sale. But when asked if they ever planned to sell Willy, the answer was a resounding “No.” Not only has the old Jeep become part of the family, he has also contributed to the Beans’ popularity.
“We call him ‘The Friend-maker,’” Kristi said, “because when we drive him, we meet friends no matter where we go.”