Uniquely Equipped: JRT Kicks Into High Gear

Adversity often brings out the best in people, and Jeepers are no exception. Central Florida law enforcement agencies have long relied on volunteers from the off-road ranks to assist in search-and-rescue missions and disaster relief. Among the more active and experienced are Coty Byers, president of Tampa’s Blackwater Jeepers, and David Gesualdo, the publisher of this magazine. When Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Texas’ Gulf Coast in August 2017, Byers helped lead a convoy of Jeeps, donated U-Hauls, Byers’ tractor-trailer and an SUV from Tampa to Vidor, Texas, ferrying several tons of supplies to grateful Houston-area residents.

“On that original mission to Texas, once we got out there, we realized there was a gap between the big government agencies coordinating the response and the people who needed help,” Byers says. “It didn’t matter if they were rich or poor. They all had the same basic needs. We brought all this stuff, and we’re handing it out, and the FEMA trailers were still locked up.”

Harvey proved to be a turning point. Since that first convoy, whenever a major disaster has struck, Central Florida Jeep groups have risen to the occasion. From Hurricane Irma in South Florida to Florence in North Carolina and Michael in the Florida panhandle, Jeepers have completed a total of 10 disaster-relief missions with convoys as long as 34 vehicles.

Byers says it’s the many volunteers who have bought, collected and transported all those supplies who deserve the credit — particularly those who made possible the trip to the panhandle, which was struck by Michael just weeks after Florence abated.

“We actually found out about Michael right after the run up to North Carolina for Florence. People were still resting and getting ready to go back to work,” Byers says. “We just kicked right back into rescue mode.”

It is in that spirit that the Central Florida Jeep Response Team was formed in November. The team includes representatives from each of the Jeep groups that have participated in the relief missions, and its leaders have ambitious plans for 2019.

Toys donated by Central Florida Jeepers and
delivered by the JRT to local shelters.

We Can Do More

Jeepin’ magazine has been the Central Florida Jeep Response Team’s financial backer, having funded the purchase of a medium tactical vehicle, military-grade trailers, generators, gas, food, water and other supplies. Gesualdo, who has personally participated in each of the hurricane missions, says he was inspired by the grit and determination his fellow volunteers showed on every mission, including his brother, Eric, an experienced search-and-rescue volunteer and now one of the leaders of the Jeep Response Team.

Starting this year, the JRT will also coordinate local missions following the additions of search-and-rescue and rapid-response teams.

“We just felt we could do more,” Gesualdo says. “We’re in touch with so many groups, and their members are always asking how they can make a difference. As the law enforcement-affiliated teams have proven, Jeepers are uniquely equipped for this incredibly challenging and fulfilling work.”

Prospective volunteers are invited to visit Jeepin-USA.com/JRT to learn more about the teams and what will be asked of their members. Reflecting on the relief missions his group and others have completed to this point, Byers says he has come to realize it’s “almost a sense of duty” that compels Jeepers to give of their time and energy to help those in need.

“These are just generous, good people. When other vehicles get stuck, Jeepers start going in and pulling people out,” Byers says. “It’s almost a sense of duty. Good people tend to buy Jeeps.”

Nuts and Bolts

The Central Florida Jeep Response Team is made up of local volunteers from the Jeepin’ community. Prospective volunteers are invited to visit Jeepin-USA.com/JRT to learn more about the teams and what will be asked of their members.

The Farrells Built a Business Around Giving

It’s hard to believe Tina and Steve Farrell moved to Florida with nearly nothing. Following family from Long Island, N.Y., the childhood sweethearts, now married 30 years, worked hard to build what they have today.

“Steve worked whatever jobs he could get. He started out cleaning parking lots for $50 a night,” Tina says of her husband, who tried out a few trades, starting with flooring, then roofing. Steve was fired from his first flooring job for “working too hard.” His boss said he could not keep up with him. Once Steve found his niche in the roofing industry, he worked for the same company for 15 years, Tina for nine, before deciding to start their own business.

Since then, their business and charity empire has grown exponentially, allowing the couple the opportunity to touch countless lives.

After Hurricane Michael struck the Florida panhandle in October, Steve Farrell and a crew of workers accompanied the Central Florida Jeep Response Team on the drive north and spent the weekend clearing fallen trees and other debris from the yards and rooftops of residents who didn’t have insurance or funds to cover the cost.

Humble Beginning

In the mid-’90s, the Farrells were still relatively new to Florida and were barely making ends meet. “We were almost bankrupt when we started; it was pretty bad. After a year of still working at the same company and trying to start our own business after work, we decided to go completely on our own,” Steve says. “We had just left a good job with a steady paycheck and we started doubting ourselves. As soon as we got to our lowest point, everything turned around and the business took off like crazy.”

After starting Farrell Roofing in 2006 out of a 12-foot by 16-foot backyard shed, they began to build a legacy based on hard work and the importance of investing in one’s community.

“We started helping as soon as we were able to. The first 10 years we focused on getting this business to where it’s at, but always gave back to the community when we could. We did every charity event we were asked to do. We did Wheelchairs for Kids, Dancing With the Local Stars — everything got our name out there, and in turn, our outreach kept growing as the business grew,” Tina says.

The couple set a goal to open one business a year and have followed through, which explains the expansive evolution of the Farrell business empire. One of their most recent businesses, The Columbian Event Center in Port Richey, hosts a vast array of event from weddings, birthday parties, and baby showers, to corporate meeting, classes, and the Port Richey Rotary Club meetings. The Columbian is also home to several events organized through the Farrell’s nonprofit, Farrell Cares, which donates 100% of net proceeds to the charities they support.

The holidays seem to hold a higher purpose for the Farrells, as not only an opportunity to bring family together but community residents from every walk of life. Among their open-invitation events at The Columbian are the Halloween event “Trunk or Treat” and free dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We don’t want anyone to have to eat a holiday dinner alone,” Tina says.

So Many People in Need, So Little Time

The Farrells’ long history of giving has touched countless people and organizations, some founded by the couple themselves. Farrell Cares began organizing the annual Cotee River Bike Fest in 2018. This event is held each October in downtown New Port Richey, and since Farrell Cares took over, has 100% of net proceeds donated to charity. They also host Jeepin’ 4 Justice, an annual 100% charity event held at the Concourse Rotary Pavilion and Pasco Safety Town.

The Cotee Rivewr Bike Fest is the largest event held by Farrell Cares so far, bringing in around 30,000 people with all proceeds last year benefitting the Children’s Burn Center and The Angelus House. The Angelus House has been operating since 1979, originally taking in children with disabilities for short stays. Now, the Angelus is a full long-term residential facility for children and adults.

Steve and Tina find that the more they are able to help, the more need they encounter. “Every month there’s something else that we want to do,” Tina says. “We just finished an event for The Good Samaritan Health Clinic, auctioning off donated decorated Christmas trees. We both are on several boards for several nonprofit organizations such as the Red Apple School, the Angelus House, Port Richey Rotary Club, and Pasco County Sheriff’s Charities.

“We also sponsor a local musical group, The Bearded Brothers Band. Two years ago, they lost their violinist, Robbie Cartwright, in a motorcycle accident. Just weeks after that tragedy, we were able to raise over $100,000 for his family at a huge concert at Sims Park,” she adds. “Last year, we held another concert at The Stockyard and were able to raise over $40,000. Robbie’s family and the band members decided to purchase instruments for local schools. The instruments were presented to the kid’s in Robbie’s name.”

The Farrells are also able to use their businesses, which are primarily construction-related, to help community members in serious times of need. They have come to the rescue of families in need of hurricane damage repairs, elderly citizens, single parents needing a helping hand, and veterans in need of assistance. The Farrells donate materials and are proud to have employees who donate their skills and time.

“Some of these guys are not in a position where they can give up all their time. For them to offer their time is amazing. It gives us a stronger sense of family through all of our businesses and more of a connection with our employees,” Tina explains.

The Farrells attribute part of their success in business and in charity to a corporate culture that combines hard work and giving back. The couple share their respect for their community’s seemingly unlimited capacity for giving, singling out David Gesualdo, founder and publisher of Jeepin’ magazine.

“I do want to say something about David,” Tina says. “The guy never takes any credit for what he does. The Gesualdos are a great family — really an asset to not only the Jeeping community, but the Central Florida community as well. We are honored and blessed to have them as friends.”

Nuts and Bolts

Tina and Steve Farrell own and operate a number of Central Florida businesses and host numerous charity events through their nonprofit, Farrell Cares, several of which are at The Columbian Event Center in Port Richey.

The Sheriff Drives a Jeep

Are you ready for another opportunity to take that Jeep of yours for a spin? It’s time to get out there in your Jeep’s natural habitat and tackle steep inclines, mudholes and much more. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and his team are hosting the fifth annual Jeepin’ with Judd at Clear Springs Ranch in Bartow, Fla. The three-day event kicks off on Friday, Feb. 22, with proceeds to benefit Polk Sheriff’s Charities.

Judd says there will be more Jeeps, more spectators and longer trails than ever at this year’s event. Volunteers are building two-hour trails, because they don’t want anyone to wait to have fun.

“We’re fortunate Clear Springs allows us to use their 18,000-acre ranch. We use about 2,000 of it,” Judd says. “Last year, we had 400 campsites and 1,000 campers. Some of our Jeep enthusiasts came from as far away as Texas and California.”

Volunteer Power

Judd says preparations for the event requires the work of about 200 volunteers, 125 of whom come from the Orlando Jeep Club. “They have been our partners for several years and we want to give a shout-out to them for being totally awesome.”

Volunteers work for weeks in advance, mostly building and maintaining trails, wanting each year to be bigger and better than the last. With an attendance of 6,000 people and 1,600 Jeeps last year, 2019 seems poised to continue the exponential growth the event has had over the past four years. All 200 night rides are already sold out, as are all the motels in Bartow, Judd reports, which says a lot about the enthusiastic anticipation of this event.

The sheriff credits the excitement and growth in participation to the skills and dedication of the volunteers. He also feels they have created a truly family-friendly atmosphere. “It’s the kind of event you can bring your kids and grandkids to.”

Plus, he says, pre-order tickets are affordable at $60 a Jeep (or $80 at the gate), which can be loaded up with as many occupants as the Jeep has seatbelts. Specatators are invited to attend for free. Campsites are listed for $20/night. Trail difficulty will range from casual rides to technically advanced obstacle courses.

“Some of the courses are not challenging at all. They’re scenic. We’ve got something for everyone who wants to trail-ride through the woods, to a more challenging course with rocks and everything in between,” Judd says.

There is also a “cheep Jeep” up for grabs, a 2011 JK Sport donated by Kelley Buick GMC, that can be yours with the winning $20 raffle ticket — one of only 3,000 for sale. “And keep in mind, whenever you win a Jeep or any other prize, there’s a pretty steep federal tax involved. We pay that, so there’s no downside,” Judd says. “Buy your tickets early, because they will run out.”

The weekend will kick off with a huge gathering in downtown Bartow. Judd says the city has embraced the event, blocking off streets for a Friday-night show ’n’ shine and welcoming revelers to its bars and restaurants. He also stresses that the event is not just for hardcore off-roaders.

“If they don’t have a Jeep, they get in for free,” Judd says. “So come on out and enjoy. And if you don’t have a Jeep, maybe next year you’ll have a Jeep too.”

Nuts and Bolts

Grady Judd is the sheriff of Polk County, Fla., and part of the team of organizers and volunteers behind Jeepin’ with Judd, a three-day, family-friendly off-road event that begins Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, at Clear Springs Ranch in Bartow, Fla. For more information, visit jeepinwithjudd.com or connect on Facebook.

How to Weekend Wheel Your Daily Driver

If you are like many first-time owners, your new (or new to you) Jeep is your one and only off-roader. It is most likely your one and only vehicle as well. Welcome to the edge of sanity, where temptation relentlessly drags you toward every tree-strewn dirt road, overgrown terrain, or bottomless mudhole within 100 miles of you. You will hear voices in your head saying things like “I can make it through this!” or “I can make it over that!” or “It’s a Jeep! It’s built for this kind of stuff.”

Don’t listen to those voices. They can’t write the checks necessary to undo what you will inevitably do to your poor daily driver. Thankfully, it is absolutely possible to “weekend wheel” your daily driver — if you know what you’re getting into and whether your vehicle can handle it.

Your Weekend Wheeling Checklist

Before you take your daily driver on an off-road excursion, be sure you are mentally and mechanically prepared.

  • Air down your tires for sugar sand trails. Air them up for the long drive home.
  • Drive slowly, let the four-wheel-drive and low-range gearing do the work, and stay out of the throttle.
  • Bring recovery straps and know where the rated recovery points are on your vehicle.
  • Install all-terrain tires designed to perform well on asphalt and various off-road terrains.
  • Bring a pair of clippers and a bow saw to cut back the trail if you need to prevent branch-induced pinstripes.
  • Invest in proper skid plates to protect your undercarriage.
  • Install a winch if possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to let others know this is your daily driver and you can’t afford to break an axle or puncture your oil pan.
  • Drive with caution and think things through. Pick your lines carefully and thoughtfully.
  • Never wheel alone! Go with a minimum of two vehicles and two drivers.
  • Use radios to communicate. If you don’t have radios, check your cell signals. You may have to call for help.

Know Where You’re Going

Yes, it sounds obvious and simple. But many of us have been following our fellow Jeepers down a trail only to realize that they care much less than you do about rubbing the occasional tree or dragging the transmission over a large rock. This often results in you just following their line and hoping for the best, because you don’t want to hold up the ride and you don’t want to look like a mall-crawling sissy.

Bravado and pride are expensive traits. If your buddy isn’t paying the mailman, don’t send it. Y’all know what I mean.

So take note of where the trail leads and what obstacles you will encounter. Ask the trail ride organizer if there are bypasses available for obstacles that could damage your vehicle. It could be a narrow trail lined with the fiendish claws of Mother Nature, waiting to tear scratches into the sides of your ride, or large rock outcroppings reaching out with granite daggers to rip off your bumper.

It could even be the most deceptive hazard of all: the puddle of doom. You only know it has you in its tentacles when forward momentum suddenly halts, and the muddy spray of spinning tires rises up around you like a dirty kraken. It may look like a little puddle in the middle of the trail. Heck, you can see grass growing up out of the top of the water for land’s sake. How deep could it be? That’s when the bottom drops out and you’re left-high-centered or perched on your axles, wheels just spinning helplessly.

Don’t be lulled into complacency or revved up into throttle-happy madness. If you are being cautious and getting out to check the train ahead, and plotting the path of least damage, you are treating your daily driver with the respect and care it deserves. After all, it still has to get you to work Monday morning. Treat your Jeep kindly and it will never leave you stranded.

Know Your Limits

Get familiar with your daily driver and how it performs off-road by exposing it to incrementally more challenging terrain. You should know where the corners of your vehicle are instinctually. Wheeling an expensive machine that you do not want to break is a different skillset than just “sending it” with arms locked on the steering wheel and your right foot mashed to the floor.

Wheeling with care and intent is about finesse and delicate precision. Much like hardcore rock-crawling, you need to know where each tire is at all times, how much available traction each tire has to work with, and where each tree, branch or boulder is in relationship to your Jeep’s body and bumpers.

When approaching a “harmless puddle,” if you are leading, stop to check its depth. If you are following, compare the leader’s ground clearance to yours. Don’t be afraid to admit when the chance of causing serious damage is real. There is no shame in keeping your Jeep unscathed so you can wheel again next weekend. A broken Jeep is not a fun Jeep. The bumper sticker my wife got me at last year’s Jeeptoberfest sums it up very well:

“Remember, Stupid, You Have to Drive This Home”

The most important takeaway here is that you can wheel your daily driver. You don’t have to imprison your Jeep on pavement just to keep it running. You just have to take things slower and more cautiously than the folks with two or three Jeeps at their disposal.

I wheel my daily driver every chance I get. I’ve tried to prepare it the best I can to survive each excursion and get us back home safely each and every time — whether I’m towing my trailer loaded with UTVs 500 miles to the North Georgia mountains or running my favorite loop around the bombing range in the Ocala National Forest. I put on the largest mud tires that will fit under my air-lift suspension. I installed full-steel skid plates bumper-to-bumper, sourced from Australia. I have steel rock rails and locking front and rear diffs.

I’ve gotten my fair share of Florida pinstripes and trail damage, and, yes, I’ve been stuck, and I’ve been recovered. I’ve pushed the limits of what I should tackle with my WK2, and I’ve been lucky so far, but I know my luck will run out eventually. Breaking things is just a fact of wheeling.

I now try to take a more pragmatic approach to Jeepin’. I’ve bowed out of an obstacle and taken the bypass around it, and I’m OK with that. I know I have nothing to prove and too much to lose. I’ve never loved a vehicle so much as my Jeep, and I would be heartbroken if I damaged it. More importantly, it’s my only ride. My family depends on this Jeep, and so I must wheel with care and caution.

But make no mistake: I still wheel as often as possible. I’ll keep my beloved WK2 as safe from harm as my daily driver, as I plan for the monster JKU (or JLU) I will build in the future. For now, as I send my daughter through college, I’ll take the fiscally responsible road — or as much as I can resist the temptation of the gnarly trails I so love to ride.

Nuts and Bolts

Craig Simons is a member of the Ocala (Fla.) Jeep Crew and proud owner of “BlackWidow,” a 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk.

Support Your Local C.O.P.S.

When Stephanie Barnes’ brother was killed in the line of duty eight years ago, she couldn’t have imagined that tragedy would lead her down the path to involvement in and leadership of the West Central Florida chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors.

Stephanie, what is COPS about and how long has it been around?

Concerns of Police Survivors is an organization that was started in 1984 by a woman named Suzie Sawyer, after her husband was killed in the line of duty. Her mission in starting the program was to help surviving families and co-workers cope after the loss of a loved one. Among other things, COPS addresses the emotional, financial and legal needs of families; provides training to law enforcement agencies on survivor victimization issues; and provides public outreach and awareness on behalf of law enforcement and the families of fallen officers.

Our West Central Florida Chapter covers a range of nine counties: Citrus, De Soto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota.

How did you get involved and eventually become president of the West Central Florida chapter?

It was actually my mother that got me involved. My brother Jeff was a police officer for 13 years. He had just recently become a K-9 officer and it was on Jan. 24, 2011, that he lost his life. He wasn’t even supposed to be working that day, so it was a hard situation to handle, in the sense that it was truly a freak accident. … Well, it wasn’t an accident — it was a killing. He was in St. Pete and responding to an “assistance needed” call for a U.S. Marshal who was going to question a woman in the midst of a domestic violence situation. When they found the fugitive in the attic, there was a struggle to get him in handcuffs and, during this time, my brother was shot and killed.

After his death, I accompanied my mother to Washington, D.C., for the ceremony of his name being added to the memorial wall. It was during this trip that other parents and members of COPS reached out to her and when she got involved. It wasn’t until seven months later, when my father passed away, that my sister and I began to accompany her to COPS events, for support. Right away, I realized how much the organization and chapter really did for those families in need, while coping with the loss of a loved one.

When it came time to elect new members to the board, the chapter was still very small, and they asked if I was interested in the vice president position. At the time, I was pregnant and had a lot on my plate, but after some convincing I took on the role until they could find someone else.

However, five years went by with me in the VP seat, and when it was time to replace the current president, Cindy Roberts, I was voted in. It was an easy decision in my mind — If I want to go forth with something, I want to make sure I am doing everything right and supporting the organization the best I can. Because it truly is such a heartfelt organization to me, I didn’t want to let them down. Since taking over Cindy’s role, we have continued to grow.

On Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (Jan. 9), COPS visited several
departments to drop off goodies as a token of appreciation, including Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department at Citrus park.

COPS does so much in terms of raising money and distributing it back into the community. How exactly does your organization raise money and what does that money do to help these families?

Lately, a lot of our donations have been coming in through the help of organizations like Jeeps vs. Harleys and Krawl’n 4 the Fallen, that have learned about who we are and wanted to give back to us. So a lot of our fundraising comes from their help and wanting to do fundraisers on our behalf.

We hold our own fundraisers at times. We’ve done a local COPS Walk. The past three years it was held in St. Pete, the same night as St. Pete’s police memorial in May. We have also done golf tournaments in the past, and we are always looking for new ways to share our mission.

When an officer loses their life, we plan and pay for the trip for surviving family members to go see their loved ones names placed on the memorial wall. Our job is to actually pay for the plane tickets and hotels. It’s hard, though, because you never know how many officers are going to lose their lives in a year, so it is impossible to determine how much will be needed in a given year. When you look at that, you need to have a surplus of money to ensure that when a tragedy does happen, that the money is available to get them there. We don’t want these families coping with their loss to have to worry about it. We don’t want them to not be able to go because they can’t afford it.

We also offer retreats to family members, including specific retreats for spouses, or parents, children, siblings, loved ones. It gets broken down into different levels, so for example when I attend, I am surrounded by other siblings of fallen officers. When my mom goes, she is with other parents. What a lot of officers don’t realize, and what we are really trying to get out to them, is that we also support co-workers.

I can’t tell you how many officers I have run into in the last couple of months who have lost officers years ago and are still traumatically affected by the experience, because they were very close to their co-worker. The way I look at it, No. 1, they are hurting and missing their buddy, but they also have feelings of knowing that could have been them. It’s one of those situations where these officers, whether they don’t realize we also offer support to them, or there are some that do know we offer support to co-workers as well, but they don’t want to take it on the reasoning that they are in turn taking away from resources that could be give to their actual family members.

To me, that is non-negotiable. They need this as much as the family members do.

What is COPS doing to help spread awareness and get the name out there?

Any event that we are invited to, I go to, whether they are donating to us or not. For me, it comes back to how can I get my name out there and we strive to find new and creative ways to do so. As I said, I try to sell items with our name on them, even if it’s just for $1 and I wind up losing money, it’s worth it. We are part of programs that spread awareness in schools. There is National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, which took place Jan. 9, and is run by the national COPS organization, and each chapter participates in their own way. One of the things that we have done the last few years is create goodie bags, or as we call them, “Officer Survivor Kits” to give to all the families of law enforcement officers, in a school. Every little thing counts.

What is your impression of the Jeepin’ community?

I can’t tell you how in awe I am of the support we receive. I am totally sold on the Jeepin’ community. It doesn’t matter which event I go to, they all want to help survivors and want to reach out to see what they can do. I recently told my husband, “We’re buying a Jeep!”

In getting to know the Jeep community, I can’t say enough how appreciative our organization is of their support. It brings chills to my arms seeing how kind everyone is. Even those that have no connection to law enforcement, the desire is still there to help us both financially and emotionally. It really means a lot to us, we are truly grateful.

Nuts and Bolts

Stephanie Barnes is president of the West Central Florida Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors. To learn more about their mission, visit WestCentralFLCops.org.

More Than a-Wheelin’

When we first entered the Jeepin’ community as a magazine in the fall of 2017, we were invited by Central Florida’s Blackwater Jeepers to sponsor the first annual Jeeps vs. Harleys event. It was a baptism by fire, and I mean that in the best possible sense. My family, the magazine staff and I quickly learned that the off-road lifestyle is about much more than wheelin’. It’s about enjoying the time we have together while pushing the limits of our abilities and giving back however and whenever possible. It’s a way of life.

Every Jeepin’ event is special, but Jeeps vs. Harleys was our first, so it will always hold a unique place in our hearts and minds. You can only imagine how delighted we were when Coty Byers, Blackwater’s president, asked us to produce the event starting in 2019. It’s an ideal setup. We have learned so much about the Jeepin’ community over the past two years, and my company has been producing automotive industry events from Orlando to Las Vegas for more than 20 years.

You might wonder what we plan to change, and the answer is not much. Jeeps vs. Harleys organizers have already built an enviable following of off-roaders, riders, spectators and vendors. Attendees have a good chance to win a trail- and highway-ready Jeep or Harley, among other raffle prizes, including kids’ toys and gear. The food, the live music, the spirit of charitable giving — none of that will go away on our watch.

Our plan for 2019 and beyond is to get bigger and better. Instead of one starting point for the convoy, we’ll have three. We will also send two lucky winners on an all-expense-paid trip for two to Moab, Utah (for the winning Jeeper) or the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota (for the winning Harley rider). We will invite area Jeep and Harley dealers out to showcase their lineups. We will have more vehicles, more spectators, more vendors, more music, more food and more fun.

So stay tuned to the magazine and our website for updates, and if you are so inclined, spread the word. Everyone is welcome at Jeeps vs. Harleys, an event that celebrates rugged individualism just as passionately as community togetherness. That’s the spirit upon which this magazine was founded, and we couldn’t be happier or more honored to have this opportunity to take a more active role in this amazing event.

Tips for Safe Trail-Riding

Ready to hit the trail? Whether you’re new to the sport of trail-riding or an experienced wheeler, safety should always be your first concern.

Before the Ride

First things first, never wheel alone. Always use the buddy system. If you get stuck or break down, another rig will be there to help. Make sure someone who is not riding knows the area you will be in and your expected end time. Spending the night in the woods is no way to end your ride.

Before you set out, convene your drivers for a meeting to cover where you are riding and the rules for the area you are going to be in. This is a good time to discuss things like:

  • Leaving trails cleaner than you found them.
  • Rules like “no driver left behind” and “no off-trail riding” (particularly on state land).
  • A review of each driver’s equipment, such as CB radios and proper tow points.
  • Who’s leading the ride and who’s running “tail gunner.”

Off the Road

Speed is not your friend. The off-road driver’s idea is “as slow as possible, as fast as necessary.” And keep in mind the old adage that, sometimes, you can’t get there from here. With that in mind:

  • Stay on the trail.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, walk the area first, pick your track, and use a spotter if necessary.
  • Listen to spotters and other, more experienced Jeepers.
  • Tell someone if you need help and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Safety Gear

The safety equipment that absolutely, positively needs to be in your rig includes:

  • CB or ham radio.
  • Proper tow points.
  • A “crash bag” of hand tools that includes a 3/8-inch socket set, jumper cables, zip ties, proper jack, lug wrench, and spare tire.
  • Small air pump and some tire plugs.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Plenty of food and water.
  • First aid kit and bug spray.


When it’s time to winch, use proper tow straps or a Bubba Rope-style stretching cable. Never, ever use a chain. Whenever you are pulling or winching a rig out, make sure everyone stands far enough away to avoid the whip of a broken cable. And don’t forget to bring:

  • A smaller strap that can be wrapped around a tree, beneath the cable, to protect the bark.
  • A proper-size block for your winch line.

Remember that accidents only happen when Jeepers become complacent.

Happy trails!

Nuts and Bolts

Ted Johns is president of Bear Off-Road Alliance.

Jeep Is More Than a Brand at Schumacher

You don’t have to own a Jeep to sell them, but Rich Harward wouldn’t have it any other way. Throughout his 25-year auto retail career, the past 12 of which have been spent with the Schumacher Family of Dealerships, Harward has always invested in the products he represents. Schumacher acquired its Delray, Fla., Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership in October 2015 and put Harward at the helm as general manager. Since that moment, the former U.S. Marine and longtime Jeep admirer has been “fully immersed” in the brand.

Pull onto the lot in Delray or in North Palm Beach, where Harward is GM of Schumacher’s Buick GMC Chevrolet Volkswagen store, and you might spot a lifted and heavily customized 2018 Wrangler in OD green. That’s his.

“It’s a really special brand and it’s a brand you don’t really have to sell,” Harward says. “Most of the prospects for a Jeep have already done their research. They just need to find the one that’s right for them.”

Trail-Riding Trio: General Manager Rich Harward (center) is flanked by
Jeep Sales Managers Seth Gray and Rob Piekielski.

Work It Like a Business

Harward’s own career began somewhat inauspiciously. In 1994, shortly after leaving the Marine Corps, he took a friend’s advice and joined the sales staff of a Chevrolet dealership in his native South Carolina. Clearly restraining himself, he describes the state of automotive sales training at that time as “rough,” having been equipped only with a phone, a desk and a few product books. Falling back on his military training, he resolved to follow instructions and be regimented in his approach to the job. He had the support of management and the example set by experienced salespeople, but he realized true success would require an entrepreneurial mindset.

“It takes a lot of self-motivation. You are an independent contractor, and they’re providing the customers, the inventory and the space, and you do with it what you would do as business owner. That’s how I looked at it.”

Harward says he quickly came to enjoy the work and the family-owned dealership, where he would remain for more than nine years. After spending two years in law enforcement, he returned to automotive, serving as general sales manager and then general manager at an independent dealership in Greenville, S.C., before getting the call from Schumacher.

Dealership training has come a long way since 1994, and Harward has made good on a promise he made to himself in those early days.

“When I decided this was going to be my career, I said that, if I ever got the chance to be in control, I would do things differently — not only in the way we hire but the way we train,” Harward says, noting that candidates are interviewed by a panel that includes Harward and two other managers, and the majority rules. They’re looking for a personality fit, not necessarily someone with automotive experience, and those who are hired get the training and guidance they need to be successful. “When you hire an employee, it’s your responsibility to make them successful. With that mentality, you can create quite a team.”

Ken Cadmus is general sales manager for the Schumacher group, whose daily inventory of new and used Jeeps averages up to 300 units.

Enthusiasts on the Payroll

The Schumacher group is highly diversified. Both of Harward’s dealerships sell new Volkswagens. The Chrysler-dominant Delray location also has Subaru and Lincoln franchises. The North Palm Beach operation includes a pre-owned center. That’s a total of roughly a dozen businesses in two locations, but Jeep is hardly lost in the shuffle. Schumacher Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram is one of the biggest Wrangler dealers in the state, and Harward reports total monthly Jeep sales are in the 100- to 125-unit range — up from 70 to 80 under the previous ownership.

Harward’s secret sauce is a massive inventory — averaging up to 300 Jeeps on any given day — and a matching investment in the brand. The Delray service shop stocks a long list of Mopar parts and accessories, and technicians stand ready to lift, modify and customize a Jeep to match its owner’s vision. Harward’s Jeep sales managers are Seth Gray, a former fellow Marine, and Rob Piekielski, a died-in-the-wool Jeep enthusiast. And Harward, Gray and Piekielski do more than talk the talk.

“We live and breathe Jeep,” the GM says. “Myself and my managers are both part of multiple clubs.”

In June 2018, the dealership hosted its first annual Jeep Show & Competition, which drew hundreds of enthusiasts and spectators and included a raffle of donated Jeep accessories that raised $7,500 for Forgotten Soldiers Outreach. Harward says his team is already in the planning stages for a follow-up event. But he stresses that Jeepers need not wait for the next event or even their next purchase to pay a visit to the store. Whether you want to buy a rig or sell one, Jeep owners are always welcome at Delray.

“We started using Kelley Blue Book’s Instant Cash Offer, so we’ll buy any car, even if you don’t want another one,” he says. “We’re interested in any Jeep. We just bought a ’78 Wrangler CJ-5. We put it in the showroom.”

Safety and Convenience

Like most Jeep dealers, Harward credits the 2004 introduction of the four-door Wrangler “Unlimited” (now JL) with attracting greater numbers of car buyers — including those with families — to the brand. But a longer wheelbase and a couple extra doors are not the whole story, he adds. The manufacturer and its dealers had to break through several decades’ worth of misconceptions surrounding the Wrangler, an enduring American classic that was nonetheless once widely perceived as a novelty.

“The fact is this vehicle was not on a lot of people’s shortlist. They would look at the soft top and rollbar and not realize how safe Jeeps are. They would look inside and it was all metal and basic,” he says. “So they’ve done a phenomenal job of making the inside of the Wrangler look up-to-date and current — all the luxuries you would have in an SUV or car — and you can still accessorize it like an off-road vehicle.”

Asked when Schumacher would place its first orders for the upcoming Gladiator, the first Jeep pickup to be sold in North America since the Comanche wrapped production in 1992, “That’s the million-dollar question,” Harward responds. “We’re anticipating it arriving hopefully in June. We’ve been waiting on that for a while. There’s a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement.”

Until then, Delray’s Jeep customers have plenty to choose from. Harward says all Jeepers, whether off-roaders or daily drivers, tend to bring an encyclopedia’s worth of product knowledge to the store. Some dealers and sales professionals might be intimidated by that. Harward and his team are not. Informed customers are the best kind, he says, and if they’re greeted with equal parts respect and enthusiasm, they’ll remain with the right dealership for the long haul.

“That’s how we train our salespeople: ‘Sit down with that customer and make a lifelong friend. They’re going to buy from you your entire career.’”

Nuts and Bolts

Richard “Rich” Harward is a Jeep enthusiast and the general manager of two dealerships in the Schumacher Family group, including its Delray, Fla., Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram store, which is among the region’s largest-volume Wrangler dealerships.

Schumacher Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Delray
2102 S Federal Hwy A 33483
Sales: (844) 599-8881
Service: (844) 605-2409

365JeepLife Is Extremely Active

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your Jeepin’ career?

I was born in Mexico and raised in Eugene, Oregon. I got my driver’s license when I was 18 in 1992, and my first car was a YJ. I have been driving Jeep Wranglers ever since.

As a veteran Jeeper, what advice would you give to someone new to the activity?

My advice would be to let them know what is important when beginning the process of upgrading their Jeep. Parts that affect the performance of their rig, like gears and winches, should be the focus at first — not lightbars and other parts that only affect the look of the Jeep.

When I got my Jeep, I started by spending lots of money on big tires. I ignored the gears and I ended up damaging them. I had to upgrade to the correct ones and now everything runs great.

What is special or unique about your rig?

I have grab handles on my Jeep that I actually make myself!

Tell us about your group, its purpose and the benefits to your members.

365JeepLife is more like a network, not a club or group. We have members from other [area] clubs as well as clubs from all over the world. The benefits of a Jeep network as opposed to a closed group are that you get to meet people from all over the U.S.A and other countries! We like to spread the culture and movement of being an active part of your community.

How long has your group been around?

I founded 365JeepLife in 2015.

How many members do you currently have and what is the process to become a member?

365JeepLife has 15,000 active members. The process is very simple, just join the page and you have access to all of the activities that you can attend. We just ask that all members be respectful to the community and respectful at group activities. Because our events are always family-oriented, we have zero tolerance for non-respectful people.

Do you have group trail rides?

We organize about six camping trips throughout the year as well as at least four to five trail rides for our members. We do our best to keep all rides and activities low-risk so everyone can participate. However, if there are individuals with more experience, we will hold more “hardcore” events as well as to help out those Jeepers with less experience.

Does 365JeepLife support any charities?

We support quite a few charities, including participating with Mission 22, JJ Lyon Guard Foundation, Krawln 4 the Fallen, the Rotary Club, and the Miracle Network.

What other types of activities do you have for your members?

We plan beach trips, out-of-state adventures to meet with other Jeepers, meet-and-greets, parades and the charity events I mentioned earlier. We try to do something at least once per month.

What sets your group apart from others?

I really focus on the group Facebook page to make it better for our members. I don’t compare us with anyone else. Every group has their own style, so everyone is unique, and that is what makes the Jeep community so great!

Nuts and Bolts

Jorge Martinez is the founder of 365JeepLife, a network of Jeepers that promotes family-friendly adventures and connecting with Jeepers across the country and around the world.