Post 473: of Jeep accidents and other messes…

The first long out-of-town US Army motion picture job I went on was Reforger II, an annual Cold War exercise conducted in the Autumn of 1970. It was doubly exciting because it also was the first time I got to drive on the Autobahn, if in a Jeep with a speed restricted to 60 mph (100 km/h). It was 1970.

I just passed the test for my military license, was a newly-minted SP4 (same pay grade as a corporal), and it was my first time to drive anything with a trailer attached. The trailer held our personal gear and various supplies to get us through the exercise.

We decided to return to Kaiserslautern for the weekend since we were close by. It was early evening and we looked forward to sleeping in our own beds!

On the way back to Kaiserslautern, in the Ludwigshaven area, there was road construction. Though I passed the written and driving tests for my military driver’s license, I failed to recognize the significance of the road sign for “right lane merges left” at a section of road repair till too late. With inadequate time to slow for a safe merge (plus there was traffic in the left lane that wouldn’t let me move over) and a trailer that began to fishtail when I braked, I lost control of the Jeep and rolled it across two lanes.

jeep wreck

My passenger and I had a few bumps and bruises, but slow speed minimized the injuries. Oh, I did sideswipe a German’s car, but he made out OK, thanks to the arrangement the US Army had with the Germans to replace or repair things killed, run over, hit, knocked over, or otherwise harmed during Reformer operations.

I did total the Jeep, I learned later. I don’t recall much more about the accident. I’m sure I talked with someone in authority about what happened, probably my 1st Sergeant, but forgot about it until over a year later when my 1st Sergeant pulled me aside. By then, I’d made SP5 (like a sergeant with three stripes in pay grade), was well into my time as a motion picture photographer, had lots of road trips — without incident! — under my belt, and thought the matter of the Jeep was ancient history.

“The file on the Jeep accident is closed. They’ve decided not to make you pay for the Jeep or charge you with anything,” What!?

The figure of $20,000 came up as replacement cost for the Jeep, a sum equal in purchasing power to $127,204.42 now. Don’t think I didn’t have to sit down after hearing that! Turned out the Jeep was fully depreciated out since my photo company only got the old crap left over from other more critical units. Later, it turned out that model Jeep had a history of rolling over. I think they realized that.

Oh, I forgot to mention: The gas tank was under the driver’s seat in that Jeep, and the gas cap came off during the rollover. I was soaked in gasoline. Standing along the Autobahn after the accident, Germans smoked cigarettes. I truly was blessed to come out of that accident with so little injury to my passenger or me.


touch typing

Remember these? If so, you are older than dirt!

That’s a Hermes portable typewriter, a high-class Swiss machine that was a joy to use. Or was it? It had no spell or grammar check, and “cut and paste” literally required scissors and a bottle of glue if you wanted to insert a photo into the text. How quaint! But it served me well during my army days and up till I got a word processor sometime around 1990.

Come to think about it, that word processor wasn’t so wonderful either: Dim five-line screen, cranky program to correct errors, a film ribbon that made great looking letters though the film flaked off the paper. Yeah, you could write letters or do reports on it. That’s pretty much it.

Give me my computer any day!


I liked my barracks cubicle. I had lots of light and fresh air from large windows. I “inherited” a large editing table from the person who had the cubicle before me. Thanks to large lockers, I had a wall on two sides of my cubicle formed by two of a roommate’s lockers and my two, set up in an “L” pattern. A small cabinet that blocked the view across from my cubicle gave me added privacy, a rare thing in the military.

I don’t remember the dresser, but the photo says I had one of those, too. It was a degree of luxury not usually associated with US Army barracks at that time. The cubicle looks exceptionally out of order for the army. I did mention the 69th Signal Company (Photo) wasn’t, um, too big on things military, didn’t I….

my barracks room

Yep, I had on my army overcoat and nothing else when I made this “selfie” in 1972. Feelin’ good! Feelin’ good!

8 thoughts on “Post 473: of Jeep accidents and other messes…

    • Young Doug was experiencing the best of times and didn’t fully appreciate it! The irony is that I didn’t want to serve in the military when I learned (from my brother, when I was about 5) I’d be eligible for the draft, but ultimately enlisted (at 21) through the delayed entry program. That allowed me a lot of latitude about what I’d learn to do and where I’d use it. It proved to be a good deal.

  1. I am also older than dirt and remember that typewriter all to well. Changing the ribbons in those things and trying to use just the right amt. of white out to cover mistakes was a royal pain in the rump.
    Hubby drove jeep in Germany too and said it was so darn touchy he wondered how he got away with no accidents.
    I am so grateful for computers also and never want to go back to the days of the type writers.
    Great selfie.

    • I rem,ember those typewriter erasers and White Out well! The Smith Corona typewriter with the cartridge ribbon also had an eraser tape cartridge that made it a small improvement over the other two methods.

      Fortunately, I rarely had to drive jeeps, and never with a trailer after the accident. That was a first time thing for me, and I didn’t get the hang of backing or stopping with it.

      Most of the time, we went by train or Chevrolet Carryalls (I think they were Chevys…), which were more predictable, had no speed governor on their engines (but should have!), and were reasonably comfortable on the Autobahnen. We drove them at 90 mph, which exceeded the capabilities of the retreaded tires we always had on them. One notable trip, all four tire developed tread separations, and we didn’t have any replacements. We lost a day running down tires that another unit reluctantly gave us. (“We’re ALL Americans, man! Just let us have the tires, and we’ll be gone!”)

      I didn’t care for driving them in cities or small town even because of their size, or filling them up with gasoline because you had to fill out coupons for 1 liter each. (There were coupons for larger amounts, but they got used up fast, leaving the last people to pick up these coupons for a trip in the last part of the month with the liter coupons….) These had to be filled out with date, company, person using the coupon and other details, as I remember. Mostly I remember a fill up took a long time because you had to fill out so many coupons to fill up one of those Chevrolet trucks!!

    • Ha! Ha Me, too, obviously! There were three others before it: An old Royal standard typewriter, a Royal portable, an Olivetti portable (very stylish, and compact to boot). Then, following the Hermes, I had a Smith Corona electric portable with cartridge ribbons that was nice, a step up. I forgot about that one in my post. The word processor was horrible, but had the advantage of allowing one to store what one wrote on mini-discs that worked in nothing else. I went blind using it, though. That screen was ridiculously faint and low resolution. Now that I have a computer, I never look back. I have no nostalgia for typewriters!

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