Photo by Bryan Hanks / The Bucklesberry Gazette
In 1984 a grand restoration effort began that would eventually restore the Statue of Liberty to her former glory. Such effort hadn’t gone into restoring a French beauty since Sophia Loren auditioned for the part of Bella Swan in the Twilight series.
Although Lenoir County doesn’t have anything on the scale of the Statue of Liberty, we do have the CSS Neuse, the Richard Caswell Museum and the prehistoric Jeep owned by radio host/Golden Girls reenactor Bryan Hanks.
Before you start sharpening your letter writin’ crayon, hear me out. Bryan Hanks’ Jeep is without question one of the most recognized vehicles in the tri-county area, routinely ranking third behind Reece Gardner’s Lamborghini and Brian North’s Le Car.
Hanks’ vehicle is not pretty, distinguished or legal to drive in several states. The roof of the vehicle is basically a large piece of Saran Wrap with a zipper, and the long disintegrated seats have been replaced with a series of plastic pickle buckets duct taped to the portions of the floorboard that have yet to succumb to rust.
People like Hanks’ 76-year-old Jeep because it’s one of the few vehicles on the road that’s propelled by a steam-powered engine. The coordination Hanks displays while shoveling coal into the firebox while shifting gears and simultaneously Tweeting about high school football is awe inspiring.
“I went on a road trip with Hanks a few years ago,” said Jonathan Massey, 57, of Kinston. “He ran out of coal so we stopped at a Walmart and grabbed a few bags of Kingsford charcoal. The Jeep didn’t run as well on the charcoal, but we were able to cook a few Bubba Burgers on the engine block on our way to Furry Con.”
While Hanks eschews modern vehicular luxuries such as air conditioning and steering wheels, he has decided to give his Jeep a new paint job.
On Saturday morning I followed Hanks to the home of the mortal who has been tasked with repainting his Jeep. I couldn’t get my recorder out of my pocket quickly enough to catch it, but you could hear the other vehicles in the parking lot snickering at the Jeep. A 2007 Chevrolet Camaro made a very off-color remark about the Jeep’s sagging rear end, while a 1997 Ford Escort said Hanks’ Jeep made him feel like a Prius.
As it stands, what paint that is currently on Hanks’ vehicle is all that’s keeping the engine from falling to the ground. The more I think about it, the idea to have the Jeep that was the stunt double for the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck painted has more to do with structural integrity than vanity.
If the guy painting the vehicle mixes in some Bondo, Hanks may be able to drive with both legs inside the vehicle for the first time since ESPN’s Stephen Smith’s ego had to hire it’s own publicist.
I rode in Hanks’ vehicle once. Looking back on it now I realize how reckless a decision it was to voluntarily ride in a vehicle that’s only safety device is a series of bubble wrap sewn into the dashboard. Also, the clipboard full of release of liability waivers sitting in the passenger seat should have been a clue that I was not in a safe place. There’s a rumor going around that Evel Knievel refused to drive it to the market on a dare back in 1979.
If you see Hanks driving around in his retooled Jeep, avoid making eye contact with him and keep it moving.
Jon Dawson’s books available at http://www.JonDawson.com