Archived Story

Rural Pelican resident recalls days when Jeeps were king

Published 11:14am Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It might seem strange today, but David Bengtson remembers the days when a Jeep out in then field wasn’t an uncommon sight.

Before tractors became the powerful, large machines they are today, Jeeps were a versatile work horse around the farm. A number of implements — from mowers to plows to disc harrows — were easily used with Jeeps. Many farmers across the country appreciated the convenience and civilian vehicles modeled after their military conterparts were popularized after 1945.

“You could farm during the day and go out to town at night,” Bengtson said with a laugh.

Bengtson, who is 83, was raised outside of Pelican Rapids and spent much of his time farming with his father. The two used and worked with the vehicles for years.

During World War II, limited resources meant farmers and mechanics had to improvise. Bengtson gained a wealth of knowledge on different vehicles from the circumstance. After graduation, he continued to work with large and small machines.

“My dad had homemade tractors, we had all that type of stuff. You had to improvise during the war,” he said. “It hit so fast and so hard and it hit everything, nobody was better off than anybody.”

His passion carried over to a life of rebuilding countless numbers of cars and tractors, both professionally and personally. While he wouldn’t continue in his father’s footsteps as a farmer, Bengtson dedicated a number of years to farm equipment.

“He’s so fascinating to watch,” said his wife, Glenda. “He just knows what he’s doing with whatever he’s working on.”

From Metros to Studebakers, Bengtson’s life has been full of projects. After once paying a high price for a new vehicle, he said he’s never bought one since. Everything he and his wife drive is fixed up in the garage at their former home, now owned by their son.

But his passion has remained steady for those old Jeeps that once did just about anything. He restored a 1948 CJ-2A to its original condition, and rebuilt 1960s Jeep on display at Nelson Auto Center in Fergus Falls. He equipped both with implements he once used on the farm.

A photo of his most memorable project, a Jeep with a third axle, stays in an album along with a number of other highlights from his life. What made the rebuild so special, besides adding the axle, was a long stay in the hospital prior to the work.

“The doctor said if I could walk around again then I’d be lucky,” Bengtson said. “Well, I built it. I guess I beat him on that one.”

Bengtson’s 1960 Jeep will be on display with a new model at Nelson Auto Center for several weeks.

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