Wednesday, April 4, 2012

History of the MTA

Military Transport Association

Through the eyes of an Old Geezer

by Harold Ratzburg, P.E.
    IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT----(Okay, Okay, I am not "Snoopy" in the newspaper Charley Brown comic strip starting to write another novel)----but it was a dark and stormy night almost forty years ago, in November of 1972, when Dennis Spence (Of 'Portrayal Press' fame) and Peter Shaw (Of 'Shaws Garage' fame in Florham Park), sat down with me in my office, to write up the by-laws for the first military vehicle club east of the Mississippi.  About a week before, fourteen people with interest in the green machines met in my family room and agreed to form a club which would be associated with the National Military Vehicle Collectors Association (NMVCA), a MV club that had been established in 1970 in Souther California by a gentleman named Frank Bricker.  Frank gets the credit for forming the very first national historic military vehicle organization of any type anywhere in the world.  Our new club would be known as the North Jersey Chapter (NJC) of the NMVCA.
    Dennis Spence was the real powerhouse in organizing the Club.  He had previously organized the Boondock Blazers, a 4WD club and after seeing the success of the NJC,  he, with the help of Ollie Kennen, started the South Jersey Chapter in 1975.  Never slowing down, he and Ollie, with the help of the South Jersey Chapter, ran the first East Coast Military Vehicle Rally at Fort Dix in 1976.
    As things do happen, in 1976 club politics entered the NMVCA, so, out with the old and in with the new, a new club was formed called the Military Vehicle Collectors Club (MVCC), and NJC switched its national affiliation  to the new club in March, 1976, and helped to incorporate the MVCC in NJ in January, 1977.
    Then again, club politics raised its ugly head, and in 1986 and 1987, there was much dissension within MVCC, even a lawsuit, and NJC gradually became Military Transport Association of North Jersey (MTA).  the MTA had no national affiliation for a period, but after MVCC was reformed as the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) in 1990, MTA joined it shortly thereafter and we have lived happily together ever since.
    But----enough about old dry history and dates.
    Random Memories of the "good old days"
     Way back in 1976, our local club was strong enough and active enough to help host one of the first International MV Rally, at the Lakehurst, NJ, Naval Air Station  The location included the use of the huge dirigible hanger, where the MV displays were parked and shared the space with Naval aircraft and firefighting equipment.   It was a great location in case of rain, but as it was in July, the hanger became one very big, oven type structure over that weekend, and what I remember most abouit it was just how hot it was.  In spite of it all, we did have a good time.
    A Long Island bivouac and trail ride in the 70's was memorable in that I came to realize just how much a 150 mile ride in an open jeep can be in physical discomfort.  To make it even more memorable, I took with me my little Frau, two kids and a dog..   After the first fifty miles through NY City and its pot holed streets, those two inch thick horse hair seat pads in the jeep seemed to be none existent and squirming from one "cheek" to the other did not help much.  But being younger and more eager than I am now, we did finish the trip out and back and look back at it rather fondly remembering all the funny looks we got from other drivers on the Long Island Expressway..
    In 1984, we felt that the club got a real honor by being invited to participate in the Inauguration Parade for President Ronald Reagan in Washington DC.  We figured----WOW, what an honor----and about four of us made plans for a convoy to drive on down with our MV's,  I chose to tow my jeep, and some came on trailers, but we were going to be there----in January.  It gets cold in January as you know, and on the day that we were trucking on down, a snow storm hit the area, along with a cold wave.  Part way down we had to hole up in a motel and when we hit the road again, all the roadways were heavily salted as they were the day before.  After towing the jeep for 200 miles behind the car on salted roads, the jeep looked like it had been painted white.  When we arrived, the day before the parade, we were provided with a shed to clean our vehicles.  The shed was unheated and what fun it was to wash the jeep, with cold water, in a shed that was about one degree above freezing.  We got the job done however, and settled down in a motel to wait for the early morning wake up call.  We got the call, and would you believe it, the parade was canceled.  The temperature in DC was about twenty degrees with high winds, and the parade committee was afraid that the mouth pieces of the horns of the marching band members would freeze to their lips, so the only thing we could do then was hook up our MV's and head for home.  Oh well----------
    Trail rides, back in the days before the rise of environmental protection wackos and urban sprawl, were a bit more interesting. It was felt that if at least one or more vehicles did not get hung up on a rock or mired in a swamp or river crossing where it would have to be winched out, well, it just wasn't a good trail run, but if someone just mentioned the words "trail ride", 3 or 5 or more vehicles would show up on a weekend and off the group would go.  New Jersey had and still has, I'm sure, some very formidable off road trails up in the mountains and generally following along the right of way under the high tension electric power distribution lines, but now you are discouraged by many more "No Trespassing" signs, or a telephone complaint by a wacko environmentalist will cause a police car to be waiting for you as the you exit out of the woods.  Or, you might find that the nice hill climbing area is now covered by a new housing development with a lot of foreclosure signs in it.  Progress, isn't it wonderful?
    Dinner dances, known as "G.I. Sweetheart Dances", were common back in the 70's and 80's.  It gave all the guys with a uniform to match the years of their vehicle a chance to dress up in Class A uniform and dance to the music of the times, mostly WW II.  In some cases, we even had a real WW II era orchestra playing WW II swing and jitterbug music and a great time was had by all.
    Sarafan Auto Supply-----now there was a name that was popular back in the 70's.  Sarafan was a military vehicle surplus dealer in Spring Vally, NY.  His main business was selling 4WD, WW II trucks to contractors who worked off road on power lines etc, because those old military trucks could go most anywhere.  And on occasion, he would receive a WW II Jeep or more and they were all up for sale.  (In February,1972, I found my present Jeep sitting at Sarafan's yard, in a snowbank, while I was looking for parts for my first rust bucket WW II Jeep).  Being a good businessman, he realized that MV collectors were also good customers and he gave open house affairs to collectors in the hobby where we could look through every little nook and corner of the yard and the sheds for the treasures.  Unfortunately however, the open house affairs were stopped when some of our club members walked away without paying for some items found in the open yard.   Sarafan has since relocated the business to the sunny south.
    Parades can be and were kind of exciting affairs.  On July 4th, 1986, I had a run in with Communist Sympathizers at a parade in Montclair, NJ.  Unannounced and kind of illegally, they forced their way into the parade just in front of our NJC group of military vehicles and marched down the street with a 12 foot long red banner stretched across in front of us.  Remember, this was still in the Cold War period of the US against the Russians.  They taunted the heck out of us just behind them, figuring that we were US military.  After a while, I just lost my cool, climbed out of my vehicle, and ran up and cut the damned red banner in two with my knife.  That did not stop them however, and one of them came back into the parade again, just in front of us, carrying the banner, now like a flag, and still taunting us. I lost it again, and chased that SOB about two blocks before I cornered him and took his flag away from him.  (No, I didn't punch him out.)  I took it back to the parade as a victory symbol and souvenir of the combat,--------but guess what?  At the end of the parade, along comes that SOB, with a cop, and the cop tells me that I have to give him his property back, so I did, of course.  Did I win or lose that battle with the Communists-----Beats me, you figure it out.
    I could go on for a long time about the "good old days" but then I remind myself that these days are the future good old days.
    The MTA is moving along, with a great bunch of people working together in the interest of the hobby and friendship with each other.  What could be "gooder" than that?

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