By Jeremy Heckler
Kan.—Sometimes the road less traveled
makes all the difference. Taking a trail and finding where it leads without
destroying the scenery along the way is what the Flatlanders Jeep Club
Some of the group’s vehicles are not what one would find in a showroom. The club works on modifying their vehicles.
Members come from all walks of life.
"The best thing about it being near Fort Riley is that not everyone in the club is in the military," said Chris Benn. "We have a lot of friends with no Fort Riley connection at all."
"Here we are all on the same playing field. There is one guy I know is a sergeant on the hill and I know him only as Bob," said Benn. The club is a tight knit group that will go out of their way to help a member in need.
Each month the Flatlanders meet at a local jeep dealership where they share stories about where they’ve been and what they have done to their vehicles to make it go farther into the wilderness.
A modern day jeep dates its history back to the military’s general-purpose vehicle during the Second World War and in Korea and Vietnam.
Jeeps in the club vary from right off the showroom floor to the extremely modified.
"Everyone starts their jeep experience somewhere," said Benn.
"There is a feeling of accomplishment. I have an idea of what I wanted but I didn’t know what I would get until I turned the key," said Benn. Benn took his 1982 Jeep Scrambler CJ-8 and modified the suspension, engine, and transmission. This is his sixth jeep and his black Jeep Commanche is his eighth.
Miller’s jeep is an eight-year work in progress. Miller’s said that only the frame was stock on his jeep. Most of the modifications are things that are not easily visible. Miller also replaced the body of his vehicle with a fiberglass body that has a mural on the rear end. He said he sold his other jeep to concentrate on modifying this vehicle, which he says he drives everywhere.
All of the modifications can get expensive. Benn said he spent about $4,000 on parts for his jeep. Labor is not factored in because he does all the work himself.
Each year the club participates in two events. One is the 4x4-fest held each May at Randolph City Park. The club, actively maintains it, and has adopted the park.
"We police the park and remove dead-fall from the trails," said Miller.
The Flatlanders Jeep Club mission also includes maintaining the environment.
"Our policy is to tread lightly," said Miller "We take an environmentally conscious approach to off-roading so that wherever we go there is minimal environmental impact." Miller said using more brawn than brain gives off-roaders that are more conscientious a bad name. The Flatlanders spot where to properly place their tires to make it up rough terrain without tearing it up.
In addition to maintaining Randolph Park, members of the club serve as guides for the annual Briggs Jeep Jamboree.
"I moved away from Florida where I spent 90 percent of my time on the ocean and moved to the mountains. My interests changed to those activities and using a four-wheel drive vehicle to get there. So I got rid of my speedboat and got a jeep," said Miller, former vice president of the club.
Benn’s purple jeep gets many smiles and waves as he passes by, especially from fans of Kansas State.
"Most people ask me where my top is," said Miller who said that he spends most of the year with the top off his jeep. "There is a sense of freedom that is unsurpassed."