A beginning, not the end of history.
Although as complete a story as is possible, WARBABY was not written to serve as the last word on the origins of the jeep. Indeed, it is intended that in setting out a detailed cast of characters and sequence of events new research and and previously unattached information will either amplify or modify any tentative findings. WARBABY is first of all a prima facie case, based on currently available evidence. Success will be measured in how many other, new people begin to take up the treasure hunt for new information.
Probity of the evidence.
It was immediately obvious that any writer seeking to sort out the various and often conflicting accounts about the origins of the jeep would have to impose at least some basic rules of evidence on the material; not to eliminate it from any consideration, but to weigh its probative value. The author, a retired attorney is well familiar with the rules of evidence and is able to apply their underlying sense based on practical experience. However, this weighing has been done in a transparent manner so that the reader is able to add or subtract weight to any given “testimony” based on his or her own experience and understanding of human nature.
The “invention of the jeep” became a hotly contested issue almost the instant it appeared at Camp Holabird. The reasons for this often bitter and long standing controversy are clear and set out early on in a 1940’s memorandum from Col. A.W. Herrington:
The reasons are obvious. The prestige of the Jeep as the most remarkable vehicular development in fifty years automotive history is an invaluable asset to any individual or firm which can claim credit for it.
It will be clear in the book that Harrington’s “individual” claims can be just as motivated for purposes of prestige, pride or notice as that of “firms” having a commercial, financial or corporate interest. Moreover, such individuals could be private citizens or uniformed. The paucity of promotions in the American pre-war Army created a nearly desperate desire among ambitious officers to be seen as connected with even the slightest good result. Even after the war when many of these men are covered with general’s stars it is surprising how much contention there is to be awarded “credit” for some part played in the creation of the jeep. In addition there are simple personal conflicts and distastes based on affronts real or imagined which are often ignored by historians even when they may account for the whole basis of an act or omission. Sometimes the simplest answer based on our human frailty is the best one.
WARBABY is unique among jeep treatments because it relies almost exclusively on material taken from the actual individuals involved and closest to the crucial events, and even that evidence is weighed in favor of statements made nearest in time to the event. Wherever possible the actual words of the witnesses are quoted. In several instances the “best evidence” is simply not (yet) available. The discovery of any notes taken or letters left by Robert Brown or detail from the Crist family would for instance be invaluable as would be a discovery of what, if any, work had been done at Camp Holabird with regard to a small battlewagon in the late 30’s. Discovery of any such material could of course change the premises put forth in this first edition WARBABY, but at some point a line must be drawn where we feel there is enough evidence to make a prima facie case, and thus WARBABY rests its case, awaiting any rebuttal or new evidence.
The decision to proceed with the writing WARBABY was made upon the acquisition and digestion of two major sources of information not readily available at all, or as a practical matter to a researcher and which confirmed much of the previous research and archival material.
- The copying and organization of the complete record of the matter of FTC v. Willys-Overland, and
- Acquisition of an important part of the papers and research of the late George Domer, particularly with regard to interviews and correspondence with Harold Crist.
The FTC record consists of thousands of pages of testimony and exhibits taken over a period of years and a variety of venues during the war. Although a few researchers have examined bits and pieces of this record, it cannot truly be understood without a review of the whole matter.
George Domer in August of 1939 ready to drive to Butler to trade in his Austin for a new Bantam. Domer, who also owned a BRC, is without doubt the greatest Bantam historian of all time. The Author was in regular contact with Domer for several years towards the end of his life and received much encouragement and advice from him. It seems clear that Domer had planned to write an article about the whole jeep episode and had done a great deal of research towards that end, including in depth interviews with the key individuals involved at Bantam. However, time and circumstances prevailed. WARBABY author Bill Spear was pleased to receive much of this research upon Domer’s death. With Spear’s own research this material cleared up many ambiguities, and more, gave real insight into the personalities of the individuals who actually did create the jeep.