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War Machines

Featured Photo from War Machines

A retired Air Force sergeant, Jim gets a delighted response from crowds when he lends his Jeep and mid-’40s “OD green” motorcycle-with-sidecar to parades and other events throughout Seminole County. But this little slice of military history did not come in a neat package. It reflects decades of sweat and expense and a little serendipity.

”Real Jeeps have flat fenders” reads a tongue-in-cheek license plate bolted to the front of the World War II-era military Jeep parked in the driveway of Casselberry’s Jim Landress. A retired Air Force sergeant, Jim gets a delighted response from crowds when he lends his Jeep and mid-’40s “OD green” motorcycle-with-sidecar to parades and other events throughout Seminole County. But this little slice of military history did not come in a neat package. It reflects decades of sweat and expense and a little serendipity.

“I call them the project that never ends,” Jim says. “And as long as I’m alive and healthy, I don’t care.”

First came the Jeep, a 1945 Willys model that Jim bought and left with his father in Florida before going overseas for active duty in 1988. It was not his first. In a family tradition, Jim grew up driving Jeeps through the woods, on beaches, and over just about every other imaginable terrain.

“I love them ‘cause they’re Jeeps,” says the 59-year-old history buff, who served in Operation Desert Storm. “They have no tops on them and they go places where no other vehicles go.”

After Jim retired from the Air Force in 1993, he returned to Florida and to his Jeep, which needed a lot of work to be drivable.

Next came the motorcycle, a 1942 military-spec Harley-Davidson Jim bought off eBay in 2006 and had shipped from St. Louis, Missouri. When the motorcycle arrived, Jim found mounting points on the frame, but he had no clue what they were for. He would soon find out. The final piece of the trifecta came about a year later when Jim was flipping through a military-history book and saw a vintage WWII bike just like his but with a sidecar attached. Jim knew instantly he had to have one.

Sidecars came along soon after the advent of the motorcycle in the first years of the 20th century, Jim says. “They had to find a way to haul groceries and other people around,” he notes. The sidecar, like the Jeep, reached its zenith in the public consciousness around the time of World War II. They were used for behind-the-front maneuvering, typically with an enlisted man on the bike, and an officer in the sidecar, Jim explains.

But unlike the Jeep, the sidecar eventually fell out of favor, leaving few vintage models available for Jim to purchase and complete his motorcycle. He eventually had to import his sidecar from Warsaw, Poland, at a total cost of $4,000. Boxed up and shipped by air freight, the package got lost not once, not twice, but three times in Berlin, London, and New York, respectively.

How does one lose a World War II motorcycle sidecar? “I don’t know, but they did,” Jim says.

Jim eventually received the sidecar, restored it, and mounted it to his motorcycle, but it was not his original intent to showcase the “project that never ends” in public. Through his involvement with the Casselberry Veterans Club, Jim started a military history museum at the club’s headquarters on Concord Drive. That endeavor put Jim in contact with leaders of Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades in Sanford. When they found out about the WWII-era machines in Jim’s garage, they asked if he would be willing to take part.

Today, Jim’s vehicles are a fixture at those parades and many others, with Jim at the wheel of the Jeep and the motorcycle-with-sidecar on a trailer, and he loves the public reaction.

“Smiles, waves, people blowing their horns... it’s amazing.”

Jim was enthralled by military history even as a boy, watching such television shows as Combat!, The Rat Patrol, and 12 O’Clock High. Immediately after graduating from Lyman High School, Jim joined the Air Force and served as a civil engineer.

When his vintage vehicles are stored in his garage, and he is not at work doing maintenance for an assisted-living facility, Jim can be found tending the Casselberry Veterans Club museum. Visitors to the exhibit can view not just the usual fare such as uniforms and medals, but everyday personal items used in combat like compasses, can openers, and sea rations. Every conflict from World War I to the present is represented.

Jim’s favorite memorabilia, though, is his own mobile history lesson. The Jeep and the motorcycle help Jim remember the service of those who fought before him, and Jim hopes his vehicles give everyone in Seminole County the opportunity to do the same.

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