Off Beat: Army Jeep takes star-crossed journey back to owner

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After a racing accident, Dennis Ripp switched to a hobby that features safer vehicles.

You have to agree that a U.S. Army armored car is a pretty safe ride.

The Woodland man now is president of the Military Vehicles Collector Club of Oregon and helped host an international convention last week at the Portland Expo Center. Ripp also brought some of his own vehicles to the event just across the Columbia River.

As reported in our Thursday story about military vehicle collectors, Ripp’s stable of mechanized war horses includes a World War II M8 armored car. He started with more of a conventional vehicle, however.

“I’ve been collecting Jeeps since 1989,” he said.

“I used to race three-wheelers with my buddies. I broke my arm and got Life-Flighted and decided to find a safer hobby,” Ripp said. “My buddy got a Jeep, a military one, and a friend said there was a club. We went with him and met the fellows, saw their Jeeps and halftracks.”

Eventually, Ripp bought the armored car, and even owned an M3 Stuart light tank for a while. But the vehicle with the most interesting history just might be one of his Jeeps: It hung out with some Oscar-winning actors. That was when Ripp’s Navy CJ3A Jeep was used in the 2000 movie “Men of Honor.”

“I rented it to them,” Ripp said. Some of the film, which starred Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr., was shot in Longview and Cathlamet in Southwest Washington, as well as in Rainier, Ore.

It marked a great comeback for the Jeep.

“The Navy used it, then gave it to the Marine Corps,” Ripp said. “It was bought by the city of Hood River (Ore.), which used it for a dogcatcher vehicle. A farmer bought it from Hood River and used it for a hunting rig and a snow-plow vehicle.”

Don Jones, one of Ripp’s classmates at Woodland High School, bought the Jeep from the farmer and then Ripp acquired it.

Its dogcatching days are definitely behind it.

“We call it our movie star Jeep,” Ripp said.

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.