Jeep project was not only the fulfillment of dream, but good therapy

John Oncken
John C. Oncken and Rudy after a year long reconstruction project.

My son John runs a John Deere dealership with eight stores scattered about northeastern North Dakota and north western Minnesota with over 200 employees. That kind of an operation requires a good bit of attention and lots of decision-making. You could compare it to a mega dairy in that if you don’t watch out, the business can be all-consuming in terms of time, effort and lifestyle. 

The solution, of course, lies in having great employees who can carry on without constant supervision and somehow getting your mind away from the business – at least occasionally and fully.

The internet offers a plethora of writers with books relating stories on business stress and how to prevent same. 

Rolling her out after a near 600 mile trip Grand Forks to Sun Prairie.

A surprise?

John made the 600-mile trip from Grand Forks, North Dakota to visit old dad in Wisconsin last Friday, hauling a trailer full of a “surprise” to show me. I knew what it was because he had been telling his story for the past year or so: it was a 1957 Jeep pickup truck he had completely reconstructed and refurbished and that “purred like a kitten.”

Long ago

It all began when he was nine or ten years old and visited my uncle Alfred who ran a dairy farm near McFarland and owned a 1957 green Jeep pickup with a stick shift.  Somewhere along the road, my uncle taught John how to drive the Jeep and I even borrowed it for a week or so to haul some things for our then-new house near Sun Prairie.

A couple years later uncle Alfred died at age 79 and at his farm dispersal auction son John strongly encouraged me to bid on the Jeep, which I did in the very early stages of bidding, knowing full well that I would be easily out bid – which I was. (What would we have done with a Jeep? I surely didn’t know. I was doing a lot of traveling as the ABS advertising manager and had no use for a Jeep.)  

Like-new dashboard.

Later on

The years went by, John graduated from UW-Platteville, went to work with John Deere as a marketer and moved several times as his responsibilities changed over the years, but he never forgot that 1957 green Jeep with the stick shift.

It was about a year ago when John and his wife pulled into my driveway hauling (would you believe?) a faded green and a bit rusty 1957 Jeep on a trailer coming home from New York where he had bought the truck.  

A friend had seen the old Jeep posted on a collectors web site listed by a man named Rudolph who had started a restoration but couldn’t complete it. 

“I had been looking forever for just that Jeep,” John said. “And here it was. It’s was just like Uncle Alfred’s, the one I learned  to drive in. I’m going to rebuild it.”

The original 6-cylinder engine “purrs like a kitten,” John says.

A year of work

Ever since, I received regular reports about the rebuilding process mostly taking place in his “shed” (a spacious garage, machine shop and storage building) behind his house in Grand Forks. The pickup box was rusty and needed replacement. After a bit of a searching he learned that Chevrolet had made the boxes for Jeep during that period. He did get a box and had the floor made locally, which he installed.

John disassembled and put the Jeep back together. He designed, made and installed the rear bumper, bought rear fenders, rebuilt all the wiring from 6 volt to 20 volt and replaced gauges and tires.  

The pickup box was rusty and needed replacement. After a bit of a searching, John learned Chevrolet had made the boxes for Jeep during that period.

A rebuild

It was pretty much a total rebuild except for the  6-cylinder, 120 horse power engine  that had already been reworked by the previous owner. It was also repainted in the original Glenwood Green Metallic color by retired, local body shop owner, Kevin Thompson.

John also rebuilt the seat with foam replacing the original worn out springs and added new leather upholstery. Of course, we took a ride around several blocks near my house and it was like cruising in a new truck and a good bit smother than the Jeep I was assigned in the Army while serving in Korea so long ago.  

During the past year, John also had a serious neck operation and while recovering, he worked on the Jeep.

John Oncken's son disassembled the Jeep pickup truck and put it back together during a  year long restoration project.

“This was a good project during my recovery,” he says. “It was a good way to be physically working and getting stronger."

What next?

Now that his longtime dream has been realized, what next?

“Parades, auto shows, free rides,”  John says. “Maybe I’ll even find another old Jeep truck to restore, who knows?" I call it work therapy.“

That's an interesting statement and something farmers and others who work so hard might remember. Call it a hobby, a collection, a dream, whatever?  

John worked on the Jeep (named Rudy) only nights and weekends while continuing as CEO of True North Equipment that continues to grow with the remodeling of several of its eight stores which have now been completed or are in the process while getting the Impact Center up to full speed. 

The True North Equipment store at Kennedy N.D. is one of eight.

Meanwhile, just seven miles away from their Mahnomen, Minnesota  store, the huge River View Dairy enterprise is building a 10,000 cow dairy thus bringing a major change in the local dairy scene.  

Call it change or life. 

John Oncken,  can be reached at 608-837-7406, or email him at