Creamsicle: 1978 Jeep J20
1978 Jeep J20
In 1977, Bert Garrison Sr. ordered this beautiful Alpine White 1978 Jeep J20 from Hinkle’s Jeep Sales in Pickens, South Carolina—at the time, the largest Jeep dealer in the world. The order was for a long wheelbase, three-quarter ton, no frills work truck. The plan was for it to be used in a small home-hauling business before eventually getting a slide-in truck camper.
Keeping It in the Family
Bert Garrison Sr.’s son, Bert, got the keys to this family work horse when he got his driver’s license in 1977. Those early years for the younger Garrison were filled with fond memories in the J20, like going on his first date to the drive-in to see Star Wars. The truck was then used to drive between Greer, South Carolina, and The Citadel for college for a few years, before Garrison went off to the Air Force on the West Coast.
The truck was mostly a yard ornament at Garrison Sr.’s house in South Carolina, occasionally seeing service as a garbage hauler, until the younger Garrison got a call in 1993. Senior decided it was time to get the truck out of his yard and planned to send it to the junkyard if his son didn’t want it.
Garrison was stationed in Spokane, Washington, at Fairchild AFB when he got that call from his dad. There was no chance he was letting the classic Jeep pickup, with so many amazing memories, end up in the scrap yard. He promptly made arrangements to drive more than 2,000 miles back to South Carolina to retrieve the truck.
“Garrison has built a truly unique quality adventure truck that retains its classic appeal while offering the capability and camp comforts of a modern overland machine.”
When he arrived at his parents’ house, he found the truck in disrepair. His mom had run it out of water and warped a valve. It was leaking from the rear seal and burning a lot of oil. The drive back home across the country was going to be interesting.
A stop at the local auto parts store netted new plugs and wires, octane boost and some fresh fluids. Garrison led the way back to Washington in the J20, while his wife followed in their ’89 Land Cruiser. Miraculously, the old 1978 Jeep J20 pickup made it across the country with zero issues.
A New Life
Back in the daily grind, Garrison let the truck sit for a few years while he hatched a plan to bring it back to life properly. His next assignment with the Air Force was in San Antonio, Texas, where he met a squadron mate who was into restoring cars.
After many hours in the garage studying his new friend’s techniques and pestering him for every bit of knowledge he could provide, it was time to tackle the 1978 Jeep J20. Garrison started a full frame-off restoration in 1995 to bring the truck back to its factory fresh glory. The restoration took nine months and was completed in a one-and-a-half car garage.
The restoration wrapped up just in time for Garrison to get a new assignment with the Air Force, this time out at Edwards Air Force Base in California where he flew the legendary SR-71 Black Bird. He made the move to the new assignment by pulling a 28-foot gooseneck box trailer with his freshly restored Jeep truck.
California was home to Garrison and his trusty pickup for the next few years. He had a lot of fun taking his bone stock Jeep pickup off road on the weekends, all across the state. His final Air Force assignment was flying U-2 spy planes out of Beale AFB north of Sacramento. It was then time for Garrison to enter civilian life and leave the Air Force in 2000.
Garrison got a job flying for a major airline and moved to Ohio, where his wife’s family is from. He bought a small farm with a barn, where the truck has now lived for nearly two decades. The classic pickup only saw daylight once or twice a year, to haul wood or be in a local parade. The key to its longevity, though, is that it never saw the salty winter roads of Ohio.
The Overland Spark
In March of 2019, Garrison went out to the barn to check on his beloved J20. By this time his wife had named the truck “Creamsicle,” because the Alpine White paint reminded her of the white ice cream in the center of the classic dessert. Sadly, a family of mice decided they wanted some of the deliciousness and had moved into Creamsicle.
“After the trip, he hopes there won’t be much to do besides enjoy the vehicle, but Baja can be tough on vehicles, and this Raptor may surely need some attention.”
Around this time Garrison had seen a video about the ROAMR Tomahawk, a custom overland-style Jeep J20 build, which was featured at the annual SEMA Show. Garrison had no clue what this “overlanding” thing was all about, but after some research, he decided that it would be Creamsicle’s next life.
Garrison moved the 1978 Jeep J20 into his workshop and set about evicting the mice and breathing new life into this classic old truck. Quality bones were already there—AMC 360 engine, Warner T-18 four-speed transmission with granny first, Dana 20 transfer case, Dana 44 front axle and 60 full-float rear, Warn locking hubs and so much more. These old Jeep J20 trucks are solid workhorses strait from the factory!
The overland-style build on this classic is comprehensive but mostly bolt-on stuff that can be changed up, or reverted back, at any time. A 4-inch lift allows for 33-inch BFG mud-terrains. Seventeen-inch Mickey Thompson Classic III wheels help retain the classic style. Under the hood, a host of comprehensive electrical upgrades have been made, along with some basic engine upgrades, like a Holley Truck Avenger 4bbl Carburetor. Inside the cab, the classic style has been retained, but lots of modern communications gear has been installed.
The big 8-foot bed now houses a full complement of off-road and overland gear. Air duties are handled with both an ARB twin compressor and 15-pound Power Tank. A Tembo Tusk fridge slide and big 62-quart Snowmaster fridge are mounted in the bed. A Leitner Designs bed rack not only supports the ARB tent and awning but has a full host of storage boxes.
At both ends of this ready-for-anything classic adventure truck are SBF bumpers from BJ’s Off-Road. The front bumper holds a Warn Zeon 12S Platinum winch. On top of the cab is a FrontRunner roof rack that holds an axe, shovel, chainsaw and spare water. A full host of KC Hilites surrounds the vehicle, both for driving and camp lighting.
Garrison has built a truly unique quality adventure truck that retains its classic appeal, while offering the capability and camp comforts of a modern overland machine. The best part, he gets to adventure in this rig with his dad. Only time will tell what the next evolution of this classic truck will look like.
The Truck, The People, The History
We caught up with both generations of Bert Garrison and Creamsicle at Overland Expo East 2019. This cool truck, its amazing story and the quality, friendly people behind it was a story we had to share. We hope you enjoy their story as much as we did.
“We caught up with both generations of Bert Garrison and Creamsicle at Overland Expo East 2019. This cool truck, its amazing story and the quality, friendly people behind it was a story we had to share.”
Keep an eye out at future overland gatherings for this beautiful, old Jeep J20 truck. Be sure to say hi to Creamsicle, Bert and Bert for us!.
1978 Jeep J20
Engine: Holley Truck Avenger 4bbl Carb, Powermaster Alternator 100/70 Amp, FlowKooler Water Pump, MSD 6 Offroad Ignition, MSD Distributor, (2) Odyssey Extreme 34-PC1500 Deep Cycle Batteries, Battery Doctor 150 Amp Isolator, Noco Gen2 Genius On-Board Dual Battery Charger, Wagan EL3804 Pure Line 1000 Watt Inverter,
Wheels & Tires: 17” Mickey Thompson Classic III Wheels wrapped in 33×12.50R17 BFG KM3 Tires
Suspension: Rusty’s Offroad 4” Lift, Rancho RS 5000 Shocks/Steering Damper
Accessories: SBF Bumpers from BJ’s Off-Road, Warn Zeon 12S Platinum Winch, Factor 55 ProHook, ARB Twin Air Compressor, 15 Lb Power Tank, KC Hilites Lighting (Pro 6 Lightbar, 28” Chase Lightbar, 4 x White Cyclon LED lights), Maxtrax, Hi-Lift, Roto-Pax Fuel & Water Tanks, Leitner Designs 8’ Bed Rack System w/ Storage Boxes, FrontRunner Roof Rack, Uniden CB Radio, Yaesu 7250 2 M/ 440 HAM Radio, Midland MXT400 GMRS Radio, ARB Simpson III RTT, ARB 2500 Awning, Snomaster 62 Quart Fridge, Tembo Tusk Fridge Slide, 5 Lb Propane Tank, 2 x Water Port Self Pressurizing Water Tanks, Trasharoo