April 2021 is the 66th anniversary of the start of Operation Pineapple!
Even today it would be an ambitious expedition. In 1955 it seemed like an impossible idea, for three Scouts to drive from Brasil to Canada to attend the 8th World Scout Jamboree, continue to Alaska, and then drive home. The CJ3B Page was pleased to present this account as our May 2009 cover story, and it will appeal to anybody with a sense of adventure, particularly those of us who were once Boy Scouts. -- Derek Redmond
See also Baden-Powell AfricaEuropeAmerica Expedition, the 1957 Boy Scout Jeep adventure inspired by Operation Pineapple.
The 8th World Scout Jamboree 1955 would be the first major international gathering of Scouts outside of Europe. Rover Scouts Hugo Vidal, Charles Downey and Jan Stekly, of Scout Troop Grupo Escoteiro Carajás in São Paulo, Brasil, probably saw this poster showing a Canadian Scout in front of Niagara Falls, and they dreamed of a trip through 17 countries along the new "Pan-American Highway."
Their journey eventually took 12 months and covered 72,000 kilometers. They called it "Operation Pineapple" because of the tough exterior of the tropical fruit, and because they wanted to show that it could be done in a Willys built in Brasil. (In Brasil, the word "pineapple" has the same connotation as "lemon" in English.)
The Pan-American Highway is a network of roads from Argentina to the United States. Except for an 87-kilometer (54-mile) interruption of swampy rainforest, called the Darién Gap, the road links all the mainland nations of the Americas. According to Guinness World Records, the Pan-American Highway is the world's "longest motorable road" (Wikipedia) but because of the Darién Gap, it is still not possible to cross between South America and Central America by traditional motor vehicle.
The "highway" passes through many diverse climates and terrains, from dense jungles to cold mountain passes. Some stretches of the highway are passable only during the dry season, and in many regions driving is still occasionally hazardous.
This map (370K JPEG) shows the route taken by the three Scouts in 1955-56, using the Pan-American Highway for much of their trip up the west coast of South America and through Central America and Mexico. They continued to the Jamboree, then north to Alaska and back across the US, and returned to Brasil by ship.
Charlie (left), Jan and Hugo were given a 1955 Willys CJ-3B for the adventure, through the efforts of J.B. Versteeg of Willys Brasil, who was involved in Scouting and had met its founder Lord Baden-Powell at the 1929 World Jamboree in England.
This photo was taken on the 1956 return trip, the roof rack loaded with souvenirs and the rear window covered with stickers. The Operation Pineapple logo can be seen on the side, along with the names of sponsors including São Paulo Jeep dealer Agromotor, and steel hardtop manufacturer Carraço.
The Jeep was prepared with a 60-liter water tank, two 30-liter gas cans, two spare tires, a body extension on the back, and a roof rack on the steel hardtop. It got a beefed-up suspension to handle the increased weight, and spare springs mounted on the bumper. Because of its pineapple paint job it was given the name "Green and Yellow."
Charlie was in charge of finances, and Hugo was the chief mechanic. Public relations and purchase of supplies was everybody's responsibility, along with washing the Jeep, and kitchen duties. Driving schedule was two hours each, with no extensions. Their motto was of course "Be prepared!"
They left São Paulo on 2 April 1955, aiming to reach Niagara-on-the-Lake in August of that year. They actually headed south for Uruguay and then Buenos Aires, Argentina, to reach the official start of the Pan-American Highway. (See a map of the route travelled (100K JPEG).) Rainfall meant fording water up to 70cm (27 in) deep on this initial segment.
After removing the mud that literally covered Green and Yellow, they headed into the Andes, where they found cliffs bordering roads little wider than their vehicle. In Santiago, Chile, they got an enthusiastic reception from local Scouts.
In Valparaiso they saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, but the Atacama desert soon meant extreme temperatures of heat during the day and cold during the night. With water in the radiator, they had to drain the block at night to avoid the danger of freezing. They also had to stretch their water, food and gas to make it to Antofogasta where they could restock.
Detouring through Boliva took them though the salty region of Salinas, and the water and salt resulted in an electrical short circuit. Then the Bolivian Altiplano brought altitudes up to 4300 meters (14,000 ft), where it was necessary to adjust the carburetor. They took a brief break in Lima, capital of Peru, and it was June 22 when they left Lima, enjoying paved roads to the international bridge that marks the border with Ecuador, a bridge painted half in the colors of each country.
Ecuador was a challenge, with both high altitudes and lower areas of heat and humidity, where they crossed the Equator (left). In Colombia they decided to take aother detour to Bogota, the capital city. But on hearing that a ship would soon be leaving to Panama, they rushed to the coast, covering 1280 kilometers, including 700 in the mountains, in 51 hours. They arrived to find that the ship was delayed.
Between northern Colombia and southern Panama are the ancient swamps of the Darién Gap, impassable to vehicles. But Pan American Airways came to the rescue with a DC-4. With rear wheels and roof rack removed, the Jeep was loaded with only 2 inches of clearance, and flown to San José, Costa Rica, where Charlie, Jan and Hugo enjoyed the friendship of Costa Rican Scouts.
Shortly after leaving San José they faced the biggest shock of the trip; on a muddy wooden bridge the Jeep slid off into a ravine and turned over. But the steel hardtop possibly saved their lives, and the Jeep suffered only minor damage.
After passing through Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, they were forced by highway and political problems in Guatemala to put the Jeep on a train for Mexico. From there it was relatively smooth sailing despite some heavy rain, and they reached the border with the United States on 11 August. In the next five days they crossed Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
Four and a half months after leaving São Paulo, Charlie, Jan and Hugo crossed the Niagara River into Canada about 20 km below the famous falls, and reached the goal of their automotive adventure.
The official Jamboree photographers Shore and Willey took a portrait of the group. Photo courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library.
The site of the 8th World Scout Jamboree was rolling parkland at the Fort George National Historic Site in Niagara-on-the-Lake. More than 11,000 Scouts from 71 countries and colonies attended this gathering, which was notable for the number of Scouts that crossed the Atlantic by air to attend -- 1,000 from Great Britain alone.
The Jamboree of New Horizons, as it was called, was held in a tent city next to the recently reconstructed War of 1812 historic site Fort George. The Jamboree was the first to be held in the Western Hemisphere, and saw the introduction of the World Membership Badge which is still worn on the uniforms of Scouts the world over.
Tales of the efforts made by Scouts to attend the Jamboree, in addition to the Brasilians in their CJ-3B, included the New Zealand contingent leaving four months ahead of the event and travelling over 30,000 miles.
Sawyer's Inc.'s "View-Master" sent a 3D photographer to the World Jamboree to document the event, for a set of three View-Master discs in their "World Events and Festivals" series. Thanks to Scouter Kevin for scanning those View-Master reels, although the scans do not really compare to the three-dimensional View-Master images.
The most exciting find among the 21 View-Master 3D pictures is the one captioned "Brasilian Scouts and their much-travelled Jeep."
After the Jamboree, Charlie, Jan and Hugo drove to New York and Quebec. They were starting to look less like Scouts and more like tourists, in this photo taken in Philadelphia and published in the September 1955 issue of Willys News.
Almost as amazing as the photos of their epic journey to this point, is this shot taken in downtown New York City, with the Empire State Building in the background. "Green and Yellow" must have felt right at home with all the green and yellow buses of the Fifth Avenue Coach Company, which operated most surface transit in Manhattan until 1962. (Wikipedia)
Like many of the photos here, this picture is courtesy of Hugo Vidal and Overlander magazine in Brasil, and has been restored by CJ3B.info.
In Toledo, Ohio, they visited the Willys factory. They were still planning continue to Alaska, and the engineers at Willys found the 3B to be in perfect mechanical condition. With proper antifreeze in the radiator, they headed west to Chicago and then up to Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Dawson Creek, mile zero of the famous Alaska Highway.
On 11 November they reached Alaska, where they stayed at a U.S. Air Force base. They wanted to reach the Arctic Circle, but at this time of the year it was only accessible by air. However, they travelled to Anchorage and to the settlements of Bethel and Kwethluk on the Bering Sea, and by courtesy of the Air Force they visited Fort Yukon, 12 km inside the Arctic Circle.
After changing a flat tire in Rio de Janeiro, Charlie, Jan and Hugo returned to São Paulo on 14 April 1956, 1 year and 12 days after its departure.
Green and Yellow was welcomed by the governor and a parade. Photo courtesy of Hugo Vidal and Overlander magazine in Brasil, restored by CJ3B.info.
It was a great accomplishment for the three Scouts, and we're proud that a Willys CJ-3B was part of this demonstration of the spirit of the Pan-American Highway and the spirit of Scouting.
Three more Brazilian Scouts were inspired to undertake the Baden-Powell AfricaEuropeAmerica Expedition the following year.
Some of the extreme points reached during Operation Pineapple:
As of 2009, Hugo Vidal was the only member of the trio still living. At that time he said, "For years I tried and tried to find the real O.P. Jeep, going through national and state vehicle registrations, following many leads, contacting collectors, Jeep clubs and magazines, etc. Just for your information, the numbers (always in my wallet) are: serial 57438-15279B and engine 4J86619. Unfortunately this never materialized, so I recently decided to restore a look-alike, and found one in pretty good shape to start working on it."
Hugo decided to cut no corners in the building of his Green and Yellow tribute Jeep. The original tub was repaired (above), and the rebuilt engine and tranmission are assembled here. See also the frame in the paint shop (80K JPEG) and the axles and disc brakes (140K JPEG).
In early 2017 he updated us: "After many detours like building a new house, intensive travels, etc., I finally put the Jeep back in perfect shape."
The new Green and Yellow has been getting lots of exposure in Brasil. Hugo and his mechanic friend are seen here exhibiting the Jeep at a sports show.
Hugo was invited to bring the 3B to a Jeep event, with an original yellow wheel which he had saved, and a poster showing the extreme points of Operation Pineapple as listed above.
The interior of the beautifully detailed Jeep includes a custom Operation Pineapple dashboard plate.
Hugo wrote in 2020: "I have just closed the sale of my Operation Pineapple replica Jeep. Decided to donate the revenue to help complete the construction of the Carajás Boy Scouts group's new headquarters. This is where O.P. was born and we feel it would be the best place for its soul to rest symbolically. Back to its origin."
Hugo also participated in the 2017 "Alaska or Rust" trip. He had written to me, "You certainly know about The Alaska Jeep Caravan being organized for next July and I am very keen on taking part in it since that territory is specially meaningful to me. My plan is doing that with my son who lives in Florida. First step will be to purchase another good condition CJ-3B. How would you suggest we go about finding that creature?"
Well, Hugo and his son Fernando eventually decided to go along on the Caravan, but in a new Wrangler provided by Jeep. On 24 July they crossed into Canada -- see an update at eWillys. And see an article from the Whitehorse Star: Traveller reprises 1955 Alaska Highway trip (220K JPEG). Hugo also did a 10-minute radio interview with CBC Yukon.
Although Hugo travelled in a Wrangler, there was one CJ-3B along on the 2017 "Alaska or Rust" trip -- see Joe Beadenkopf's story in North to Alaska.
When it was all over, Hugo said "We drove all the way to Fairbanks and Anchorage, then back down another way through Prince George (the original Operation Pineapple route) back to Seattle, where we returned the Wrangler (great vehicle!) Then we picked up an 1984 Dodge mini van that my son had purchased and drove back all the way to Florida where he lives. All told, close to 11 thousand miles in 30 some days! Great times on the road, definitely our best habitat!"
Hugo's book about Operation Pineapple, Flashes of an Adventure, was published in 2018. The text is in Portuguese and English, and there are over 100 photos. For more information contact Hugo's son Fernando at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Hugo Vidal, and to Jonathan Govier and Grupo Escoteiro Carajás for preserving the story in Portuguese, and to Denis Silva for telling us about it. Also Toby Shellard for his Carajás Scout Group Memoirs, and Federico Cavedo and Overlander magazine in Brasil for additional photos. An article originally written in Portuguese by Rogério Ferraresi appears at Allpar.com. -- Derek Redmond
I added the O.P. Jeep to my fantasy gallery of Matchbox toy CJ-3Bs, The CJ3B Page Collection.
See also Baden-Powell AfricaEuropeAmerica Expedition, the 1957 Boy Scout Jeep adventure inspired by O.P.
Elsewhere on the web, see some newspaper clippings about Operation Pineapple, at eWillys.com.
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