Jerry O'Neil found these wonderful photos of a family in Maine bringing in Christmas trees with their CJ-3B in 1958.
The size and quality of these black & white prints suggest that they were taken by a professional or a serious amateur photographer. There are some similar photos of the same Jeep apparently taken the following summer, showing the installation of a Sears aluminum hardtop. It would be interesting to know who the photographer was.
1958 was an innocent time in North America. The toy craze was the hula hoop. For Christmas, the Osterizer Corporation introduced a $28 double-slot toaster with a timer that triggered automatic ejection, and it was a wild hit. The big Christmas hit song of the year was "The Chipmunk Song" by Alvin and the Chipmunks. It would be five years before the arrival of the Beatles.
On television for Christmas: Patty Duke in "Red Rose for Christmas" on The United States Steel Hour; Buster Keaton in "A Very Christmas" on The Donna Reed Show; James Stewart in "Trail to Christmas" which he also directed.
Christmas 1958 was a hard one for Elvis Presley. In August he had lost his mother Gladys, and now he was stationed in Germany as a soldier in the U.S. Army, far from home and also concerned about his music and film career being on hold.
The story goes that on the day that some of the men in his company were to go on holiday leave, they were humming and singing Christmas songs. Elvis finished polishing mirrors in the latrine and then joined the crowd. Out came spoons, combs with wax paper, and makeshift drums using tent pins for drum sticks, and they sang a rock version of White Christmas.
One soldier asked if Elvis would sing Silent Night. He picked up a guitar, and a Sergeant Jones recalls, "Elvis sang as if in a trance, totally oblivious to the spoons, combs, and tent pins....
Somewhere along the way the instruments fell silent and only Elvis' voice could be heard. Those going on pass didn't interrupt. They simply walked silently by Elvis, touched his shoulder and walked out the door. Not another word was spoken after the song until Elvis broke the spell. 'Merry Christmas, everyone,' he said."
The U.S. Army was in Germany because of the cold war. The first U.S. nuclear missile base was also under construction, at Cheyenne, Wyoming. Some members of the peace movement decided to continue the protests begun at Cheyenne that summer, by holding a Christmas vigil outside Vandenburg AFB in California. Sam Tyson recalled in Roots and Fruits, "Everything went well Christmas eve; even the base lights went out for fifteen minutes or so and there was this weird sense of another Christmas eve nearly 2000 years earlier. 'Leadership' decided to visit family for Christmas day in Santa Barbara. In their absence on Christmas day the 'red hots' decided to walk into the base. Defense forces got out the fire hoses and washed them down the road."
Willys Motors sales slumped in 1958. Production of the CJ-3B had been on the decline for several years, but in 1958 even the CJ-5, the company's biggest-selling model by far, sold significantly less than the previous year. And 1959 would see the debut of the Mighty Mite from AMC and the MUTT from Ford, marking the end of the period when Willys was the principal supplier of 1/4-ton utility vehicles to the U.S. military.
The CJ-5 would recover and stay in production for nearly three decades, and even the CJ-3B would continue in production well into the 1960s, with production boosted by export sales. But the sixties also brought change of all kinds, and there would never be another Christmas just like that of 1958.
Thanks to Jerry O'Neil for the photos. The Elvis story is from The Elvis Presley Expert. -- Derek Redmond
See also Elvis Presley's Jeeps on CJ3B.info.
See Christmas Over the Years for more Christmas features.
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