Back to Main Showcase Page

Donna Gardner

Donna Gardner: '97 Jeep TJ

Donna GardnerI had always wanted a Jeep, so when I found out the round headlights were back I be-bopped over to the dealership to look and came home three hours later with a '97 TJ SE with all of 9 miles on it. That was June of 1996. It was bone stock, boasting only a soundbar as optional equipment. We're talking no A/C, little itty bitty wheels and tires, and not even a floor mat thrown in. The thought of taking my Jeep off-road never crossed my mind. Suddenly, it's June of '99 and I am sitting at the bottom of Guardrail at Tellico with a broken axle. Now you may ask, how in the world did this happen to a girl in a little bitty Jeep? Well here's my story (and I'm sticking to it).

Shortly after I got my Jeep, I posted a message on some BBS asking for some technical advice for a problem I was having. Next thing you know, I have JPDog Jeff Bozzo (that many of you probably know) buzzing in my ear-via-email "when are you going to trail that thing". He finds me a local 4x4 club (Central North Carolina 4x4 Club), and in August of '98, after purchasing a set of 30x9.50 BFG AT's and tow hooks I hit the trails at a local OHV area, feeling pretty tall.

I come home covered with mud and a big smile on my face that lasted a week. On my second venture out I met a guy named Sheldon Gardner in a mutant Toyota who was destined to become my husband and chief Jeep builder. Some of you all may know him from Rockcrawler chat as Mojo. We made our first date via Rockcrawler chat, and were married about 5 months later.

Within a year, my Jeep went from stock to pretty darn trail-worthy. In the last year, it has been pretty much reborn, with modifications including a Rubicon Express 4.5 inch lift kit with slip yoke eliminator, 33x12.50 Super Swamper TSL Radials mounted on AR767 15x8 black rims, and Lock-Rights, front and rear.

After breaking 2 Dana 35C rear axles, a Warn full-floater kit was added. My husband/Chief Jeep builder fabricated the rear bumper and swing-away tire carrier/Hi-Lift mount and also made the rock rails which were recently put to good use at Tellico.

The final addition for the year was a Warn XD9000 winch mounted on a custom winch plate attached to my now-bobbed stock front bumper. And THAT is how a little Jeep grows up and a girl ends up on Guardrail with a broken axle.

We trail 2-3 times a month and try to hit Tellico about 3 times a year. Future plans are to make it out to Moab and the Rubicon. I am proud to say that so far I have been able to do pretty much everything the guys do. Just last month I walked it right up Slickrock at Tellico to the shock of the small gallery gathered there mumbling "Look at the GIRL in the Jeep, hehehehe" My advice to all women is "get out of the passenger seat! It is WAY more fun to drive!"

I especially love driving my Jeep because of the strange looks I get when dropping the kids off at school in a completely mud-covered Jeep. The kids love to go with us "on the big bumps" as 3 year old, Rachel calls it. The motto here is "the family that trails together, stays together." I think I have a couple of future girl Jeepers here!

Future plans for the Jeep are to fix whatever breaks with something better. Right now, it's all working fine so I think it best to leave well enough alone for now. Well, maybe we'll do that full rollcage, and the Durabak, and a roof-rack, and it would be nice to have those self-balancing wheel thingies (Centramatic wheel balancers), and a 4 to 1 kit might be cool…………..

Well, whatever happens, I plan on keeping this Jeep forever-as it was love at first sight!

Find out more about Donna's TJ here.

Donna GardnerDonna Gardner

Donna GardnerDonna Gardner


Back to the Features Page

©1997-2010 ROCKCRAWLER 4x4 and Off-Road Magazine. All Rights Reserved.