If It’s in Your Blood, Where’d It Come From?

by Mike Smith, father of Scott and Brian Smith and retired general manager

This is being written as a fun exercise (for me as the Dad) to complement Scott’s blog post titled “In My Blood.” As you may suspect, my Dad and I contributed most of the genes that influence Scott and Brian’s passion for the mud, being outdoors, and seeing whose machine is the “baddest.” I believe that Scott’s genes – or character traits – that power High Lifter are not just the ones that love mud riding; but also the ones that believe in treating everyone (customers and friends) with respect, appreciation, and going the extra mile to deliver more than is reasonably expected. When it comes to these character traits and values, the boys’ mother is as much – if not more – responsible for such doings. While my values were developed in the Army, the business world, or in the woods, my wife’s values came from a lifelong altruistic attitude and 25 years of teaching and caring about the lives of many area students. She has always been the best and hardest worker in our family, including taking care of everyone in our extended family whenever they’ve needed help.

Mike with his ’47 CJ-2A Willys Jeep in the snow in Monroe, Louisiana.

To find out where his mud blood came from, you have to go back to 1957 when my grandfather gave me his 1947 CJ-2A Willys Jeep that he used for work and was used by my dad for hunting. The Jeep had been sitting up in my grandpa’s garage for some years. My father had lent the Jeep to a friend of his who hunted with them on Davis Island on the Mississippi River – not far south of where I-20 now crosses the river. Back then, you got to Davis Island via a small hand-operated ferry that you drove onto and pulled across by cable to the island. My dad’s friend, who had borrowed the Jeep, never showed back up after that weekend. The following March when the river began to fall, a commercial fisherman was right behind the ferry when it hit something with its prop. He turned to look and saw the guy who had borrowed the Jeep pop up to the surface after the prop had cut a big hole in the Jeep’s canvas top. Needless to say, they finally figured out what had happened to their friend.

After spending about four months six feet under the muddy waters of the Mississippi, the Jeep was in need of complete disassembly and rebuilding. In the summer of 1957, I cut grass, worked at a dry cleaner’s, and saved every dime I made to put toward overhauling that Jeep.

Uncle Johnnie and the 1940 Ford

My Uncle Johnnie – a World War II hero – offered to help me get it back up and running. My Uncle had plenty of experience working on engines. During the war, his B-17 made a controlled crash landing in Poland after being shot up over Berlin, Germany. After they landed, the Russians who were occupying that area would not let them leave to go to England. So my Uncle and his buddy salvaged an engine and other parts from another crashed B-17 and repaired the engine 15 feet up in the air with barley any tools. Later that night they managed to sneak away and fly to England. At that time, they were heroes, and their story was written up in Readers Digest! I’ve got a copy of the article that ran in the local newspaper in March 1945 that I keep as a memory of where our family came from.

A copy of the article from the newspaper about Uncle Johnnie.

My Uncle Johnnie had no trouble making that old Jeep purr like it was brand new. However, after we fixed it there was only one problem we found, and it occurred after driving on a horribly rutted up road in the woods. The Jeep ran perfectly on hard pavement, but not long after we’d hit the bad stuff, it’d quit. After the second time it happened, my buddies told everyone how and where it quit, and no one would go out to the woods with me. We finally figured out that my Uncle didn’t replace the gas tank but had steam-cleaned it out.

Uncle Johnnie in England – Big Ben is in the background. Here’s another shot of my Uncle Johnnie, about 20 years old when he went to war.

When it was full, or near full of gas, it ran perfect. But when the gas tank got below half a tank and you drove on roads that would slosh the gas vigorously, it would wash the rust off the walls. The rust then accumulated in the carburetor and shut off the flow of gas. We replaced the tank and my Jeep was ready for more off-road adventures than I can count!

My love of everything outdoors and off-road was passed on to Scott and Brian. They were raised like most other kids in Shreveport – they attended local schools, played ball, etc. But unlike most other kids, they had Jeeps, 4-wheel drive trucks, and a boat or two sitting at home. They were taught to hunt duck, deer, and frogs; they fished and ran yo-yos; trained dogs; water-skied; and eventually maintained and drove their own 4-wheel drive vehicles. When the boys were teenagers, they asked if they could have a Jeep, to which I replied, “Yes, absolutely!” The caveat was that they had to be able to pay for it themselves. By that time, the boys were already cutting grass (sound familiar?) on a fairly large scale and they each purchased a Jeep and trail, paying the monthly note themselves. While I was the co-signer on the notes, they never missed a payment and paid for them in full. Looking back, I’m not sure I would do it that way again as it made them pretty independent as teenagers.

Scott around age 15 and his first Jeep.

Scott’s first Jeep was a used ’72 CJ-5, which he traded in on a new ’82 CJ-5 as soon as he could afford it. When Scott went off to college at Louisiana Tech, Brian bought the ’82 CJ-5 from him and took over his yard clients while Scott bought a Toyota Celica two-door coupe. However, the coupe was short-lived when Scott transferred to Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He couldn’t stand to be without a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so he sold the Celica for an ’85 Toyota pickup truck which was soon sporting a ’66 Corvette engine and a Turbo 350 transmission. Scott and his buddies installed the engine, transmission, and later a 6” lift and 44” Gumbo Mudders making one bad-looking truck.

When Brian went to Louisiana Tech, he traded the ’82 Jeep for a full-size Blazer. It was a lot warmer and dryer for the 150-mile trip. At that time, I had a ’75 half-cab Bronco with a warmed-up 351 Windsor motor, locked differentials, on both ends, and 36” “Q” Buckshots. It was one bad-looking Bronco with metallic red paint and a Braden PTO winch, but it couldn’t hang with Scott’s Corvette-powered Toyota. We had a lot of fun mud riding in those days as a family. It was here that Scott’s love of informal competition was developed and what would lead to the creation of High Lifter. No 4-wheel drive truck or four-wheeler that we ever had was good enough with stock tires and “Plain Jane” trim.

Scott’s first Jeep getting muddy.

If Scott and Brian have mud (riding) in their blood – and they do – I suspect it comes from two previous generations of Smiths chasing every kind of critter and fish in and through the woods in Jeeps, 4-wheel drive trucks, and eventually three- and four-wheeled  ATVs.  It was driving in the woods where we discovered how much fun it was to see who could get through what mud hole and who couldn’t. The guy who couldn’t make it was duly entitled to all the horselaughs and snide remarks about what a wuss he and his vehicle were. That became about as much fun as the hunt and could be done 12 months a year.

Scott around age 13 with our lab, Mandy.

With any good story, you need good artifacts. In this case, some pictures that show the formative years of Scott and Brian’s mud riding education in addition to some similar times from my early years. This first picture is Scott around age 13 and our Labrador Mandy after a duck hunt on Clear Lake. The blind was about a mile through the swamp down an awful road. At that time we had a ’77 GMC Jimmy with a four-speed, “Q” Buckshots, and a Warn winch that was used quite often. It was almost more fun getting to the blind rather than the time we spent hunting ducks! High Lifter’s own Sales Manager Dan Doughty was in on that blind as well and had a full-size Chevrolet Blazer. More than once, I had to retrieve him in my Jimmy. Even though it was a pain, I had plenty of fun raggin’ on him about that wuss “town” Blazer!

Scott and my friends after a dove hunt.

In this second picture, Scott was around 14 with a special group of my friends after a dove hunt. These guys and I were the shooting team that shot hand thrown, pen raised ducks and pheasants for big time retriever field trials for about 10 years. Participants had to be expert shots and were not supposed to miss or you messed up the dog – there was lots of prestige at stake. Dan was also a member of the shooting team also but evidently didn’t make this hunt or maybe he took the picture. I also have to point out the big guy in the middle of this picture – Marvin Williamson. If you look carefully, he has only his right arm. You might be tempted to think of him as probably handicapped and unable to shoot very well.  However, he was a shooting expert for Remington Arms traveling around the country putting on trick shot demonstrations. He was a gunsmith by day and using his stump and right hand, he could field strip a shotgun faster than (as he would say) a cat can lick his a–. When it came time to shoot, if you had the misfortune of being downwind of him in a dove field you could just relax and watch the show because you weren’t going to get to shoot very much, and when you finally got to shoot, it wasn’t because he missed. Even though I’m sure he did miss on occasion, I don’t remember seeing him miss in the 10 or so years we shot and hunted together. To say he was a crack shot, despite having one arm, would be a gross understatement.

Mike and Dan Doughty during a fishing trip in 1972.

Dan and I go way, way back together (further back than grade school) and he is a crack wing shot. Would you believe more than 60 years? We were in the cradle roll department of the Monroe, Louisiana, First Baptist Church together and our mothers were good friends and both grade school teachers. From fourth grade until I got married, I lived around the corner from him. We grew up hunting everything that flew and fishing for anything that swam. When Scott started High Lifter, Dan was the first employee after a secretary to answer the phone and put lift kit parts in bags.  This next picture is us on a fishing trip in 1972 (41 years ago) to Cypremont Point in Vermillion Bay. We had a good day with the medium sized speckled trout.

Here’s a shot of us mud riding in Bodcau Swamp with Scott leading in the Toyota (before the 44s and Corvette motor) and Brian in the grey Jeep after buying it from Scott.

A typical work session behind our house.

Before there were three-wheelers and four-wheelers at our house, there were off-road go carts and then dune buggies. This looks like a work session behind our house, while Scott was in college. Note the ’85 Toyota Celica he got to commute to Tech after selling Brian the grey Jeep.

As you can see, the love for mud started out in my blood, handed down from my Dad’s blood, to Scott, who was born while we were in the Army in Alaska. It was cultivated growing up in and around the woods and lakes of Louisiana. I think it is fair to say yes indeed,  it is in his blood and with good reason!

I hope you enjoyed a little of our family history.