On May 20th, 2013, a massively destructive EF5 tornado touched down and carved a mile-wide, 17-mile-long trail of destruction through the town of Moore, Oklahoma. With turbulent winds and debris reaching 210 miles per hour, this devastating force of nature devoured nearly everything in its path. Approximately 45 minutes after touch-down, the damage incurred by the storm system had claimed 24 lives while injuring and displacing hundreds of others.
Hours before the massive storm system formed, Jeep enthusiast Bryan Hutton was spending time in the garage of his parents’ home in Moore. He had just finished refitting the interior bed liner of his family’s beloved, bright-orange 2012 JK Jeep Rubicon—affectionately known as “Stomper” after the 1980s toys series— in preparation for a trip to Ohio. Keeping a weary eye on the darkening sky overhead and fearing potential hail damage, Bryan had the foresight to pull the Jeep into the garage to protect it just before the tornado sirens began to sound in the distance.
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When the storm had passed, Bryan emerged from his neighbors’ shelter to find his once pristine neighborhood completely flattened. Bryan’s parents’ house was now just another rubble pile amongst other jagged heaps of debris—everything except his prized Jeep, which was peeking out from beneath the collapsed garage.
While searching for survivors among his neighbors, Bryan thought that it would be far easier to move the debris if he had Stomper up and running, along with it’s powerful winch system. With little hope that the half-buried Jeep could possibly be operational, Bryan climbed beneath the wreckage of his family’s home.
The Jeep had taken a beating and suffered three flat tires, a crushed windshield, rafters had punctured the soft top and there were plenty of dents and dings covering the body. Otherwise, the Jeep appeared to have held together remarkably well. He was barely able to pry open the driver’s side door wide enough to reach inside the cab, but he succeeded in pushing the clutch in by hand and turned the key over in the ignition. To his surprise, Stomper fired right up!
As first responders arrived, Bryan stepped back and did what he was asked to aid their efforts. He transported injured citizens to medical treatment areas, helped transport families and their belongings and he continued to use Stomper’s winch to move large debris from the area when necessary.
During the next three days, Bryan returned to the neighborhood to tirelessly aid in the cleanup effort and salvage what he could of his parents’ belongings. He continued to use Stomper to the fullest during this time to help others, figuring that his time with his family’s favorite Jeep was limited and ultimately destined for the scrap yard.
Unbeknownst to Bryan, it was during this stretch of time that one of his good friends, Lance Kenyon, a fellow Jeep enthusiast, had taken photos of Bryan and his son using Stomper to help in the relief effort and posted them, along with Bryan’s story, on Facebook. The story and pictures went viral overnight, spreading like wildfire on Jeep community forums. Before long, the story of Stomper had become a heroic tale of what it meant to be “Jeep Tough,” and the Jeep community was talking about what they could do to help out the man who had used his Jeep to help so many others.
One of the people who saw Bryan’s story was Camp Crocker, head of the world-renowned off-road vehicle modification company Crocker Off Road Performance. Crocker jumped at the opportunity to help rebuild the vehicle.
With dozens of sponsors contributing custom Jeep parts to the effort, over the coming months COP4x4, Jeep Works and Kustom Koachworks of Arizona painstakingly stripped Stomper down to the frame and completely rebuilt the entire Jeep, bolt for bolt.
Bryan remains extremely grateful for everything the Jeep community did for him and his family, and he currently supports numerous other Jeep builds and helps draw attention to tornado relief effort givebacks. For more on Stomper’s story, search “The Rebuilding of Stomper” on Facebook.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.