A literal head above the rest, the refurbished 1995 Jeep Wrangler YJ belonging to Gary Bronson and his Industrial Diesel Mechanics students at Laurel Oaks Career Campus is hard to miss at any showcase—and it’s been featured at quite a few.
The original owner, Scott “Riff” Riffee, intended to build out the vehicle for parades before he passed away in 2012. The Jeep nearly burned up in a house fire before being sold to Houk Auto Parts in Fayetteville, OH, where it sat for many years.
In 2019, following Bronson’s win of the Harbor Freight Tools for School Prize for Teaching Excellence, he opened a vote to his students on how to spend the winnings. The overwhelming choice: building a diesel-powered Jeep. Soon after, Bronson connected with shop owner Greg Houk for a showing of Riff’s old ride. Several customizations had already been made to vehicle, including radical modifications with a V-8 LS engine swap and installation of 36-inch tires. But Bronson and his students had a vision for more.
Once brought into Laurel Oaks Career Campus, Riff’s Jeep became the ultimate program collaboration. Students from the Autobody program added kelly-green paint job accents. Bronson’s Industrial Diesel Mechanics students swapped out the gas-powered engine for a r2.8 Cummins four-cylinder diesel engine. The Jeep will run on biodiesel made in collaboration with Honors Chemistry students at one of the campus’s feeder schools, Blanchester High School. Welding students helped build all of the suspension mounts and brackets. The Jeep has also upgraded from 36- to 54-inch tires.
Through this hard work and numerous learning experiences from Bronson’s students, the Jeep has made big impressions at several expos. Most recently, it won the People’s Choice Award at the 2022 Offroad Expo.
Several members of Riff’s family came to see the Jeep at the Expo and meet the talented students who refurbished it. Present were his son, John, with daughter Ella, as well as his sisters, Brigette Waggoner and Karen Riffee. They have been overjoyed to see Riff’s intentions honored with the Jeep shown off on many occasions.