At Coop’s Bait and Tackle, about a week before the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby began, owner Cooper Gilkes was telling stories. It seems that a fish story can be inspired by anything, even a car.
“We were fishing down at Katama,” Mr. Gilkes began. “My brother in law was down and he had brought a friend with him who had never been fishing. We went and set up the rods and he was learning to cast. I was a bit skeptical because if you don’t cast straight you tangle everybody up, but he did all right. Before you know it, he’s hooked up to a 30-pound striper. He brings it in. Lo and behold, 10 minutes later he hooks up another one and brings it in, another 35-pounder. He’s fishing right in front of my truck and he is so keyed up.”
This is the place in the story where Mr. Gilkes started to grin. “It’s starting to get light now,” he said. “I watch him cast and his sinker goes way up in the air and lands about 12 feet in front of him so he’s right in the wash, that’s where the bass were. He sets the hook, and the sinker was rolling in the surf, he thought he had a bite. He puts the sinker right through my windshield of my nice Wagoneer. It was quite a night.”
That was back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when Mr. Gilkes was driving a tan exterior, brown interior, decked-out, pushbutton Jeep Wagoneer. “In those days the Wagoneer was the Cadillac of what was on the beach. No ifs ands or buts about it, that was the vehicle to own,” he said.
Mr. Gilkes isn’t the only one who calls upon the image of luxury when describing the Wagoneer. Janet Messineo, a Martha’s Vineyard shore fishing guide, had a 1970s Jeep Wagoneer. “It rode like a Cadillac,” she said.
Ms. Messineo has been driving the beaches for almost 38 years. She says that when she first started fishing, the only people on the beach who had four-wheel-drive were the really serious fishermen or people with money. “Now the four-wheel-drive is a family car and they’re almost too nice inside for fishing.”
She remembers her Wagoneer in detail, even though she only drove it for three years. It was a black Wagoneer with a narrow wood panel strip that travelled the length of the side, just below the door handles. “I had to have two different thermometers, one in winter and one in the summertime. Otherwise, in the summertime, if I drove up to Cape Pogue, it would overheat on me,” she said.
“I had a fishing buddy who always had a Wagoneer that was like his wife,” Ms. Messineo added. Jack Coutinho and Ms. Messineo fished together for 12 years and he drove two Wagoneers during that time. “We slept many nights in those Wagoneers,” she said.
Gerald Jeffers operated a mechanic shop on Chappaquiddick from 1974 to 1992. “Everybody on the Island had Wagoneers at that time,” he said. He owned and drove more Wagoneers than he can remember. “Most were given to me,” Mr. Jeffers said. “People were having trouble with theirs; they’d give it to me and I’d fix it up. I never bought a new one.” He used to drive back and forth on the beach in those cars. “I’d like to go up to Cape Pogue and down to the cut. And I used to drive all the way to Edgartown.”
There are rules about driving your car on the beach or, as Mr. Gilkes said, “There are certain do’s and don’ts. You never ever leave your doors open on the beach. Two reasons. Number one, the salt air gets in them or somebody can come along and take the door off.”
“And that’s what happened that night,” he said. Yes, the same night that a novice fisherman sent a sinker through the windshield of his Wagoneer, a truck came along and tore one of the car doors off its hinges.
The story is an indelible one, but when Mr. Gilkes remembers his Wagoneer, it’s not with a cracked windshield and a missing door.
“I had it for the longest time,” he said. “I think I put probably a 100,000 miles on it. I loved it. That was a great, great vehicle, especially for fishing. She was comfortable and the kids could curl up in the back and go to sleep. I’ll never forget it. She just floated over the sand like nothing at all.”