If you’re a fan of a particular car or truck, you might have a few laying around your yard. Maybe one’s a driver, one’s for winter, and the rest are for parts. Dexter Browder’s yard is a bit like that, but he doesn’t just have a handful of Jeep Cherokees. He’s got about 700 now.
Browder, or Dex as he goes by online, hails from Selmer, Tennessee, and has been in the Jeep business for a good 20 years now. The way he tells it, it started out as a hobby that saw him tinkering away on his Jeeps on the side. Once upon a time, in fact, he had a regular day job that had him working nine to five. Like so many Americans, he was laid off in 2008 as the financial crisis raged. What could have been a curse turned into a blessing. At the time, Dex had a small collection of seven or so Jeeps, and he began to further explore this world once he was laid off. He began selling spare parts off the vehicles that he’d been tinkering with, and things began to bloom from there. He began buying more parts, collecting more vehicles, and gradually expanded his operation along the way.
What started with a few Jeeps in a single field quickly spread, with more taking over more land. His collection has gotten to the point where he notes that people have cited him as a primary reason why Cherokee prices on the used market have risen in recent years. He laughs at the suggestion, as he explains that his work more often involves buying Jeeps for parts that would otherwise be sent to scrap. Thus, by providing parts, he’s keeping the broader population of Jeeps healthier and more likely to stay on the road. “I don’t look at them, I don’t even know what I’m buying,” he explains in a YouTube video, “but I know that I don’t wanna see ’em go to scrap.”
[Editor’s Note: You’ve got to realize that, prior to about five years ago, Jeep Cherokee XJs were almost disposable — you could buy decent ones for $500 all day. I have! Times for XJs have changed (ZJ and WJ Grand Cherokee, which Dex also collects, are still cheap), so I’m glad someone bought a bunch for cheap and saved them from the scrapper. -DT].
Dex’s argument checks out when you look at some of the vehicles that he hangs on to. There are dozens of Jeeps with heavy body damage and twisted frames. Where a wrecking yard might typically have put it straight through the crusher, Browder prefers to hang on to them for drivetrains and other parts that can be salvaged and put to good use. He keeps examples in better condition in a separate area to be fixed up and put back on the road.
It’s clear that maintaining such a large collection takes a great deal of work. Keeping the masses of Jeeps sorted helps, with various sections of the yard dedicated to Jeeps in different states. Various parts of Dex’s property are dedicated to 1. vehicles in good condition 2. those that are in slightly worse condition but still “full Jeeps,” and 3. others that are beaten to hell or bare hulks with a few parts hanging off.
Dex is also well-known for his uncompromising driving style. He’s not afraid to hammer the loud pedal in an attempt to push one of his battered backwoods Jeeps up a challenging rocky slope or through deep foreboding mud. Sure, he might break a few driveshafts, suspension components, or even engines in the process, but hey—he puts on one hell of a show. He’s not afraid to rip off a wheel or roll one of his trucks down a steep embankment; not in the slightest.
Dex’s limiter-bashing driving style just means that his sprawling Jeep collection comes in handy more often than not. When he destroys a panel, exhaust, or just about any other part, he’s got a willing fleet of donor vehicles just bristling with parts, and they’re all waiting for him back in the field.
“There’s nothin’ we don’t have,” he explains on a tour of his parts stash, as he walks by sheds full of engines and a yard full of rear axles. “When we go out, I don’t care if we blow up motors, transfer cases, anything… just as long as y’all are happy seein’ what we do, he says in reference to his YouTube channel.” Where stock parts let him down, he perseveres and gets to modifying something to work. His latest video talks about how to build a “Dex-proof” driveshaft without spending big money. Anyone can go out and buy a four-figure driveshaft suitable for serious punishment, after all, but he’d rather put something together with his own two hands.
The cool thing about having a yard full of Jeeps is that it enables one to do all kinds of wacky builds on the cheap. Dex has a whole row of fun trail rigs with big tires and homebrew cages, all assembled from the bits and pieces he pulls off trucks out in the field. He even turned one truck into a full-sized RC car, a toy that deserves to be covered in another article in its own right. His fleet of Frankensteined offroaders would be enough to film an Americanized Mad Max in the backwoods of Tennessee if you so desired.
The thing that sustains Browder’s yard is his ability to fix Jeeps, drawing on his parts supply to do so. He largely focuses on restoring and selling the vehicles in his collection that come to him in the best condition. “Local people get so mad because I won’t do public mechanic work,” he says, noting that he stopped taking on those jobs to prioritize tending to his flock. “As long as I’m stuck in the shop changing your brakes or [doing] minor mechanic work, these just accumulate,” he says, referring to the rows of Jeeps he has in decent condition, waiting to be fixed up and sold. He tries to sell his vehicles in good condition with everything working and tidied up, wherever possible. “I’ve got a reputation where I’m from that I sell good stuff, so I’ll go through and fix everything. Every rattle and every creak.” he says.
Much of his work also involves pulling used engines from his collection for customers, running them up on his test stand to determine whether they’re good or not. He uses a loader to pluck a Jeep out of the yard, taking it into his shop for disassembly. He then pulls the engine, which he can do in just about 15 minutes if things go smoothly. From there, he cleans up the engine, mounts it on his test stand, and tries to get it fired up and running. He often runs the engines without a thermostat. This allows coolant to flow as soon as the engine starts, which makes it easier to check for cracks in the head, with bubbles in the coolant being readily visible. He has a few quirks in his methods, like running WD40 through the fuel system on engines that have been sitting, and using a crass memory trick to remember the firing order of the Jeep 4.0-liter engine. He’s blessed with having his brother’s machine shop across the road, too. It’s convenient when he needs to get a head cleaned up, for example.
Overall, it’s easy to see that Dex has carved out quite a life for himself. He loves tinkering on Jeeps, and he gets to do it day in, day out. He seems to be making a good living doing so, and he has all the parts he could dream of sitting on his own doorstep. You’ve gotta respect the hustle behind a collection like this one.
All Images: Dex/Dex Jeeps (YouTube)