L ike many kids, I always loved big trucks. My dad was in the scrap iron business, and I grew up in a sooty, dusty, noisy environment that probably broke every child-labor law on the books. However, if I had only one word to describe my childhood and early teen years, I would have to say they were fun. Oh, I remember that a lot of it was hard and dirty work. For example, there was very little fun in loading old batteries onto a truck by hand, and my work jeans always looked like Swiss cheese. Nor was there much fun in sorting different metals–brass, copper, aluminum, etc.–into piles, or disassembling ancient machinery with tools or a torch to separate those metals. But, on the plus side, I got to run our 1937 Northwest crawler crane after school and on weekends, using its electromagnet to load or unload all the many different kinds and sizes of trucks that brought scrap metal into the yard, or hauled it away to be “reincarnated” into new cars, refrigerators, or beer cans.
When considering the purchase of a large MV, one should do a lot of homework in regard to the price and availability of replacement parts, not only parts specific to the particular vehicle, but also normal-wear items such as the eleven tires required for this M20 Diamond-T 12-ton prime-mover. Photo by John Adams-Graf
Anyone who has ever gotten up close and personal to an old crawler crane would probably agree that they are something most moms would warn their kids to stay away from. Scrap-yard cranes are probably the most fearsome of the breed, because by the time they end up in such places they are often little more than animated scrap iron themselves. Our own specimen was typical: it was powered by a Caterpillar diesel engine that had to be started by a little gasoline pony motor. The pony, in turn, was started with a hand crank. Starting the pony was as complicated as starting an airplane: there were levers to set, a fuel tap to be opened, a primer to be pumped, and choke and throttle to be adjusted just right. After the pony was coaxed into life with much sweat and often a skinned knuckle–the crank was in the most unbelievably awkward location–one engaged a lever that cranked the main engine. If the stars were all aligned, the main engine fired-off with a huge cloud of smoke after a minute or two of huffing and puffing. Then, one checked its oil pressure gauge, shut down the pony and closed the fuel tap. If the magnet was being used, one went through the process of coaxing the Willys-powered Army-surplus generator to life. Finally, one squeezed around the thudding main engine, climbed into the iron operator’s seat, braced one’s self with a Shasta Cola (twelve cents per steel can) and engaged one of many long heavy levers that put a massive set of gears in motion.
Running such a crane could best be described as sitting inside a gigantic clanking clock. “Ergonomics” hadn’t been invented back in the days when such machines were built, and the operator usually worked just as hard as the machine, pushing and pulling those long heavy levers and stomping down on big iron pedals. One lever controlled the swing that rotated the crane’s house and boom on its tracks. Another lever selected functions, engaging the tracks for travel, or choosing the swing instead, or selecting boom-up and boom-down. Two more levers controlled the crane’s main drums, which held the rustiest cable on planet earth (or “wire-rope,” if you prefer). The engine throttle was high above the operator’s head, and a major stretch for a thirteen-year-old. Another small lever controlled the magnet, usually either on or off, though if one wanted any more things to play with he could dabble with the magnet’s strength and risk annoying the generator. This was not the wisest move when one had a ton of iron or four old refrigerators dangling forty feet in the air. Besides, the generator was perfectly capable of quitting all by itself at such moments.
Every profession has its own unwritten rules, honors and disgraces. In the case of scrap-yard crane operators, the highest honor is to be able to unload every bit of iron in a truck with the magnet so the truck driver doesn’t have to throw anything off by hand. This is harder than it may sound because the operator can’t see inside the bed of a truck, which requires him to feel around for objects with the one-ton magnet. Remember that not only can’t he see the magnet, but it’s also thirty or forty feet away.
The worst disgrace for an operator is to damage a trucker’s vehicle. It doesn’t matter if that vehicle is the world’s most battered pickup or a brand new White Freightliner. There is probably also a rule against dropping a ton of old major household appliances on a truck driver, but damaging his truck seemed to be the ultimate sin. I think I’ve accomplished a few good things so far in my life, but one of the highest honors came from back in those days when truckers asked for “the kid” to unload their vehicles.
Most vehicles look smaller in pictures, such as this Oshkosh M911. Seen up close and personal it is really quite awesome…and may not fit in your garage! Photo by John Adams-Graf
We had our own truck as well: it was a 1947 Reo two-ton flatbed. While this vehicle was huge to me when I first learned to drive it at eight years old, it seemed to grow smaller as the years went by, especially compared to the “real big trucks,” the Whites, Kenworths, Peterbilts, and Macks.
An outlaw biker once told me that “everyone wants to ride a motorcycle at least once in their lives.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I suppose the same could be said about wanting to drive a big truck.
THE DREAM OF A BIG TRUCK
After acquiring my first jeep (an M38) at age sixteen, I drove it all over California, from Eureka in the north to Death Valley in the south. My dad, who had experience with jeeps from WWII and Korea, advised me to keep the speed under fifty mph if I didn’t want to blow the engine; and there were many cold late nights out on the freeways when I was passed by roaring eighteen-wheelers. I often dreamed of driving one, of going to distant places at night while most of the world was asleep.
My dream came true in the early 1970s, though it sort of began as a nightmare. I was working as a boat mechanic in a small northern Arizona town (which was not a contradiction–“boats in the desert”–since there was a huge lake nearby). Across the street from the boat shop was a scrap metal business with a 1966 Diamond-T cabover ten-wheel truck-tractor. This truck pulled a forty-foot trailer of scrap iron down to smelters in Phoenix once or twice a week.
I had grown dissatisfied working at the boat shop. I think I’m a reasonably good mechanic, but I have very poor public-relations skills, and grew tired of explaining to people that it took eight hours to fix their outboard motor because they didn’t mix enough oil with the gas! I often gazed across the street as the big Diamond-T pulled out for distant places. I had already made the acquaintance of the driver and, one evening as he was leaving for Phoenix, I asked if I could ride along.
The road to Flagstaff was all two-lane at that time, and the freeway from Flagstaff to Phoenix still had several two-lane stretches in mountainous areas. It was mostly uphill to Flagstaff, then downhill to Phoenix; the trip took about eight hours. As the truck was almost always a ton or two over the maximum legal weight of 80,000 pounds, it was forced to a crawl on the upgrades. The Diamond-T had a 335 Cummins engine , a ten-speed Road-Ranger transmission, a Hendrickson bogie rear suspension, and was geared for seventy-miles-an-hour. It had no front brakes (common in those days) and no engine brake.
It was about eleven at night, headed downhill to Phoenix, when my new mentor said, “You might as well drive.” Imagine yourself suddenly at the wheel of an 80,000-plus pound semi truck when the biggest thing you have driven so far was an M35! Now imagine you are starting down a steep two-lane mountain road that you’ve never been on before, your mentor climbs into the sleeper and says to “gear down when you have to, and don’t let the air pressure drop below sixty.” Add that the truck is overloaded and has inadequate brakes, and you have my introduction to big truck driving.
All I kept thinking on that seven mile downgrade in the dark, trying to keep the RPMs below redline and stay off the brakes so the overworked compressor could maintain enough pressure to keep the spring-brakes from locking, was: “I REALLY SHOULDN’T BE HERE!”
Nevertheless, we made it to Phoenix, then went on to a scrap job in Tucson. I was hired as a driver/field-superintendent and worked for the company for several years. I made hundreds of trips down those mountains from Flagstaff to Phoenix, and each trip was always a case of arriving at the bottom of downgrades with smoking brakes, low air pressure, and RPMs redlined at 70 mph. I like to think that the only reason I survived those years was that God had a few other uses for me.
I still love big trucks and large vehicles. For the record, the biggest vehicle I ever owned was a 1966 Euclid quarry truck…it needed a home! In regard to large MVs, I have owned several 2-1/2-ton trucks: a WWII CCKW, a Reo gas-powered M35, two GMC M211s, and two DUKWs. I have also worked on, and with, many other large MVs, and I hope this reasonably qualifies me to write on the subject.
SO, WHAT IS A “LARGE” MV?
What do I define as a large military vehicle? I realize that in these days of Lilliputian cars and SUVs, an M37 or a HMMWV might seem large to many people. However, for the purpose of this article, let’s define large MVs as those having more than four wheels and/or two axles. This definition would include WWII-vintage Dodge WC63s, the Chevrolet G-506, and the Ford GTB Burma Jeep, all of which are rated for 1-1/2 tons of cargo. Probably the most common large US military vehicles in the MV hobby are the 2-1/2-ton trucks, often called “deuce-and-a-halfs” or “deuces.” These include the WWII GMC CCKW, the International Harvester M-5-6, and the Studebaker US-6.
Not only do large MVs have special needs when it comes to everyday service and repair, but the more specialized a vehicle is–such as this Mack 6-ton bridge-erection truck–the greater the challenge of properly restoring it, as well as locating all of the correct accessory equipment. Photo by David Doyle
Dating from the Korean and Cold War eras is the G-742 family of vehicles that include the Reo M35 and M34, usually powered by Reo 331 cid. gasoline engines. Also from this period is the G-749 family of vehicles that include the GMC M211 and M135, powered by GMC 302 cid. gasoline engines. Only the G-742 family and the ubiquitous M35 soldiered on as a series into the Vietnam War era and up to the present day.
Most Vietnam-era M35 deuces were powered by LDS 427 cid Multifuel engines. Basically, these were diesel engines that could also run on gasoline or jet fuel in emergency situations (see “Postwar Deuce Powerplants” in MVM no. 87). Most newer and present-day M35 series trucks are powered by straight diesel engines. The same may be said of the M35’s larger brothers, the G-744 family of vehicles, commonly called 5-tons.
Of course, there are many other large vehicles commonly found in MV hobbyists’ hands and readily available to new recruits. Not only trucks of many makes, models and sizes, but also half-tracked, full-tracked, and amphibious vehicles, not to mention tanks, armored cars, and various tactical fighting machines. The purpose of this article is not to focus on any specific type of vehicle but, rather, to offer some basic advice about owning and maintaining large MVs in general.
IS A LARGE MV IN THE BUDGET?
Military vehicle hobbyists come in as many shapes, sizes and ages as the vehicles themselves. Many start out by purchasing one of the smaller vehicles, such as a Jeep, M151 MUTT, or an M37. Many are totally satisfied with these small vehicles and enjoy a lifelong association with them. On the other hand, some folks start out with a Jeep and then work their way up the scale, perhaps adding a Dodge 3/4-ton truck or a Kaiser M715 1-1/4-ton truck to their stable, then going on up to a 1-1/2-ton vehicle and finally venturing into the realm of 2-1/2-ton trucks.
Some folks go even farther up to a 5-ton or larger vehicle. For many MVers, this process is gradual and fairly painless because they learn, as they go, that an M37 (for example) naturally requires more engine and gear oil, a bit more antifreeze, and a little more chassis grease than a Jeep. The other lesson learned early on is that larger tires are more expensive. Therefore, it is usually not a huge surprise when they move up to an even bigger MV, such as a deuce, that lubricant requirements are perhaps double for those of a Jeep or a MUTT, as well as antifreeze capacity… not to mention ten tires (for the most common deuces) and six sets of brake shoes and associated parts, instead of just four! And, while most M-series vehicles have two 12-volt batteries for their 24-volt electrical systems, large M-series vehicles naturally have bigger batteries. Finally, the large MV owner realizes that fuel expenses have probably doubled from those of a Jeep or a MUTT…if not tripled.
Just as habitat and environment can only support a certain number of creatures or plants, many MVers find that their hobby budgets can only support either a certain number of vehicles or a certain size of vehicle. While most people come to this conclusion in a logical way–“I’d really like a deuce, but I just can’t afford one right now”–a few may learn in the school of hard knocks. One hard lesson is suddenly realizing that an oil change requires three gallons instead of six quarts (see “MV Oil Filters,” no. 101). And, when baby needs new shoes, it means ten tires at around $150 a pop instead of just four at $70 each (should I mention that an NOS set of tracks for a half-track could cost about $3000?).
Speaking of tracked vehicles, and even though you may have forty acres out back to exercise your new half-track, APC, or Sherman tank, you may want to take it to a show or parade sometime. This will require renting or buying some sort of heavy transportation; and like most things discussed in this article, doing research in advance will usually save you a lot of money. In other words, the time to think about these things is before you buy a large MV, not after it’s sitting in your driveway.
Full or half-tracked MVs, such as this M4 High-Speed Tractor, naturally have their own special needs in regard to tools and equipment when it comes to replacing or repairing their tracks. One should also realistically consider where they could actually drive such a vehicle, and/or how they would transport the vehicle to shows or events. John Adams-Graf
While many MV hobbyists do start small and work their way up, thus preparing themselves for bigger vehicles, others may be tempted into jumpin g right into large MV ownership. This is often because the prices of many 2-1/2-ton trucks are the same or lower than the price of many Jeeps or other small vehicles. In the case of M35 style deuces, this is because there are so many available, which in turn is because as a series they have been around since the early 1950s and are still serving today. While there is certainly nothing wrong with acquiring a deuce or other large vehicle as a first MV, it is important that one does the homework before buying. Being prepared should prevent nasty shocks when it comes time to change your new vehicle’s engine oil, give it a lube job, buy new tires, have it trucked to a show, or simply fill up the fuel tank.
An MV owner should consider possible breakdowns, major parts replacement–such as engines, transmissions, axles or transfer-cases–and major repairs beyond the scope of one’s home shop or garage (checking the ads in this magazine should be a big help with this). Such unexpected vehicle expenses could be compared to taking a child to a doctor when Band-Aids at home won’t suffice.
The MV owner on a budget will be wise to shop for quantity without compromising quality. You may be accustomed to buying five quarts of oil and a filter for your car at an auto-mart store. Yet, if you were to purchase the same oil in a five-gallon tub or a fifty-five gallon drum at an oil company depot, the price per quart might be half of what the auto-mart charges. This also applies to gear oil and chassis grease–usually much cheaper per quart or tube in tubs, drums, and cases–as well as brake fluid in gallon-size cans. Of course, the initial cost of such things is much higher, but the price in the long run is far lower. When buying lubricants in bulk, one also needs the right equipment to get those lubricants into one’s vehicle. You might begin by planning how you’re going to get a 55-gallon drum of oil out of your pickup and into your shop after you get it home. Then, you will need oil filler cans, pumps, funnels and grease guns. Likewise, you will need pans and containers for draining old lubricants out of your vehicle. One should also plan for the disposal of old lubricants; and if you’re buying them new from an oil depot, this is usually not a problem.
An additional bonus in dealing with a wholesaler or oil depot is that many such places also offer top-quality batteries at lower than auto-mart prices. Oil depots may also offer fuel and oil filters at low case prices. Likewise, bearings may usually be found at bearing houses much cheaper than at auto parts stores. The same applies to businesses that specialize in things such as hoses, drive belts, fittings and brake parts. While a clerk at an auto parts store may just give you a blank expression when presented with a wheel cylinder from a GMC M211 and asked if they have rebuild kits, someone at a brake supply house might merely ask how many do you want. The same goes for having your brake shoes relined: most such businesses can reline any kind of brake shoe regardless of vintage.
Therefore, anyone considering a large MV should do the usual homework, which includes acquiring a thorough knowledge of the type of vehicle one wants–its average purchase price, parts availability, safe highway speed, off-road performance, service and maintenance requirements, and any common quirks or faults. They should also do additional research into a large MV’s special needs and how to save money while meeting those needs (see “Buying An MV,” no. 103 and “An MV Buyer’s Guide,” no. 90).
MAKE IT LEGAL
Another thing that some folks don’t consider when buying a large vehicle are license requirements, both for the vehicle and for its driver. I have lived in several states, and driver and vehicle license laws seem to vary a lot, as well as how strictly they’re interpreted or enforced. In California, when I was growing up, my M38 would have been considered a “truck” instead of an automobile and would have required a commercial license (though SUVs seem to have blurred those once strongly-enforced laws). Still, a friend of mine recently got a ticket for hauling lumber on his boat trailer because the trailer wasn’t licensed for “cargo.” I have also heard many tales of folks with historical or classic trucks being busted because they were hauling an actual load in their vehicles.
Proper planning prevents poor performance. If one does proper research, then acquiring, repairing, servicing and restoring a large MV, such as this Federal G-513 4-ton truck-tractor, shouldn’t be much more difficult than meeting the needs of the Dodge WC-54 3/4-ton ambulance pictured in the right-hand background. Photo by John Adams-Graf
Similarly, one used to be required to have a commercial driver’s license in California to operate any vehicle with three or more axles, though an exception was later made for “three-axle house cars.”
Many states determine vehicle and driver’s license requirements, as well as fees, based on vehicle weight. Of course, most of these laws apply to commercial vehicles, and many states have made new laws to accommodate historical, vintage, or classic vehicles. Most states seem to define a “classic” or “historical” vehicle based on its age. This may be an important thing to consider if you’re shopping for one of the newer deuces or 5-ton trucks. Even if you want to restore your new deuce as a Vietnam-era vehicle, you may still have to license it as a commercial truck instead of an historical vehicle if the title says it is less than a certain number of years old. Complicating matters is the fact that many MVs are civilian titled by the year in which they were released from military service, not when they were actually built. So, again, this is something you should carefully research…and not just with a few casual questions to a state trooper or DMV clerk. There are so many laws on the books these days that most enforcement and administration officers can’t offer much more than an educated opinion…assuming they will offer an opinion at all.
On the other hand, never underestimate the awesome power of that “little” overworked, underpaid, and often disrespected person behind the counter of your local DMV. What goes around comes around, and your attitude can really make a difference! For example, I bought one of my M211s from a mining company. The truck came with a mountain of dusty old paperwork, but had never been civilian titled or licensed. After several DMV clerks told me it was “impossible to ever title or license this vehicle,” another clerk did the “impossible” in about five minutes!
All of the above also applies to insuring Historic or Classic vehicles (“Paperwork Problems,” no. 76 and “Insurance For Your Military Vehicle,” no. 67). Finally, if there is one piece of advice I can offer with certainty about paperwork, it’s to be absolutely sure a vehicle has a clear title before you buy it!
BACK TO NUTS AND BOLTS
It might sound funny, but I’ve met many people who bought a large MV and didn’t know how large it was until they got it home! Keep in mind that any vehicle looks smaller in pictures, and most large vehicles appear smaller when viewed out in wide open spaces, or perhaps in a dealer’s lot. Even if one knows the actual measurements of a vehicle (found in most manuals) this data may not register until the vehicle is sitting in one’s driveway. Then one may realize that even though it fits, there is not enough room between it and a fence for a door to be opened. Or, the vehicle’s constant shade will kill the petunias. Or, maybe six inches is not really enough clearance to easily get your car in and out every day. In other words, consider all the small things that may come with owning a large vehicle.
Speaking of clearance, an inch or two may not seem important until you find that your new MV is an inch too tall to clear your garage door or the rafters inside. Of course, one might let the air out of all ten tires, or perform a “field-modification” on the garage; but also consider how much space one might have in which to work on the vehicle once it’s inside.
One should also consider whatever additional tools and equipment they may need to easily and safely repair and maintain a large vehicle. For example, changing a tire on an M35 is going to take more time and sweat than doing the same on an M38. One will obviously need a large jack. A twelve-ton bottle jack is ideal for most common large MVs.
You want a jack that is capable of lifting a fully-loaded vehicle. Even if you only plan to restore your deuce or 5-ton for shows, you may still want to haul an occasional load of something. You will also need the proper lug wrench. When buying a vehicle from a private seller, jacks and lug wrenches are often included. However, they are usually not included when buying a vehicle from a dealer…and almost never when buying a vehicle at auction.
If one is going to fix their own tires, they will need the correct tools for that job, as well as an air compressor (“Servicing Split-rims,” no. 97). Full or half-tacked vehicles naturally have their own special needs when it comes to repairing or replacing their tracks or track pads. A wise potential buyer would do as much research into the price and availability of special tools as they would in learning about the vehicle itself.
Just as one can’t toss a 9.00 X 20 or 11.00 X 20 tire and wheel across their garage like they would with a Mutt’s 7.00 X 16 wheel, a potential large MV owner should consider whatever special equipment they may need to service and repair their vehicle without ending up with a slipped disk or worse. In other words, how will you handle the heavy things? You might be surprised to learn that one of the major causes of backaches in the MV hobby comes from installing winches on Dodge WCs, M37s and M715s. And, except for the Warn Mil-Spec 12000 winches specific to the HMMWV and the extremely rare military winches for jeeps, these are the smallest winches commonly found in the MV hobby!
The same applies to removing and installing transmissions, transfer-cases, and axle third-members. To do such jobs safely–not only your safety, but also the safety of your vehicle’s components–you need the right equipment. A strained back will usually heal, but a crack in a transmission’s case caused by falling onto a concrete floor won’t!
Three of the most useful pieces of equipment for working on large vehicles are a chain hoist, a cable (or wire rope) come-along, and a transmission jack. A very important thing to consider before using either of the first two items is the strength of your lift point…whatever point from which you are going to hang a hoist. Most garage, shed or barn rafters were never designed for hoisting heavy objects or pulling vehicle engines. And, unless you happen to be a structural engineer, it is usually unwise to try to strengthen such rafters with additional wood or chained-on pipe (though many people do!). A much smarter move is to buy, build (or have built) a lift point from sturdy timbers, stout pipe, or steel beams. Just how to design such an item, or what to make it out of, is best left up to you…only you know what you want it to do. It would also be wise to test it with a much greater weight than your vehicle’s engine or winch before attempting to use it. I’ve heard too many tree branches and timbers cracking, and seen too many pipes and I-beams bending when an engine was hanging six feet in the air!
Related to this, always get a larger capacity hoist or come-along than the heaviest object you plan to lift. You don’t really want a ton of iron hanging from a “one-ton” hoist! This also applies to so-called “cherry-pickers.” Most such items offered in tool catalogs or over the Internet are intended for small civilian vehicles and may not have either the reach or the safe capacity to remove a Multifuel engine from a deuce-and-a-half. The same goes for jack stands and transmission jacks: always get the biggest and sturdiest you can find or afford. Just like lubrication and oil change equipment, hoists, come-alongs and transmission jacks may often be found at swap-meets and flea markets for a fraction of their cost when new. In these cases you want to inspect the items carefully before trusting them with your life and limb, and your vehicle’s expensive components.
THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS
It is important to consider the small things when performing tasks such as removing or installing winches or engines. You may have a very stout hoist and lift point, but what about the chain, hooks, or nuts and bolts you’ve attached to the winch or the engine? I’ve seen many engine-pulling operations that used a hoist and a lift point strong enough to support a mad bull elephant…yet the engine was attached to the hoist by a chain that wouldn’t hold an annoyed French poodle!
Transmission jacks are something a lot of people seem to think they can build or cobble together at home. All I can say is that I’ve seldom seen a good homemade transmission jack–including the ones I’ve built!
DON’T BE DISCOURAGED
Just because you now own a deuce, GTB, 5-ton or half-track, doesn’t mean that you have to outfit your home shop or garage to overhaul railroad locomotives. You can usually rent any of the heavy-duty items we’ve discussed, including portable lift points. And, if you’re joining the MV hobby, you will probably make many new friends and might be able to borrow such things. After all, there isn’t much sense in buying a ten-ton hoist or a 500-pound transmission jack that you might only need once in five years. Many MV, vintage vehicle, and machinery clubs have tool pools that loan or cheaply rent special items…or you might consider starting your own.
However, a personal dual wheel jack may come in handy because one generally inspects and services a vehicle’s wheel bearings and brakes much more often than they pull an engine or transmission. Genuine GI dual wheel jacks can often be found for very low prices.
Alternatively, one can build an adequate support for removing dual wheels from a study furniture-type dolly. In these cases, one jacks up the vehicle’s axle with their bottle jack, positions the support beneath the wheels, then carefully lets down the jack so the wheels can be rolled away.
Hopefully, this general article has given you a few useful tips, points to ponder and possibly research if you are considering the purchase of a large military vehicle. More specific information about the service, repair and maintenance of various large MVs may be found in the sidebar list of articles. Though the magazine’s office doesn’t stock or sell back-issues, you may be able to borrow an MV friend’s copy. Of course, the best way to keep your friends is to always return borrowed items (whether an old copy of MVM or a tool) as soon as you’re finished!