From old tanks to mules, he’s ‘saving old stock military vehicles’
We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we talk with Terry Markarian. Most will recognize his business, Mechanical Mules of American, Inc., as one of the leading business dealing in M274 Mules.
Terry Markarian grew up a son of a WWII veteran, Leon, who campaigned in Northern Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France. Before being shipped back to the US, Leon met and married a beautiful French girl.
Needless to say, the union between a WWII veteran and a war bride created an environment heavily influenced by war stories. This led to Terry’s keen understanding of how WWII soldiers liberated and shaped many parts of the world in which we live.
Terry was only five years old when he started shooting his first handgun, a Remington Rand M1911A1, with his father at the police shooting range. Three years later, he bought his first rifle. At age twelve, he started hunting with a WWII M1903A3 Springfield rifle.
As he recalls—with a hint of nostalgia—his favorite place to buy some high quality, yet cheap, outdoor gear was the Army-Navy Store. In those days, all the merchandise sold in an Army-Navy Store was surplus from WWII and was made, most importantly, in the USA.
He vividly remembers the smell of canvas, leather, and gun oil that filled those stores. He became a regular customer, as he was buying more and more gear and guns from those.
At the same time, he was interested in vehicles—all vehicles—but his thought was that vehicles and guns were the perfect combination. As a result, he began to focus more and more on vehicles made to carry weapons. In other words, he was interested in combat vehicles—vehicles built with a purpose.
His first military vehicle was a White M3A1 Scout Car, followed by half-tracks, more scout cars, M274A5 “mechanical mules,” Jeeps, DUKWs, and tanks. All of these, of course, fit his interest of vehicles made to carry weapons.
It was from this interest that Terry began building quite a collection of combat vehicles. Gradually, he got into the business of buying, restoring, and selling old stock military vehicles.
Military Trader (MT): Though most in the hobby know you are the owner of Mechanical Mules of America, many might not know your “other” business. Tell us a bit about “S.O.S.M.V.”
Terry Markarian: SOSMV stands for “Saving Old Stock Military Vehicles.”We specialize in WWII vehicles and accessories with an emphasis on armor. We have sourced, restored, and supplied parts for armored scout cars, half tracks, weasels, trucks, quad mounts, jeeps, DUKWs, tanks, etc.
MT: Does SOSMV deal in just original items or is it a source for reproduction parts as well?
Terry Markarian: We still have original parts, though the pile is definitely getting lower. We also have our canvas division to manufacture straps, seat cushions, mud flaps, head bangers, etc. Our canvas parts look right, wear right, and smell right.
Our inventory is constantly changing as we buy, sell, and trade for these military vehicles.
MT: One of the boasts of SOSMV is, “I have, or can get, what you’re looking for.” That is a pretty bold statement! What sort of process do you use if someone calls and demands, say, the near impossible, “I want a Panzerkampfwagen III?”
Terry Markarian: We have to make sure that we have realistic customers who realize that rare vehicles are valuable, and that parts for them can be very expensive. Once it is established that the customer has the financial means and the passion required to own a vehicle, I either provide a vehicle from my private collection (I tend to have multiples) or call one of my friends in the industry who I know wants to sell a vehicle.
We then ship the vehicle to our facilities, and we prepare it for our customer.
MT: What sort of preparation do you go through to offer a vehicle for sale through SOSMV?
Terry Markarian: We make every attempt to make the machine as historically accurate as possible. We view the machines as rolling military history.
We are fortunate to have complete facilities to do all the work in-house from mechanical, body, paint, upholstery, etc. We build every vehicle as if I was building it for myself.
MT: Terry, it seems the foundation of your business has been supplying the low platform, 4-wheel-drive mules to collectors, restorers, and drivers. The allure of buying a mule from you has been the ability to become the first civilian owner of a particular vehicle. Tell us how you came to obtain all of these mules directly from the military.
Terry Markarian: I once stopped at a vehicle repair shop because I saw some military vehicles on the side of the road. While talking to the owner, one of the employees overheard me say that I restored M274 Mules. He told me that he had seen a “raft” of mules the size of a football field behind a metal fence while he was doing some roadwork in another state. I started looking. I looked and looked, in vain.
Some months later, I happened to be passing by that same business, stopped, and saw that same guy. I told him I could not find the “raft” of mules.
He told me the mules were located across the street from a steel fabricating business. He had seen them when he was buying some steel.
Having this new piece of information, I called all businesses that dealt with steel in the area, and finally found the mules.
The person at the company told me there was a gate and an emergency number on the gate. He gave me that number.
I called the emergency number to ask about the mules, left a message, and heard nothing.
Several months later, I received a call back regarding the mules. The appointment was set up for me to view them.
Of course, I was very excited when I stood on top of the “raft” of mules. They were stacked 4 high and wired together. They had been pickled for storage and wired together for quick deployment, if necessary. I was also told that other people had been interested in these machines, but all attempts to buy them had failed.
I decided to draft a letter with my offer for the mules, spare parts, tooling, and jigs that were included in the deal. I added that I was interested in purchasing the mules so that they could be restored to their former glory to honor all the men who had served on them.
Several months later, I was contacted and told that my offer had been accepted. They liked the fact that I was going to restore them to their original condition.
MT: When a customer purchases a mule from you, however, it isn’t just how it rolled out of the surplus sale. What do you normally do to prepare a vehicle for sale?
Terry Markarian: We start with the nicest mules in the industry. These are all original, complete mules with very low hours on them.
We want our customers to have an exceptional vehicle. Because these were mothballed for 30+ years, we do a full restoration of them. All the parts taken off the mule are tagged when removed so that they are re-installed on the same vehicle.
We pull the engine, fuel tank, and pickled parts and cook them at 212 degrees to remove the preservative. The engine receives a new fuel pump and carburetor. We rebuild the magneto. Then, we paint and test every engine.
We change seals, gaskets, boots, refurbish brakes, etc. We add a new electrical system with starter, alternator, battery, front and rear light.
Each completed mule is tested on our track, then painted again. New data plates and canvas are added. They leave our plant like a new machine.
MT: What sort of “pitfalls” do new Mule owners commonly encounter? Do you have any advice on how to avoid these?
Terry Markarian: The main pitfall is a customer not being familiar with the machines or buying a machine that is not complete or does not run. We have had machines delivered to our facilities that were purchased on computer auctions and supposedly restored. Some of those have cost the owner thousands of dollars more than the purchase price to get them running and make them correct.
My suggestion is to buy from someone who is reputable and knows what he is doing.
MT: Is there a particular part or accessory that is more difficult than most Mule parts to find today? What is it that every mule person is searching?
Terry Markarian: Every phone call is for a different part. We are fortunate to have a large warehouse full of parts. Besides, we own molds for tires and rubber parts that we reproduce to keep our customers’ mules running.
MT: Fifteen years ago, it seemed everyone wanted a Mule. Then, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated that the next generation of ATVs could fill very useful roles with our military. How have ATVs affected the Mule business and hobby?
Terry Markarian: We don’t think it has affected it. The mules are so rare, unique, and collectable.
We still have many customers buying them. There are thousands of ATVs being manufactured every year, but the Mule has not been manufactured since the 1970s.
A good Mule is a good investment that holds its value well and is a joy to work or play with.
MT: Tell us how you see the historic military vehicle hobby changing during the next ten years.
Terry Markarian: There is always a place for quality. Quality machines and quality parts have always been difficult to find. Each decade, they become more pricey and more difficult to locate. There will be continuing demand for the best vehicles and lesser demand for the junk.
For more info on Mechanical Mules of America, Inc., call 406-961-4024 or log onto www.mechanicalmulesofamerica.com For more info on S.O.S.M.V., call 406-550-2472 or log onto www.sosmv.com.