Don’t wanna be kicked by this mule!

by Silvio Iacuone

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It took about two years to restore the TOW Mule. It is one of a handful still in existence. This photo was taken at the 2015 Sussex rally.

In April 2015, Nick Denardo trailered two vehicles to the Military Transport Associations rally held at the fairgrounds in Sussex, N.J. In addition to a 2001 John Deere Military “Gator,” he planned to display his recently restored M274A5 Mule, complete with a TOW missile launcher.

“TOW” stands for Tube Launched, Optically Tracked, Wire Guide. Deployed in the 1970s, TOW launchers are still in use today.

The restoration was two-fold: First, find a mule originally built as a TOW carrier, and then restore it to original condition. Here is the rear view of the engine, note the hour meter and original alternator set up with the double pulley.

The restoration was two-fold: First, find a mule originally built as a TOW carrier, and then restore it to original condition. Here is the rear view of the engine, note the hour meter and original alternator set up with the double pulley.

This particular Mule, acquired from David Kelone, was originally built with fenders, battery box, and wide sand tires as the platform to carry the TOW weapons system. As seen in the accompanying pictures, the Mule was in tough shape and desperately needed both cosmetic and mechanical restoration.

Since there are very few surviving TOW mules, acquiring all of the TOW parts and mule specific brackets was a chore. In Nick’s own words, “The Mule was essentially two projects in one.” He explained, “The first project was to locate the brackets along with a suitable Mule.” The second was  to complete the TOW launcher.

The four Flat tires and the battery box with the rusted out bottom can be seen in this photograph.

The four Flat tires and the battery box with the rusted out bottom can be seen in this photograph.

The project began in August 2009. The mule restoration included a complete tear-down of the axles, wire brushing, and sanding followed by painting the body and frame. Nick found an NOS Mule motor along with the miscellaneous parts including a new seat assembly from WeeBee Webbing. The Mule required about 5 months of working late nights and weekends. Sourcing the TOW parts however, took another year and a half.

With the foot basket removed for transport on my trailer, you can see the damage to the fender and front rail. Looking closely, the original starter switch box can be seen along with the steering wheel security chain.

With the foot basket removed for transport on my trailer, you can see the damage to the fender and front rail. Looking closely, the original starter switch box can be seen along with the steering wheel security chain.

Over those 18 months, after searching shows and the internet, the Mule was almost complete. It just needed a launch tube. Due to TOW launch tubes being classified as “controlled items” and near-impossible to find, DeNardo decided to fabricate a replica out of thin fiberglass.

A close up of the engine reveals the original Prescolite starter installed on the TOW Mules. An NOS Mule crate motor replaced this motor. The original motor was later rebuilt and retained as a future replacement motor.

A close up of the engine reveals the original Prescolite starter installed on the TOW Mules. A NOS Mule crate motor replaced this motor. The original motor was later rebuilt and retained as a future replacement motor.

The TOW Mule’s first show was at Aberdeen 2011. It joined Nick’s other mule that carries a 106mm recoilless rifle.

After viewing this Mule, it can certainly be said that Nick prefers mules “with a kick!”

Nick DeNardo with his rare TOW mule. A second mule in his stable is equipped with a 106mm recoilless rifle.

Nick DeNardo with his rare TOW mule. A second mule in his stable is equipped with a 106mm recoilless rifle.

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