Making Tracks

When the rubber doesn’t meet the pavement…

by David C. Williams

What do you do when the rubber on the tracks on your Stuart need to be replaced? Dick Maston and his team figured out a solution!

What do you do if you get a flat tire? Change it, of course. But what if you don’t have a spare? Well, if you live in the U.S., you are probably only minutes away from a tire store. But what if your ride is an M5 Stuart light tank? I know, the tracks are already flat, but they do wear out, at least the rubber pads do.

That was the problem faced by Richard “Dick” Maston, a fairly recent afflicted sufferer of “OD” fever. Having added some half-tracks and armored cars to his collection over the past few years, he felt it was time to go “all in” and acquire a tank. Even in his fevered delirium, however, he retained the good sense to start small—Stuart tank small, that is.

After acquiring a few other “smaller” historic military vehicles, Dick Maston decided to go “all-in” and acquire a tank. Deciding to start small, he located an M5A1 “Stuart” light tank. But, like any “used vehicle” purchase, some parts of the tank — like the rubber track inserts — were in “less than desirable” condition.

As any historic military vehicle (HMV) collector knows, by the time the Stuart was in its M5 variant, it was equipped with rubber pad tracks instead of all metal. That is a good thing for today’s collector, if he or she plans to drive their tank on any roads!

When Dick purchased his tank, the tracks were in pretty rough shape. Upon inspection, however, he discovered only the outside of the track pads were worn badly. Fortunately, the pads are reversible.

At several hundred pounds each, even when broken into sections, it is a real job to handle the tracks.

Momma needs new shoes! Even turning the track links over proved to be only a temporary fix.

Weighing over twenty pounds each, even transporting of the links presented a challenge.

So, Dick and a half dozen of his friends broke the tracks down into manageable sections (several hundred pounds each) and turned them over before reinstalling them. The newly exposed sides of the pads looked great. Unfortunately, they were just as old as the first side and began to deteriorate immediately.

As luck would have it, while shopping around for replacement tracks for his half-tracks, Dick mentioned his predicament to Starpoint Extrusions, LLC, of Norton, Ohio. They were interested in making rubber pads for the Stuart, but they needed some original pads from which to take measurements for their mold making process. In an excellent example of serendipity, Dick just happened to have a pair of unused, original pads mounted on the outside of his tank. Soon they were on their way to Starpoint for measuring.

riginal pads are hard to find. Fortunately, Dick’s Stuart had a few originals that could be used taking the necessary measurements to make the molds.

Lots of volunteer help, a shop full of tools, and a big lift are all really appreciated.

Meanwhile, Dick acquired a pair of M5 high speed tractor tracks. These are the same basic track as the Stuart tank tracks but with hundreds of metal cleats bolted to the track links instead of the molded rubber pads. Then began the tedious and physically demanding job undoing the hundreds of bolts holding the cleats to the links. Several special tools needed to be fabricated from angle iron, welded nuts, and bolts to help with the extraction of track pins from pads. It really helps to have some friends with varying experience to come up with innovative solutions to the many challenges presented in a project such as this!

The stripped-down links then had to have all corrosion sand blasted and chipped away. All surfaces had to be primed before being shipped off to Starpoint to have the rubber pads vulcanized to the metal components. With 66 pads in each track, it made a good pick-up truck load.

It was necessary to fabricate tools in some cases to make the process easier, such as pulling and replacing pins in the track links.

Pulling the track pins was a particularly difficult task, made easier with some innovative equipment.

With new rubber vulcanized to them, the links look brand new.

Once the rubber had been vulcanized to the core for each pad (the process is Starpoint’s secret), the final product was returned. Now it was time to begin the reassembly. That would be a real job even if your crew were young and athletic, let alone all retirement age! It helps to have a well-equipped shop and a large overhead lift. Then, of course, we needed to reassemble the track back on the tank. But that can be the subject of another article.

Star Point Extrusion
3985 Eastern Road, Suite C
Norton, Ohio 44203

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