When the rubber doesn’t meet the pavement…
by David C. Williams
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.
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.
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.
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.
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