by Gil Snyder
My MVPA cross-country driving experience began when I joined the 2009 Transcontinental Motor Convoy. It retraced the first US Army route across the United States in 1919. My enlistment occurred at the MVPA booth promoting the convoy. This was at the Iola Military Vehicle Show in Wisconsin, one year before “First Gear.”.
I had purchased a Brent Mullins restoration of a 1945 Willys MB Jeep several years before and was anxious to use it. The MVPA Convoy concept was a perfect fit. The Jeep looked and ran like it had just left the factory. I had added a 1943 Willys MBT trailer to it. My only limitation was the time I could be away from my job. As a consequence, I could only drive the section between South Bend, Indiana to Gretna, Nebraska — a distance of roughly 600 miles.
One very lasting memory of that convoy, for me, was to be able to pick up my dad and father-in-law (both WWII Navy vets) in Denison, Iowa. They rode the Lincoln Highway with me through their native Iowa countryside and on into metropolitan Omaha, Nebraska. There were huge smiles amid retold memories of their time overseas. It was a great way to thank two members of America’s “Greatest Generation.”
The next opportunity to participate in an MVPA event came a few years later with the 2015 Bankhead Convoy. While this was also a Transcontinental Convoy, I was only able to drive the 900-mile section between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Willys MB was used again, but this time with a winter canvas cover that had side panels. They added a huge improvement for driving in rainy or cold conditions. Cross-country Jeep drivers are a ruddy crew, second only to cross-country military motorcycle drivers. Both have my respect.
THOUGHTS TURN TOWARDS A DODGE
During both of these military vehicle convoy experiences, I noted how well suited the 3/4- ton Dodge M37 was for the long haul convoy task. They are comfortable, tough, and have onboard cargo space. Add an M101A1 trailer as a mobile home, and you have the makings of a prairie-crossing Conestoga wagon.
The M37 had two other significant features that sparked my interest. First, it could fit in a standard-height garage. Second, the proven drive train gear ratio change allowed for a 20% increase in sustained highway speed. This was important, not so much for the convoy itself, but rather for getting the rig to and from the convoy. The M37 could make minimum sustained speeds necessary to coexist on today’s highways.
Those two features, along with my boyhood memories of seeing rows of M37’s neatly parked behind the fence at my hometown National Guard Armory, caused me to develop an interest in adding a second vehicle to my collection. I recalled seeing in an Army PS Magazine (May 1973), that the M37 was only then starting to be phased out of service. This would mean that parts would not be as difficult to obtain as compared to other earlier WWII Dodges.
Having just returned from the Bankhead Convoy in the fall of 2015, I immediately set out to find an M37. My goal was to have it ready to go by 2017 for the MVPA’s Route 66 Convoy. I would be retired by then and could go the full distance.
The search didn’t take long. While waiting in the car for my wife to return from a short errand, I logged onto eBay (of all places) to do a random search on “M37.” I though I would entertain myself by looking at what kinds of parts were generally available.
To my surprise, what looked to be a great example of an M37B1 came up among the search results. Looking closer at the auction posting, I was further amazed to find that it wasn’t 1,000 miles away — it was in my backyard, less than a half-hour away! I wasted no time in contacting the seller to arrange a first-hand inspection. (By the way, my wife said that she wouldn’t leave me alone in the parking lot ever again.)
As I soon learned, the M37B1 was a later production version for the Vietnam War. This truck was manufactured in 1962 and had a Braden winch and arctic heater kit (desirable features — kind of like “F” scripted parts for a GPW owner). To top it all off, the owner had a matching 1962 M101A1 trailer to throw in. My “Conestoga wagon” was before me, and I was determined to win the auction.I did.
When picking up the truck and trailer, I learned that the owner and his young son had created many lasting memories over their 20 years of ownership. The owner is an accomplished mechanic, and had brought the truck mechanically to a convoy-ready condition. A new coat of 24087 paint, tires, cargo canvas, and a gear ratio change were all that were really needed.
The trailer was a different story. The frame needed sandblasting, and the box was rotted-through in several places. This was going to be my home for five weeks, so it was obvious I had some work to do!
I made the acquisition of a 4.89 gear ratio third member, my first priority. The original 5.83 gearing was an item I found to be readily available. The 4.89’s were a different story.
My guess was that production runs of this gearing were based on demand, and I was jumping in at the tail end of the remnants of the last batch.
Fortunately for me, I was able to hook up with Bob Stahl of Veteran Vehicles out of Wrentham, Massachusetts. Bob has a wealth of knowledge in this area and was able to provide me with an assembled third member with new 4.89 gearing.
I left the front end with the original 5.83’s due to cost. The truck came with lockout hubs. I added a safety block on the cab controls to further prevent engaging front wheel drive.
Painting was the next big item on the list. While the 20-year old paint job was holding up pretty well, I’ve always found a fresh coat of paint does wonders for just about anything. A local low-key body shop provided the answer. My only instructions to him were to give it a military paint job. “If you can see it, squirt it. Just don’t paint the tires or anything glass.” It turned out great.
Gillespie 24087 acrylic alkyd enamel was the correct military shade in use for 1962. The thinning recommendation of one part xylene to 4 parts paint gave excellent results.
The engine got a ‘freshening up’ of Dodge high temperature silver paint. The use of aluminum foil, to cover everything that wasn’t going to get painted, made this an easy task.
Tires, tubes, and flaps were ordered online. The 9”x16” non-directional tread (NDT) tires were readily available. A local tire shop that had an ‘old salt’ familiar with the peculiarities of split ring rims did the mounting. I have since been taught, out of necessity, how to safely do tire-mounting in the field. Split ring rims present a danger to those who do not respect their potential to forcefully eject the ring upon inflation.
Military Stencils, Inc. provided a complete set of decals to finish off this exterior vehicle effort.
After ordering the cargo canvas cover and adding a 24-to-12 volt transformer, to power a GPS and charge today’s electronic devices, it was time to turn my attention to making the M101A1 trailer into a mobile home.
MY “CONESTOGA” SLEEPING QUARTERS
Things began to happen with the trailer when a friend (who is plugged into the state-wide Military Vehicle Graveyard Association) found an M101A2 box for the trailer to replace the original one. The A1 and A2 boxes are indistinguishable. The A2 box had a 1989 delivery date and looked essentially new. It needed only light wire brushing before being primed and painted. The frame and rims were sandblasted.
The goal of the adaptation of the trailer to a camper was to preserve the outward appearance and not make any permanent changes to the structure. This was accomplished with plywood, a canvas top custom made by WeeBee Webbing, and an NOS vinyl top. The canvas was made oversized to fit on top of the vinyl cover and provide an additional 3 inches of headroom. The vinyl top provided additional insulation and rain protection.
The use of plywood provided hard sidewalls and a bunk, as well as shelving to house an air conditioner, microwave, and deep cycle batteries. The bunk also formed a large storage area underneath.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
While the M37 and trailer successfully completed a 5,000-mile round trip journey for the 2017 Route 66 Convoy, that is another story of its own. What I can say is that the truck did it without a hitch (minus a flat tire), and that I learned one new lesson. That is:
Leave 80% of the stuff you think you need to take with you at home.
I am looking forward to using the M37 again on the MVPA’s 2019 Transcontinental Motor Convoy.
Keep ‘em rolling!