by John Allen
Back in 2010, I was working on the restoration of a 1964 CJ5. I had planned to replicate an M38A1 paint job on it. While talking about military vehicles with my brother Randy, he said, “I should trade you the old Dodge I never use for the motorcycle that you never ride.” I thought he was kidding. He loved that truck. Even though he used it to plow snow and haul wood, it did sit in his yard most of the time.
I thought about that truck all night. Growing up, I had watched it in action and even rode in the back of the truck for a 4th of July parade in the late 1970s.
By the next morning, I decided to see if my brother was serious about a trade. He was.
I offered some cash to go with the trade because it was worth more than my 1985 Honda. He was satisfied with the trade and happy that I was going to do something with his old Dodge.
It still wore the faded-out paint job from when it was a fire truck. I fixed the brakes and drove it around for a couple of years.
All of the military bolt-ons were gone. I did have the original tailgate with the original markings, but no chains or hinges. There was no gas can or mount, no spare tire carrier, troop seats, pioneer rack or tools, or bumperettes. It did have its original rear tires, but the fronts were replacements in 1968!
After I decided to restore the truck, it took me two years to finish. With the help of Military Vehicles Magazine, eBay, Craigslist, the Iola military swap, and several of the vendors I found in the magazine, I was able to complete the work.
HISTORY OF THE 1954 M37
From what I was able to uncover, I believe the truck had been a Wisconsin truck for its entire life. It started out at the Air National Guard until it was sold in the early 1970s as surplus. A local fire department converted into a brush truck (which they called “The Brush Buggy”).
My brother bought it from the fire department in the mid-1980s. He had it until I traded that 1985 Honda and some cash to him back in 2010.
THE WORK BEGINS
Finding all the parts was the only real challenge I faced. Paint was cheap, labor was free, and I had plenty of time. The truck became a family project, and I mean, the whole family. Brothers, sisters, nephews, girlfriend and her daughter — everyone wanted to help.
In 2012, we started by stripping paint. Because of all the layers of paint, sanding alone wasn’t going to do it. My brother said, “You can’t afford that many sanding discs! Go to town and get at least 4 gallons of paint stripper.”
Eventually, I went through 5,500 pounds of sand blasting media — a 100- lb bag at a time through a little sandblaster I picked up at a swap meet. I went down to bare metal on everything. I remember my brother saying, “No one will see that.” To which I replied, “I will!”
My girlfriend spent countless hours stripping off layers and layers of paint. When we tell stories of the restoration, she loves to say, “He’s only with me because I’m a stripper!”
My family was also eager to help. With their help, the red disappeared, and the original olive drab quickly began to reveal itself.
The project was on-and-off for a few years as we fixed the rust and looked for parts. I tried to not let other projects distract me from working on the M37.
During this time, the truck even survived a garage fire. Luckily, my brother Dan extinguished the fire with a garden hose. Despite his quick thinking, half of the garage interior did go up in flames, but he saved the truck. When the Fire Department arrived, they were more interested in the truck than making sure the fire was out! To this day the most common question I get at local shows is, “Is that the truck from the garage fire?”
ARMING THE TRUCK
I had originally built a mock-up machine gun for my CJ5 project. I had downsized the look of a Browning .50 caliber to make it easy for someone to be able to stand behind it in the jeep. The plan was to make it into a water gun for local parades.
Dan and I made it out of scrap that we had laying around the garage. Parts of a ‘46 Chevy and an ‘85 Ford van, well pipe, muffler pipe, and aluminum wheel chair parts were all used. The linked ammo belt was actually bought off of eBay. The pedestal is an old volleyball net stand that the school had thrown out!
THE PUSH TO THE FINISH: A FAMILY EFFORT
Fast forward to 2016. I had just learned that the Classic Car and Military Vehicle Show at the Veterans Home in King, Wisconsin, was going to be on my birthday. That became my motivation to finish the restoration!
To be honest, the only reason I was able to finish it was all of the help my family and my girlfriend gave me. My brother walked me through the body work. Everyone worked tirelessly to finish the truck. With all of their support, it was still a mad scramble. I was still painting two nights before the show!
While doing research on the truck, somewhere I read it was unlucky to have a military vehicle without a name, and most soldiers named their truck after their first loves.
I decided to name my truck, “Maggie” for my first love: My dog, Maggie. She was my companion from the time I got her when I was 5 years old until she passed away 16 years later when I was 21.
For markings, I decided to use my Grandfather’s WWII unit numbers on the truck. He had left behind several military items behind in his shop that I was able to incorporate into my truck. The driver’s side mirror, axe ,and the old brass fire extinguisher that was mounted to his stick welder are all now part of the truck. The wood for the troop seats even came from my Grandparents’ farm where I had grown up.
The night before the show, everyone was in the garage helping any way they could. It was a late night! My brother Randy and my nephew Mike stayed until truck was loaded on the trailer at 3 AM.
We made the show.
I couldn’t have asked for a better first show. The Veterans Home in King is a special place for my family. It is where my grandparents lived their final years. The other military vehicle owners were so welcoming. They even let us park at the front of the group for the show!
LIFE WITH MAGGIE
During the restoration, I kept telling my girlfriend, “One day, you and Maggie will be on the cover of Military Vehicles Magazine. I finally am able to deliver on that promise!
To be honest, I never imagined an old Dodge with a flat paint job could get so much attention. We love taking Maggie to shows and letting kids of all ages climb in the back to have their pictures taken with the machine gun.
We even started a Facebook page to share the pictures we take: MAGGIE THE M37. I take pictures at every event and post them to see our adventures. We encourage parents to share their pictures, as well. We hope you will take a look and see the adventures of Maggie, our 1954 Dodge M37.