Ever since he served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne, John McCleaf Jr. has harbored a fascination for military vehicles.
He has restored several, including a 1942 Dodge radio car that won several awards and attracted the attention of the owner of a military vehicle museum in Indianapolis.
Mr. McCleaf wasn't in the mood to sell but he would consider trading for something interesting. That something turned out to be an Army scout car made in 1940 by the company that built White trucks.
In September 1998 the swap was made when the White scout car was delivered to Mr. McCleaf's Dayton, Md., home and his Dodge was hauled away.
The scout car was manufactured in Cleveland, Ohio, and weighs 11,750 pounds when loaded. That includes eight men, two .30-caliber and one .50- caliber machine guns along with the appropriate ammunition, two 15-gallon gas tanks, myriad heavy-duty hand tools as well as every body panel made of quarter-inch-thick armor plate.
To propel all this weight is a mighty 230-cubic-inch six-cylinder Hercules JXD engine that produces 110 horsepower.
Mr. McCleaf was aware that the vehicle he traded was in much better condition than the one he got. The scout car's beauty was only skin deep. "It didn't look bad," Mr. McCleaf says, "but it had been restored only cosmetically."
He took an inventory of his armored scout car and found it to be a hair less than 18.5 feet long, had the 360-degree skate gun rail around the cockpit but was missing all three machine guns and two trolleys that the guns rode on. Auxiliary tripods and gun mounts were missing as were the hand tools.
Mr. McCleaf promptly set about taking the engine and four-speed transmission apart. To be combat-ready the engine has two redundant fan belts, a six-blade radiator fan and wiring with protect armored braiding. After these parts were ready to reinstall, he disassembled the rest of the vehicle down to the frame.
That's when he discovered the right front frame rail was bent. With the help of a 30-ton jack and a steel I-beam Mr. McCleaf straightened the frame.
Thereafter, the restoration involved a lot of sandblasting, repairs where necessary, and searching for missing parts.
In Pennsylvania he found a man from Belgium who sold him a trolley for his skate gun rail.
Mr. McCleaf got lucky when he located a lemon and avocado farmer in California who had numerous military vehicle parts that he needed, including a .50-caliber machine gun.
From another California man came a pair of replica .30-caliber water-cooled machine guns.
Incomplete records show the scout car spent a lot of years in France before being brought back to the United States in 1985.
With the exception of the front fenders, every body panel is armor plated. Even so, Mr. McCleaf says, "There is enough metal in the fenders to make a Honda Civic."
In an effort to save weight, the flooring is aluminum. "The occupants wouldn't stand a chance against a land mine," Mr. McCleaf surmises.
The speedometer stands ready to record speeds up to 80 mph but with the full-time four-wheel drive in either high or low range that speed was merely wishful thinking. The manual provided by the manufacturer suggests a more realistic top speed of 45 mph.
A diligent Mr. McCleaf found and restored a government-issue shovel and pick for the left side and an ax for the other side. Inside the vehicle is a two-man saw.
What first appears to be a rear bumper is actually a shelf on which tripods and other gun mounts are stored.
Each 8.25x20-inch, nondirectional tread tire is mounted on a wheel with 18 breakdown bolts.
Beneath the two front seats are the two 15-gallon gasoline tanks which, according to a warning label, are not to be filled with anything less than 68 octane gasoline. Mr. McCleaf reports highway mileage of between 8 and 10 miles per gallon with a one-barrel Zenith carburetor feeding the engine.
Lubrication instructions for the durable engine are simple:
Y Winter ....30 weight oil
Y Summer ...40 weight oil.
Aerodynamics were not a consideration on this vehicle, which rides on a 131-inch wheelbase and stands more than 6 feet, 7 inches tall and almost 6 feet wide. Four armor-plated louvers in front of the radiator can be closed for brief times during combat for protection.
In reassembling his restored scout car, Mr. McCleaf learned that more than 900 armored screws secure the armor plate. Each three-eighths-inch screw is tightened until the slot of the screw is vertical. That position ensures that any moisture drains out.
Cycle Ray motorcycle Headlamp Guide headlights are protected behind steel brush guards. As a combat vehicle the scout car has a blue louvered marker light and a cat-eye running light.
That giant roller at the front was designed to assist in climbing a river bank after fording the waterway. "It wasn't quite what they thought it was to be," Mr. McCleaf says. He says combat troops often cut off the roller with a cutting torch.
The laborious restoration project was completed on May 1, with Mr. McCleaf painting the insignia of the 102nd Mechanized Calvary Headquarters unit on the flanks of the scout car.
Ducking his head under the skate gun rail in order to gain access to the driver's seat, Mr. McCleaf settles in behind the three-spoke steering wheel in the shadow of the .50-caliber machine gun mounted overhead.
"I call it 'The Beast,' " he says with a knowing smile.