- Associated Press - Monday, June 29, 2015

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (AP) - Nothing says summer in Wisconsin like a repurposed World War II land-and-water military craft making its way over sandstone bluffs and splashing into the Wisconsin River.

For the past 70 summers, visitors to the Wisconsin Dells have toured the Wisconsin River on truck/boat hybrids known as “ducks,” Wisconsin Public Radio (http://bit.ly/1HjIqO5 ) reported. Originally used to drive soldiers ashore and inland during WWII coastal invasions, they have become an iconic attraction of the Midwestern tourist destination.

Militarily, the ducks are probably most well-known for the fleet of 2,000 that docked American soldiers on the shores of Normandy, France during the D-Day invasion. Two years later, the amphibious vehicles arrived in the Dells when war veteran Bob Unger took advantage of the surplus military supplies made available to the public. Within years the fleet grew to 37 ducks, and today, it stands at over 90, making it the largest tour duck fleet in the United States.

“The majority of the ducks that we have were kept in the United States at the bases. But we do have a few that we’d purchased from Italy about 15 years ago, and a couple of those are in service. And those would have been used in the invasion of Sicily,” said Dan Gavinski, general manager and part owner of the “Original Wisconsin Ducks” Wisconsin Dells attraction.

In water, the ducks go about 7 mph, but can speed up to 50 miles per hour on land. With manual transmissions and double clutches, they aren’t particularly easy to drive. The training program to become a driver takes between two and six weeks.

Although the majority of their use is recreational, the ducks have been called back into duty during flooding in in surrounding towns.

After seven decades, the Original Wisconsin Ducks have built quite the legacy, with the fan base to prove it. The attraction invited more than 600 former duck drivers back to celebrate its anniversary two weekends ago.

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Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, http://www.wpr.org

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