- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

The 1968 AM General M35A2C stretches a quarter-inch more than 22 feet long, rolls on 10 9.00x20-inch military-tread tires and stands 9 feet 7 inches tall.
The owner of the magnificent deuce-and-a-half, John Jean, says he grew up around off-road vehicles. Having achieved his majority, Mr. Jean decided that he wanted a convertible truck. It didn't take long to discover that such creatures are not plentiful.
That's when he discovered that military surplus deuce-and-a-half trucks are cheap relatively speaking.
He began looking for a good canvas-top truck in August 2000.
That's also when he learned the reason the U.S. military gets rid of the trucks they are worn out. He looked at quite a few trucks that were exhausted.
Then he was tipped off that a man in Callao, Va., had what he was looking for and in good condition. A telephone call confirmed that the tip was correct; however, it's difficult to judge a truck's condition over the telephone.
Mr. Jean somehow convinced his wife, Nina, of the wisdom of driving 200 miles across the commonwealth to inspect, firsthand, an old truck.
When they arrived and saw the truck, Mr. Jean says he was thrilled but it wasn't what his wife was expecting.
The owner had made one good truck from several worn-out trucks.
Mr. Jean, a BMW mechanic for Auto Advantage in Manassas, a dealer in used BMWs, was sold when he heard the strong six-cylinder engine fire up.
Having bought the 6 1/2-ton truck, he decided to drive it home. What could go wrong with his wife trailing along in a chase car behind him?
He verified that the 50-gallon fuel tank was full and so were the 32-quart cooling system and, of course, the 22-quart oil reservoir.
Even with no glow plugs, the diesel engine started with the standard military keyless ignition and idled a while, building air pressure to operate the compressor, air-over hydraulic brakes and, of course, the earsplitting horn.
Mr. Jean remembers the previous owner asking, "Do you have ear protection?"
When he responded in the negative, the man gave him a pair of industrial-strength earmuffs. Nice gesture Mr. Jean thought, but I won't need them.
"Three miles down the road," Mr. Jean said, "I put the ear protection on." The exhaust exits through a 4-inch-diameter, 9-foot-tall stack with no muffler beside the right windshield pillar.
Mr. Jean relates that with the ear protection, the 200-mile trip home was a joy as he easily shifted through the five-speed gearbox. He drove most of the way home at about 55 mph on the highway with no problem.
"I love to drive this thing," he said.
"It has forever steering," Mr. Jean adds. "Lock to lock is a lot." Official sources place lock-to-lock turns at near seven.
"I would consider a power-steering unit for this truck," Mr. Jean concedes. "Otherwise, you have to have gorilla arms to drive it."
Behind and below the cab on the driver's side is the standard-issue implement rack, which includes a shovel, ax and pick above the horizontally mounted spare tire.
The canvas-top cab features a pair of vacuum-powered wipers, one for each side of the two-piece windshield. In good weather, the windshield can be tilted open.
"It has a heater," Mr. Jean said proudly, "which is the one luxury item on the truck." An air scoop on the side force-feeds air to the heater.
Each side of the windshield has two defroster vents. The AM General truck left the South Bend, Ind., plant 33 years ago with metal mudflaps with 6-inch skirts of flexible rubber.
Two feet below the bed are rubber bumpers to ease the impact of the massive tailgate slamming down.
At the front of the truck is a winch with a 10,000-pound capacity. To operate any number of other optional units is a power takeoff. The truck also has the popular wartime blackout lights.
Not only does the tailgate drop down, but the sides of the bed do as well to form a 10-by-15-foot flat surface handy for forklift loading from the side.
With the sides upright, collapsible benches can be erected for transporting soldiers or in civilian use a dozen or so of your best friends.
The fore and aft turn signals are convenient.
With all 10 wheels pulling and a road clearance of almost a foot, Mr. Jean said with anticipation, "I can't wait for a good snow so I can go out and play."
The alternative-fuel truck is designed to operate on almost any combustible fuel, including:
Diesel fuel.
Turbine fuel.
Aviation gasoline.
Commercial gasoline.
Jet fuel.
With any combination of fuels in the tank, the operator's manual cautions that if the engine is running roughly, simply add 10 percent to 30 percent diesel fuel to avoid burning the pistons. Depending on the fuel mixture, the big six-cylinder engine produces 126 to 140 horsepower.
Mr. Jean has been unable to trace the history of his deuce-and-a-half, but its pedigree makes no difference to him. Just knowing it was ready to serve is satisfaction enough.
"It's noisy and slow," he said, "but I like it."

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