May 26, 2012

Historic half-track, recreated

Alan Wing’s fascination with WWII Army vehicles began early and it shows no signs of letting up, judging by the immaculate 1942 White M2A1 half-track that is the centerpiece of his collection.

Alan Wing’s fascination with WWII Army vehicles began early and it shows no signs of letting up, judging by the immaculate 1942 White M2A1 half-track that is the centerpiece of his collection.

He remembers helping his grandfather feed cattle out of the back of a converted military truck when he was a child.

"That’s where it all started,” he said. “Basically, I’ve been around old WWII Army trucks all my life.”

His father, Carl Wing, recalls that Alan undertook the restoration of his first military vehicle at the tender age of 14.

"It was a 1941 Dodge military truck. I restored it and drove it through high school," Wing said. "I ended up selling it and was able to make the down payment on my property," he said.

He said he has owned probably 15 of the old Army trucks that were converted into farm vehicles after the war. He has a 1941 Dodge weapons carrier that he converted into a boom truck, which was used for some of the heavy lifting in the restoration of his half-track.

His interest in those armored vehicles, which are basically a half-tank, half-truck, stirred by his grandfather’s half-brother, Junior Dover, who was an assistant driver on a half-track in Europe during WWII.

"I grew up listening to his stories … they were right in the thick of it," he said.

One incident involved a fortress booby-trapped by fleeing German soldiers.

"He said he had never seen anything blow up like that in his life. It threw boulders up in the air … and the guy who was with him froze so he grabbed him and they crawled under their half-track. He said he thought it was going to get crushed right down on top of them," Wing recalled.

"So a half-track was something I always wanted, but there were just none around," he said. He used his contacts with fellow members of the national Military Vehicle Preservation Association to begin collecting bits and pieces of half-tracks.

By 2001, he was ready to undertake a project that would last nearly six years. He had amassed three half-track hulks and countless parts.

"I bought three and made one," he said. "One came from Colorado and they had plowed snow with it. The other two were from western Kansas and they were used as tractors … one even had a hand-throttle on the dash.”

"I just treated it like a job, because I knew if I got distracted I would probably never finish it. Anytime that I had off from work, I would start before sun-up.”

Using the best pieces from each vehicle, he stripped one heavy frame down to its bare rails and began constructing a half-track from the ground up. He put a new ring and pinion set in the front differential and installed new bearings in all the bogey wheels on the heavy rear suspension.

The half-track is powered by a big 386 cubic-inch inline flathead 6-cylinder White engine.

"I didn’t overhaul the engine. There was a guy selling engines that the Israelis had rebuilt," Wing said.

Israel used surplus US half-tracks until fairly recently, he explained. So he was also able to buy brand new Israeli-made rubber tracks for the rear of his machine. He estimates each track weighs somewhere between 500-800 pounds, which posed a real challenge to mount, working alone.

The tracks are driven by cogged drive wheels mounted to a conventional-style heavy truck differential, with idler wheels in the back.

One of the other difficult tasks was getting all the armor cleaned up and mounted.

"It is quarter-inch plate steel, case-hardened to deflect bullets," Wing said.

The half-track’s primary mission was to "haul guys closer to the front and unload them … to give them more protection than a truck would provide," he said. The tank tread-style tracks also gave them better traction in muddy, rough terrain, he said.

A half-track could transport anywhere from six to 10 combat infantry troops into action and provide impressive covering fire in the form of a ring-mounted .50 caliber machine gun up front and a .30 caliber water-cooled machine gun in the rear. Both of the guns mounted in Wing’s half-track are realistic replicas, incapable of firing live rounds.

Under heavy fire, the driver’s compartment could be closed up with armor plating over the windows and windshield. A set of armored louvers could even be closed "to keep bullets out of your radiator," Wing explained.

"All it was really made for was small arms fire. Anything bigger would wreak havoc on them. A round from a German 88 would go right through one of them.”

Wing painted his half-track in the correct olive drab scheme, with big white stars on the sides and back. In tribute to Junior Dover, he lettered the front bumper "3A-807TD," designating the vehicle as being assigned to the Third Army, 807th Tank Destroyers division, the unit Dover served with.

"I was hoping to have this thing done before he died … but that didn’t work out," Wing said. "This is really for all the WWII guys. We are losing them at an amazing rate.”

His half-track represents perhaps the ultimate WWII Army truck and undoubtedly stands as a fitting tribute to those who served in such vehicles.

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