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Backward Glances: A World War II Dodge 6x6 Finds a New Job

Posted in Features on February 21, 2019
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In military slang, “retread” refers to a person who left the service but came back later. An example could be a soldier from World War II who reentered the military for the Korean War. Here’s a truck that left one form of service for another, so maybe it also fits that definition.

From the day it was born in 1946, the first-generation civilian Dodge Power Wagon was built to work. That’s why, when you look back at its history, you don’t see many photos with a Power Wagon parked beside a creek, next to a tent with people fishing nearby. Mostly, you see them dirty, dented, and overloaded, being ridden hard and put away wet.

Most of you know the civilian Power Wagon had roots in the World War II military WC-series 3/4-ton 4x4 trucks built from 1942-1945. To allay a shortage of 1 1/2-tons during the war, Dodge developed a 6x6 in two versions: the WC-62 and WC-63 (with winch). About 23,000 of both types were built. They were a very cost-effective and successful conversion that had about 80 percent parts interchangeability with the 3/4-ton.

The postwar Power Wagon was conservatively rated as a 1-ton, with up to an 8,700-pound GVW. Higher-GVW dualie versions were not offered, but they were easily converted using dualie axles from other Dodge trucks, and such conversions were commonly seen. Over the years, people have wondered why Dodge never offered a 1 1/2-ton version of the Power Wagon or even why they didn’t carry on with the 6x6 after the war.

Alan considered reproducing the original Forest Green paint and tow company markings uncovered during sanding, but they were incomplete and not visually appealing. Since he and his girlfriend and workmate, Cassie Overman, are into Sinclair collectibles, they put some Dino in their tank and went with the distinctive green and white. The 6x6 chassis still mounts the original 7,500-pound Braden MU-2 PTO winch.

After World War II, the size of the U.S. Military was drastically reduced, and war surplus materials flooded the market. Hundreds of thousands of trucks went on the market. They ranged from civilian trucks, altered only in their OD green paint, to tactical trucks designed for the battlefield. Some were “scratch-n-dent” specials and others were virtually new trucks. For many years after World War II, you could see these trucks working all over the world in every type of job you can imagine, often adapted in many ingenious ways.

There were probably marketing reasons why Dodge didn’t offer a dualie Power Wagon, but there were even more reasons why the military 6x6 never translated to civilian life. For one, there were so many surplus trucks on the market (WC-62/63 included) that all the truck manufacturers had trouble selling new models in the immediate postwar period. On top of that, the Dodge 6x6 design is a real handful on the street. Unlike many other 6x6s, there is no compensator between the two tandem rear axles. Without that device (essentially a differential), it’s a lot like driving a 4x4 on the street with the front axle engaged, resulting in difficult turns, clunking, tire barking, and so on, all from the rear in this case. For a tactical truck operated mostly on dirt, this was not an issue. When a person needed a 6x6 like the Dodge in the immediate postwar era, there were plenty around, replacement parts were dirt cheap, and they could be updated as needed. The trucks were cheap enough that you could put up with some quirks.

The Holmes 480 Twin Boom wrecker is one of the earliest, most famous, and longest-lived products of the Ernest Holmes Company. We could not track the 480’s first appearance, but most sources list it as far back as the early 1930s, and it may go back farther. According to legend, it was called 480 because the first one cost $480. It mounts a two-drum PTO winch. The drums and cables can be operated together with a 16,000-pound total capacity or independently at 8,000 pounds each. The Holmes Twin Boom setup allowed the booms to swing to the side. While one was being used to pull a load from one side, the other side could be swung to the opposite side, secured to a deadman, and used to stabilize the wrecker. With the builder’s tag missing, Alan isn’t sure of the year of this unit but guesses it’s from the early 1960s.

Sometime during the 1950s in Idaho, a ’42 WC-63 Dodge military 6x6 was converted into a wrecker, and this was a common use for them. The powertrain remained mostly stock, but a civilian Power Wagon cab and a wrecker body were added. Little is known about the full work history of this truck, but when Lolo Pass opened in 1962 on Highway 12 between Montana and Idaho, it was known to be hard at work there taking care of business. A few people actually still remember it; one old trucker tells the story about the Dodge assisting his semi over the pass in a snowstorm. The identity of this long-ago towing company operator is unknown at present, but the truck changed owners several times over the decades, losing its wrecker body and ending up for sale in Oregon in 2016. Enter Alan Vanevenhoven.

Alan is the owner of AKC Restoration Services in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, (facebook.com/pages/category/Product-Service/AKC-Restoration-Services-323636701735043) and is well known for his authentic restorations to a variety of trucks and cars. Alan says he ran across the Dodge for sale online and, in a sleep-deprived state, bought it on a whim. Later, he realized he had no good idea what to do with it. When Alan discovered it had once been a wrecker, the direction became clear.

Alan fabricated a wrecker body in the style of the ’50s and ’60s and added a Holmes Model 480 “Twin Boom” wrecker apparatus. It turns out the cab was an early one from a ’46 California-built Power Wagon, and it cleaned up nicely. The chassis is mostly stock, still using the WC-63 walking-beam rear suspension and mounting the original Dodge 9 5/8-inch dropout axles. The axle ratios were changed from the stock 5.83:1 to the 4.30:1 ratios found in Dodge civilian trucks. If you are wondering how the original flathead-six is hauling all that around with 4.30:1 gears…it isn’t. Yeah, it’s got a Hemi—a 5.7L Hemi, to be exact.

Alan got hold of a pair of distressed ’05 5.7L Hemi engines, and the more complete of the two is from an ’05 Durango. From those two he put one good runner together and adapted the truck to fit it. He used a ’60s-era truck A-Series bellhousing and built a custom flywheel, clutch, and input shaft for the NP420 transmission sourced from a later M-37 Dodge military. He mounted a Saginaw power steering box and used the ’05 power steering pump to run it. An International Scout power brake booster supplies enhanced stopping pressure to the original drum brakes.

It took Alan three months of part-time work to get the truck finished, and for the past couple of years, it’s been making the rounds to local and national shows. It’s been on TV a few times, too. You may wonder if it still works. Why, yes, it does! At the 2018 Vintage Power Wagons Rally in Iowa (vintagepowerwagons.com/annual-rally), Alan encountered a participant broken down by the side of the road. When it couldn’t be easily fixed, Alan simply hitched it up and hauled it back to the Rally site. The owner insisted on paying Alan $50, so the truck is even earning money again! The work never ends for old Power Wagons.

The original cantilevered rear suspension serves well, as do the Dodge 9 5/8-inch dropout axles. The only upgrade in these is a swap up to 4.30:1 ratios. The leaf springs are clamped to a pivot in the center and fit into a slip atop the axle in the center. Each axle is located by three torque links—one in the center above and one on each side. The axles articulate pretty well and deliver good mobility in the dirt.
While the cab interior isn’t any fancier than it was in 1946, it is air conditioned, both by the window vent and an underdash unit. This is an early-’46 standard cab, without the door windwings or armrests of the Deluxe cab.
Here’s what this Dodge would have looked like when it rolled out of the Dodge Mound Road factory in WWII. It was designed for a 3,000-pound off-road payload (4,900 pounds on the highway) or 16 passengers in the back plus 2 crew. Rated towed load was 8,000 pounds. Often used as a cargo truck, it was also used as a prime mover for the 57mm anti-tank gun in Tank Destroyer Battalions. A mobility enhancement kit was available for these trucks in World War II that consisted of Thornton Locking Differentials, later known as the Detroit Locker, for the two rear axles.

The Details

Vehicle: ’46 Dodge Power Wagon 6x6 wrecker conversion
Owner: Alan Vanevenhoven
Estimated value: $150,000
Engine: ’05 5.7L Hemi
Power (hp): 335 @ 5,400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 370 @ 4,200 rpm
Bore & stroke (in): 3.92 x 3.58
Comp. ratio: 9.6:1
Transmission: NP420
Transfer case: New Process 2-spd, 1.5:1 low-range ratio
Front axle: Dodge, 9 5/8-in
Rear axles: Dodge, 9 5/8-in
Axle ratios: 4.30:1
Tires: 9.00-16, 10-ply
Wheelbase (in): 104
GVW (lb): 12,450 highway, 10,850 off-highway
Curb weight (lb): 8,200 (est.)
Fuel capacity (gal): 35
Min. grd. clearance (in): 10 5/8
Approach angle (deg): 37 1/2
Departure angle (deg): 58

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