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2005 Vintage Power Wagon Rally - Name Power

Posted in Project Vehicles on February 1, 2006
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"Hey, I helped design this," says Bruce Thomas (right) to Vintage Power Wagon owner Dave Butler as they look at an M-37 in the VPW fixer-upper yard. Thomas started with Dodge in 1945 as an engineer, and was a heavy contributor in the development of the legendary M-37 and many other Dodge trucks.

The name "Power Wagon" has legendary connotations. For Dodge, it started out as the catchy name for a new line of four-wheel-drive trucks that debuted in 1946. These trucks carried on a legend created in World War II, where the reputation of Dodge 1/2- and 3/4-ton 4x4 trucks was rivaled only by the Jeep and the GMC deuce-and-a-half. The Power Wagon gave that legend a name and started the new trucks on the same road.

After 34 years adorning the sheetmetal of four-wheel-drive trucks in the Dodge stable, the name was retired, but vintage Dodge Power Wagons have remained one of the most popular and collectable old iron stalwarts out there. No surprise that Dodge brought the name back in 2005.

Not long after the Power Wagon became the Power Ram, Vintage Power Wagons in Fairfield, Iowa, began holding a national rally for true believers. That a quiet Iowa farm town became the Mecca for Power Wagon owners may seem quite strange ... until you've been there. The town is warm, inviting, and well equipped. Vintage Power Wagons itself-well, it has all the attributes of a Mecca; basically anything you might need to restore, repair, rebuild, or modify a Power Wagon in mass quantities, from knowledge to the most obscure part ... even complete vehicles.

The atmosphere at a VPW Rally is low-key. The majority of attendees aren't in the high adrenaline realm of four-wheeling. You'll see a mix of lavishly restored rigs and tired trucks that have endured a lifetime of work. Most of both types now live an easy life in retirement. Neither is suitable for bashing on a tough trail, least of all those one-of-a-kind, first-of, last-of, or only-one-built trucks that show up. The trail runs are geared towards these kinds of rigs, but every year there are options for testing the power of a Power Wagon.

PhotosView Slideshow

The more adventurous can 'wheel in areas chosen to test their mettle a bit. This year's spot had mud deep enough to swallow a Power Wagon. The big-tire mud mavens were the obvious candidates for this spot, but some of the more stock rigs went in, usually spending a fair bit of time on a strap or winch cable. This was true with our test '05 Power Wagon-to the eternal delight of the old-time Power Wagon owners.

The event goes on for five days, and every day a full slate of activities is available, including the aforementioned trail runs. Some activities revolve around social aspects, such as meals and live music. Other choices include do-it-yourself tech training at Vintage Power Wagons, a teeter-board contest, an RTI competition, and open-house periods at the sprawling VPW facility. The Saturday parade is always a hit as Fairfield is taken over by Power Wagons. After a miles-long parade, Power Wagons fill the town square and their owners mingle with townspeople and visitors.

One of the highlights for this year's group of historically minded people was a talk by Bruce Thomas, a retired Dodge engineer. Thomas went to work for Dodge in 1945 and was actively involved with the development of the Power Wagon. He was one of the principal engineers involved in the development of the Dodge M-37, often considered the best military light truck ever built. His reminiscences were riveting. Thomas now works with Chrysler Historical and adds his guidance to maintaining their collection of photos, documents, and vehicles.

If you are a classic Power Wagon owner, even one of the '05-and-newer Power Wagons, or just an aficionado, and you want to spend time with hundreds of like-minded enthusiasts, the Vintage Power Wagon Rally is for you.

1. Tom Haxton's '69 W200 crew cab represents one of many like it produced for the military in the 1960s. They came standard with a 225ci slant-six, an A745 three-speed trans (or NP435 four-speed), a divorced New Process transfer case (NP201 or NP205), a closed-knuckle D44F front axle, and a Dana 60 full-floating rear axle. Haxton's truck still has its original 19.5-inch wheels. [Cold dubbin'!-Ed.]

2. By the time David Bizzel's '56 C-4-PW was built, the original 94hp, 230ci flathead had been uprated to 110 hp by an increase in compression from 6.7:1 to 7.25:1, a longer-duration camshaft, and intake manifold improvements. 1956 also marked a change from 6- to 12-volt electricals.

3. George Wellman's Campbell-bodied woody is in the top echelon of Power Wagon collectibles. It was converted in 1949 by Campbell of Waterloo, New York, for the Charles A. Ward family. Campbell called this particular body the "Club" and it was designed for 11 passengers. Campbell did a number of Power Wagon conversions, but it isn't clear how many have survived. Cantrell, another coachbuilder, also built a number of Power Wagon woodies, and at least one of those has survived.

4. Restored WWII military rigs were in short supply at this year's event, but Robert Jones' superb '43 WC-63 1 1/2-ton 6x6 would have been a standout, even in a large crowd. The 6x6 Dodges were a simple answer to a shortage of 1 1/2-ton trucks. They used many of the same components as the standard WC-51 3/4-ton 4x4 but had a bogie-type rear suspension, the extra axle, and a two-speed transfer case.

5. Among the most interesting old Power Wagons are the M-601 export versions. These were basically an open-topped, militarized WM-300 that was built for export in the mid and late 1960s. A few saw non-combat service with the U.S. Military overseas, but most went as MDAP (Mutual Defense Assistance Program) aid to friendly nations. The most notable feature is the open cab, making it reminiscent of the early WWII 1/2-ton trucks. There was also a hard-top ambulance/carryall version.


Vintage Power Wagons
Fairfield, IA 52556

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