Military surplus stores fill towns across America. While the majority of the O.D. green locations offer clothing, ammo containers, and assorted military memorabilia, the military surplus locales we really get excited over are packed with complete rigs and drivetrain components. Many of the larger military surplus yards house millions-of-dollars’ worth of inventory and include new and unopened gaskets, engines, and suspension parts. The used military surplus parts market is just as impressive and much cheaper.
For recreational and competition off-roaders, axles are always hot items for purchase. While the 2½-ton Rockwell axle is a staple in the off-road world, its availability is decreasing. This is largely due to the U.S. military switching to newer and different styles of vehicles. To get an idea of what axles are filling up the surplus yards these days we decided to take a little road trip and visit a few of the major military surplus yards. And here is what we found.
For decades the 2½-ton Rockwell axle has been the go-to axle for guys looking to run over 44-inch tall tires and a staple for rigs competing in our annual Top Truck Challenge. The tall third member, square axletubes, and big six-lug pattern make them easy to spot. Once you see them next to its 5-ton bigger brother, you will get a better sense of its size. Inside of the nearly 300-pound third member is a 2.44:1 upper gear ratio which drives a 2.75:1 lower gear ratio. This four-gear reduction differential delivers a final drive ratio of 6.72:1.
Look for steering axles that are equipped with the more serviceable U-joint-style axleshafts. The giant drum brakes will be useless for most applications, so don’t sweat it if one is missing parts. If possible, try and rotate the yoke on the third member. What you are checking for is if it is tight or has a lot of play. This will give you a hint of what kind of shape the internals may be in. Without drum brakes these axles weigh around 700 pounds, so plan accordingly.
If you are building your own version of a 1980’s monster truck or are looking for an axle to pair with your 60-inch ag tires, then the 5-ton might be for you. Heavy is an understatement. The 5-ton axle is basically a bloated version of the 2½-ton, with more load-carrying capacity. It is also fitted with a four-gear third member, and most have a final drive ratio of 6.44:1.
The 2-inch-diameter axleshafts are simply massive and, like the 2½-ton, the air brakes will need to be ditched. The ten-lug pattern and size make them easy to tell apart from the 2½-ton. If we were building a monster mudder, these would be high on our list, as they are currently in more abundance and in some cases cheaper than 2½-tons. Be sure the surplus yard you are scavenging these from has a fork lift, because you will need it!
The CUCV (commercial utility cargo vehicle) was home to the widely sought-after Dana 60 and 14-bolt axle combo. The low-pinion passenger-side-drop Dana 60 front axle used to be one of the great surplus yard finds, but most companies we’ve talked to say that stock is low to non-existent. Sure, there are military yards that have these with fresh paint and disc brakes sitting in a warehouse, but don’t expect to get it for cheap. The aftermarket support for these axles is great and the kingpin-style axle ends make them pretty easy to rebuild.
Most will have an axle tag ID on the front differential cover and some sort of stamping on the differential casting to let you know what it is. As is the case with the Dana 60 front, the Corporate 14-bolt rear is becoming harder to find in military surplus yards. This does not mean that the 14-bolt is some kind of unique or rare rear axle. It’s actually quite the opposite. The eight-lug, full-float axle can be found in an assortment of shapes and sizes as decades of the workhorse rear axle has been produced in the civilian market.
If you get particularly lucky, you may be able to score a 14-bolt with a 4.56 gearset and Detroit Locker. The CUCV series 14-bolt will be fitted with drum brakes, which are useable, but you’ll likely want to swap over to disc for weight savings and off-road stopping power. There is a semi-float six-lug 14-bolt variation, but it will be doubtful that you’d run across one in a surplus yard. As is the case with the Dana 60 front, the CUCV is where the 14-bolt was most common. It can be cheaper to purchase an entire non-running truck with the axles underneath than purchasing the axles separately.
Modern U.S. military running gear has been off-the-market, too expensive, or down right hard to find until now. Since 2½-ton trucks have long been replaced by faster and more modern military vehicles, the modern running gear is starting to pop up across the nation. The AxleTech 4000s are the newest axles to fill up surplus yards across the country. The AxleTech 4000 is equipped with gear ratios ranging from 4.35:1 to 13.74:1 (6.86:1 is common) and rated to carry 19,000 pounds.
The tan color and massive ten-lug gear-reduction hubs make them easy to spot. Each one is fitted with a pneumatic locker, removable third member, gear reduction hubs, and some of the biggest disc brakes we’ve ever seen. The AxleTech axles are new on the scene, which makes them more expensive. Unlike the 2½-ton, which has a healthy amount of aftermarket support, the AxleTech 4000 has virtually none. We think these could be the next big thing, but it may take some time to get the aftermarket moving.
We recently ran across a rarity. The Dana 70HD rear axle was used by the U.S. military to replace 14-bolts that were not up to the task or needed to be converted to a dually rear. We actually found this set still in the box, and equipped with a Detroit Locker. The Dana 70HD is very wide and rare in most surplus yards. If you can get it for cheap, then it may be worth it, but keep in mind that wider is not always better.
Where To Buy
If you are living out west then a great place to look for your next set of military parts and/or trucks is Boyce Equipment. Located in Ogden, Utah, Boyce even offers modified 2½-ton axles that can be fitted with disc brakes, your choice of locker, and a hydraulic steering ram. Info: Boyce Equipment, 800/748-4269, www.boyceequipment.com
If you’re in the Lone Star state then take a stop by Red River Parts & Equipment compound in Texarkana, Texas. Red River specializes more in the new and used military parts market, but does offer complete trucks as well. Info: Red River Parts & Equipment, 903/547-2226, www.redriverparts.com
Memphis Equipment is well known for its complete truck builds. It’s a specialty that the employee-owned company takes great pride in. Walking through the shop and seeing a 2½-ton truck stripped down to the frame puts a new perspective on the term recondition. Info: Memphis Equipment, 901/774-0600, www.memphisequipment.com