It's usually about the same time the homeless in the Los Angeles area migrate to the less-arid beaches for lucrative tourism dollars that I feel the need to purchase more Jeeps. Unfortunately, it's also about the time I get my meager but enough-to-buy-a-used-Jeep tax return. Add this to the fact that Tech Editor Christian Hazel will stoke the fire in anyone who's looking to purchase more Jeeps - or vehicles, in general - perhaps only to make himself feel more normal and less like a used-car crack head, even though he knows he is. This was another impulse buy for me. You know, the kind of purchase you simply make on a whim. Just like when your wife or significant other purchases those candy bars and tabloid magazines at the checkout counter, I didn't give it a second thought and I didn't think to shop around. Only instead of the easy-to-carry, have-it-now satisfaction of chocolate and mind-numbing drivel, I ended up with a 13,000-pound truck with a top speed of 55-60 mph that was 1,165 miles away.
It's really probably the only time in my life that I'll actually be able to own an M35A2 2 1/2-ton military truck. Later on, when or if I ever become responsible, I'll have to worry about things like homeowners associations, the opinion of a significant other, and the cost of constantly shrinking kids clothes. But for now I can be stupid and irresponsible because I have plenty of extra space at my house, and I can afford to own a truck like this. No, I deserve to own a truck like this. Anyway, of course, there were deuces for sale closer to home and probably for less money, but this was the first one I found that screamed to me, "I'm the one! Come and take me home!" Because it was nearly 1,200 miles away made it seem like it would be that much more fun to bring home than a deuce from across the street. This is how I think. It doesn't have to make sense.
The M35A2 deuce and a half (deuce) was listed on www.steelsoldiers.com. After receiving several e-mails from the seller, who provided detailed photos and even video of the truck, I agreed to buy it. Mostly because of how meticulous he was about it. Like many of my several-state-away Jeep purchases, I didn't haggle on the price. What ground did I have to stand on? I was willing to travel a total of nearly 2,400 miles there and back just to buy a truck. Asking if he'd take less would make me look and feel like an ass. I even paid $100 extra for the seller to put together an emergency repair kit with spare hoses, a fan belt, basic tools, coolant, oil, and so on.
It took me over three weeks to commit to flying nearly to Canada to pickup my new yard ornament. This was much longer than the three seconds it took to convince Christian to come with me. Not because I'm his boss and he's supposed to do what I say, but because he loves to see me miserable, even if he also has to endure whatever misery it might be. Which, in this case, would essentially be driving an industrial generator over 1,100 miles.
We flew into Seattle, where the owner picked us up. He was a military-looking guy sporting a high-and-tight who worked as a nighttime security guard (the graveyard shift, to be exact). My experiences with 7-Eleven servitude had taught me people who work the graveyard shift are a little off kilter. The fact that I had a wad of $100 bills in my pocket and he was driving us to practically the middle of nowhere in the woods "to his house" was very reassuring. I mean, really, only level-headed, sane individuals own a 2 1/2-ton military truck and live in the woods. I tried to forget this and figured if anything fishy went down I'd tell him Christian had the money in his underwear and then I'd make a run for it. Besides, no matter what the situation, I was pretty sure I could have outrun Christian and left him for Buffalo Bob freak-show fodder. Why else would I bring an out-of-shape buddy along?
This Deuce was much quicker than the one I had borrowed from Boyce Equipment. The owner had said the fuel pump was turned up a bit. Whatever it was, it made a big difference in driveability and on hills. This one would hold Fifth gear, whereas the other needed to be downshifted to a hair-pulling Third at 30 mph in some cases.
As usual, the ink on the deuce paperwork was still drying when Christian came up with a nickname for my new ride. He dubbed my deuce the Gay Military Truck. I couldn't even disagree because he had such a convincing argument. The truck was originally decommissioned from San Francisco, the broken horn sounded pretty limp-wristed, the dash light looked more like an anal probe, and riding passenger in the truck made your ass hurt. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the driver's suspension seat was much more comfortable. So as punishment I let him rant a couple days while his backside calloused before letting him get behind the wheel. By the time it was my turn to sit bitch I designed a device that converted the rigid and uncomfortable passenger seating plank into an air-ride seat using a pair of one-liter plastic bottles and some duct tape.
We spent the night in Kelso, Washington, mostly because we were pretty weary-eyed and Kelso looked like a good place to get mugged, raped, and killed. Not necessarily in that order, of course. Fortunately, the town is conveniently hidden a couple miles from the freeway, making it much easier to dump a couple bodies in the river.
The next morning I headed out to the hotel parking lot to look the truck over. The steering was loose enough that the slop caused a brain-rattling vibration on the road, so I tightened the drag link ends and added some coolant after finding a small radiator leak. There was also a small engine oil leak. Not big enough to worry about, considering the thing holds five gallons of motor oil. Our trip to the gas station that morning resulted in Christian interrupting a conversation between a store customer and the clerk who was listening to Iraq's top 40 through the store's speaker system. Apparently, the customer had found the clerk's misplaced 9mm handgun on the toilet tank and wanted to make sure he remembered to pick it up.
There really is no real good way to figure out the deuce's fuel mileage. You're not supposed to top off the 72-gallon tank. Instead we picked a rusty area in the filler neck that was the shape of Africa. We simply filled it to Africa each time we needed fuel. This helped us get somewhat consistent mpg numbers, which turned out to be pretty miserable and impressive at the same time. At 6-7 mpg it gets about the same mileage as an AMC V-8 powered Jeep. This further convinced me that my deuce is an FSJ.
We sailed through Oregon with only one fuel stop and three notes in the journal: the deuce can carry 50 mph up steep grades, I hate state-mandatory full-serve gas stations, and Christian found most of the Oregon women we encountered to be on the offensive side of ugly.
We were nearly out of the ugly Beaver State when we passed over the Siskiyou Summit, the highest pass on the Interstate 5 freeway (4,310 feet). The deuce whistled by other trucks, but the engine was getting warm by the time we reached the top. We pulled over and found that a few zip ties had melted, allowing a chunk of wiring to fall onto the turbo. Apparently, we either didn't need that part of the harness or it didn't melt it enough to damage it because the truck still ran fine without it. We zip-tied the crusty, smoking remnants up out of the way, added some coolant, and were on our way into California.
If you ever plan on driving through Mount Shasta, make a note to stop in at the Black Bear Diner. This is the second time Christian has made me stop here. I'm beginning to wonder if he is part owner or something. Anyway, after a late lunch we stopped in for fuel, and I got a lesson on the dipstick of the deuce. Apparently, you read it in gallons, not quarts. So I added a gallon of oil.
We actually stopped and spent the night about 40 miles north of Sacramento. But one day kinda merged into the next. The drive from Redding to Bakersfield is almost as boring as driving through the middle of Texas. Wait, I take that back. At least in Texas there are miles of highway littered with the carcasses of those goofy-looking armadillos. Christian and I began to find satisfaction in counting the bugs on the windshield, and we chuckled at the anti-drug and suicide-hotline billboards. Do people actually live between these two cities? I think over 24 hours in a deuce isn't such a good idea, and it could quite possibly make you go insane. I thought, "Whose stupid-ass idea was this anyway?" I blamed Christian. It was hot, and I was driving barefoot. I had to keep the heels of my feet on top of my shoes to keep them from burning on the floorboards. I wished for a Sixth gear.
The leak in the radiator outlet had gotten worse but still not all that bad considering the cooling system holds 10 gallons. We stopped at the bottom of the Grapevine grade to add coolant and let the engine cool a little before hitting the grade at balls-to-the-wall full bore. Well, at least as full bore as an old military truck will go. We gained speed all the way to the top, no problem. Passing big rigs, and even some cars, was easy in Fifth gear. At this point, had someone gotten in the way, I was ready to give them a nudge with the bumper. The water temperature slowly crept up, leading me to believe the exhaust gases may have been a little hotter than the 1,200-degree maximum recommended. I figured there wasn't a gauge for that, so it must have been fine and kept in it until we reached the top of the 12-mile, 2,500-foot hill.
After burning through 169 gallons of fuel and spending 26.6 hours in the cab, I know the truck pretty well. There is a new knock in the engine, but it's ever so slight. I'm not worried because guys who have worked on 'em before have told me they've seen deuces drive into the service area with rods rattling and banging out the side of the block.
A week or so after getting it home I took my new deuce on its first road trip to the Diesel Power Challenge, hosted by Diesel Power magazine. I hitched up a pull sled and yanked it farther than any of the 1,000-plus lb-ft 1-ton Fords, Dodges, and Chevys. Not bad for right out of the box.
My deuce mostly sits in my front yard. Pretty much everyone asks me what I plan to do with the thing. All I can do is shrug my shoulders because I really have no idea.