Local law enforcement and emergency management agencies are usually pretty well equipped for most of these scenarios, and they have a good reason to encourage the less prepared to stay off the roads. But, as with most things, budgets are tight and emergency vehicles don’t come cheap. Many smaller agencies may not have access to large and powerful evacuation or emergency supply vehicles, and individuals are even less well equipped. And if you live out in the country, emergency responders will have an even harder time getting to you when the levee breaks and the roads are gone.
Back in 1951, the U.S. military introduced the six-wheel-drive, 2.5-ton M35 cargo and troop transport truck, also known as a “deuce and a half.” Thanks to 50 years of federal government procurement policy, you can pick up a used, good-condition “deuce” for a song, or less than $10,000.
The M35 was the American soldier’s schools bus, food truck, weapons platform and delivery van all rolled into one. My own experience with riding in the back of these trucks is that they are big, burly, tough-as-nails and not built for comfort. You can leave the M35 as is, and it is extremely versatile and will get you most anywhere you need to go even in the worst conditions. But they are also easy to customize to fit a department or individual’s specific needs.
Indeed, an entire cottage industry has developed around turning the boring old “deuce” into a 21st century bug-out truck. I spoke with the owner of Big Bug Out Trucks in North Carolina about how he started working on M35s. About 10 years ago, he was looking for a Unimog off-road vehicle, but M35s were much cheaper, more reliable and easier to modify, so he settled for one of those. He discovered that he could remove an axle, shorten the bed and turn it into a shorter vehicle that was much more accommodating for daily driving, not to mention other advantages like higher highway speeds and better fuel mileage.
“One great thing about the ‘deuce’ is that it has a multi-fuel engine. The M35 was designed to run on just about anything that burns …”
“We remove one of the rear axles from the tandem cradle and about 3 feet from the chassis frame, then reharden it and add a custom set of springs to match the height of the front so that the rake is adjusted properly. We then lengthen the drive shaft to accommodate the new wheelbase, flip the hubs and adjust the rear axle to accommodate the 46-inch tires. The entire truck is then sandblasted, a shorter a M105 bed is installed and repainted.” The trucks can be painted in any color or pattern the customer wants, and agency logos, decals and emergency lights are easily applied.
If you already have an M35 or a 5-ton truck, Big Bug Out Trucks will customize it for you, or they will sell you one the company has already bobbed. These trucks are easily available as surplus from the Department of Defense as well as from private owners. There are several advantages to shortening these trucks. Although you do lose some cargo room, it will still carry 10,000 pounds or more of emergency gear. If your homeowners association prohibits commercial or oversized vehicles, you can get this one past them.
According to Big Bug Out Trucks, the mileage of a stock M35A2 goes up from 8 to 11 mpg to 12 to 13 mpg after it’s bobbed—not exactly tree-hugging hybrid standards—but, pound for pound, it is more efficient than a Toyota Prius and about as good as my old 1979 Trans Am. With the standard 50-gallon fuel tank, this extends your operational range from 400 to 550 miles to 600 to 650 miles. You also aren’t forced to stick to the slow lane on the highway, since the shorter, lighter truck also increases the top speed from 55 mph to almost 75 mph.
You don’t have to be ancient to remember the gas crisis of the 1970s. There are plenty of more-recent cases of gasoline rationing and shortages, including, for example, those as a result of Hurricane Sandy in New York/New Jersey. The fact is that in an emergency situation, premium unleaded may be harder to come by. One great thing about the “deuce” is that it has a multi-fuel engine. The M35 was designed to run on just about anything that burns: kerosene, diesel, vegetable oil, used motor oil, heating oil, hemp oil, gasoline (with added motor oil), transmission fluid, hydraulic fluid and even high-proof alcohol.
Many M35s come with manual transmissions, but the newer M35s come with automatic transmissions or can be easily converted. With power steering, an automatic transmission and optional air conditioning, the bobbed M35 can actually get pretty comfortable. You don’t need a special license to drive these trucks for personal use, and they were designed by the military to be almost idiot-proof and easy to maintain in the field, another advantage when supply lines may be unavailable. Spare parts are readily and cheaply available through surplus vendors, and many standard commercial truck parts can be used or recovered from salvage yards.
For law enforcement use, there are also several specialized options. For crowd-control situations, an electronic shock device can be added to the vehicle to rid the truck of unwanted hangers on. According to the owner of Big Bug Out Trucks, “At the push of a button, 1 million volts of pulsing, low-amperage, non-lethal electricity is sent to plates on the outer shell of the vehicle to stun the unwanted.”
Vehicles that are stuck and blocking roadways can be easily pushed out of the way. Deep water from floods is also no problem, as the M35 was purpose-built for fording—there is even an old newsreel on Big Bug Out Trucks’ website that shows an M35 driving completely submerged underwater. You will need a snorkel kit for this maneuver, and many trucks come with this already installed or it can be added to those that don’t have it.
For really deep water there is the underwater breathing system, which provides emergency air to the driver and passenger in case the water goes over your head. “The advantage of having an onboard breathing system is to allow you enough time underwater to back out of a hole that was too deep. Otherwise you will lose the truck as you bail out,” said Big Bug Out Trucks’ owner.
You can also get a 10,000-pound winch that is EMP-proof since it works off the engine power and not an electrical system. This allows the truck to be used for emergency rescues, pulling stuck vehicles to safety. The engine’s starter and all electronics on the vehicles are shielded against EMP, too. For superior off-roading and tight cornering, you can add rear steering to get out of trail ruts and navigate small trails.
Emergency responders may also need immediate air support and surveillance capabilities. Big Bug Out Trucks offers a Vehicle Launched Aerial Surveillance (VLAS) system to give you a bird’s eye view of traffic accidents, fires, floods and other disaster areas. You can select either a fixed-wing or multi-rotor aircraft that can carry payloads for limited emergency resupply operations or even mounted weapon systems. The UAV can conduct self-guided patrols and send back video surveillance, and it’s easily operated from a tablet computer.
Big Bug Out Trucks has some well-known fans as well. “Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty was driving down the road, saw our Big Bug Out Trucks and had to have one. Big Bug Out Trucks is currently working on a new truck to show the fellas at Duck Dynasty that will basically convert into a full 17-by-15-foot hunting cabin that can lift to 20 feet into the air,” Big Bug Out Trucks’ owner said. The only other questions I had: How soon can I get one, and where do I hide it from my wife?
For more, visit bigbugouttrucks.com or call 980-272-8118.