While I am not usually crippled by foresight, I knew from an early age I was totally unsuited for military life. Instinctively, I knew that a career path that could put me on board an Enola Gay wasn’t going to work out — I just didn’t have the right stuff. But still, like many of us with testosterone running through our veins, I am compelled to gawk at (among other things out of my reach) military hardware.
I remember from my childhood days, two brothers who did road maintenance and construction in the Chamberlains area, Bill and Joe Dowden. The Dowdens stood out because their work truck was a battered army vehicle. Being romantic by nature, I assumed the Dowdens had just driven back from years of blowing up stuff in Europe during the Second World War, and were now trying to heal themselves and make amends by repairing and resurfacing their hometown.
But one dark day, like Oliver Wendell Homes’s Wonderful One-Hoss Shay (“… there’s nothing that keeps its youth, So far as I know, but a tree and truth”), the Dowdens’ army truck blew apart in the middle of Pig Shit Lane. After years of stellar service, the quiet hulk was ignominiously towed away leaving behind a huge oil stain that persisted for years. Each spring rain brought the oily smell back to life for another summer — a greasy punctuation for the end of an era.
Recently, my head swung around when I saw out of the corner of my eye a six-wheeled military truck pull up at the Paradise Tim Hortons outlet. The two-and-a-half-ton, or, as the gearheads say, “deuce-and-a-half,” is one of three owned by Paradise entrepreneur, Dave Porter. Being older and wiser these days, I didn’t assume Porter just drove back from a war — although bearded, six foot two and 220 lbs., he looks quite at home in the drab olive cab — but the sight of someone rolling up for a double-double in a military six-by-six piqued my curiosity.
“I always liked those trucks, I remember seeing them as a kid when they first came out,” says Porter, a former drag-racer from Mount Pearl, where he started out building tire-squealing muscle cars in the family garage, much to the chagrin of his father — a policeman. Porter’s truck is a 1982 version of the American M35 design, made in Canada by the legendary builder of snowmobiles, trains and planes — Bombardier. Powered by an 8.2 L Detroit diesel engine coupled to a four-speed Allison automatic transmission and three Rockwell axles, Porter’s green monster, known in Canadian military jargon as MLVW (Medium Logistics Vehicle, Wheeled), weighs about 6,000 kg.
Like the Dowdens, Porter’s army trucks are not museum pieces, they have to work for a living. Porter’s core business is automotive repair, but he’s spun off a towing operation and augmented his two, more conventional tow trucks with the deuces. R & D towing (Rob and Dave) tows and transports all sorts of vehicles and the deuces are invaluable for rescuing off-roaders stuck in the woods.
“(Four-by-four vehicles) can get stuck in the bogs around here so that it’ll take five times what it weighs to get it out of the hole that it’s in,” says Porter, “So, as long as I’m on hard ground with that deuce, it will pull out any pick-up truck, or pieces of it!”
Porter still does some custom car and truck building at his St. Thomas Line garage, and several modified chassis outfitted with big block engines are visible at the site, where three full-time employees are kept busy servicing brakes, tires, suspension and exhaust components for daily drivers.
At Porter’s invitation, I climbed the two steps into the cab of the deuce and he drove to the outer edges of a Paradise housing development. The all-metal interior of the small cab reverberates as the roar of the big Detroit diesel fills the small cab, and the heavy duty suspension transmits every hump and hollow the
20-inch wheels roll over. But with power steering, automatic transmission, and good visibility, the deuce is surprisingly easy to drive and Porter says there is no truck near the price range of a used deuce with comparable power and durability.
“The design is nothing other than utilitarian. There are no creature comforts whatsoever. It rides like crap, it’s cold, it’s drafty. It was not made to make you comfortable — it was made to haul 10,000 lbs over rocky roads.”
After Porter’s early muscle car days, he spent a couple of years at university then went back to automotive and embraced it as a career, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride. Twice he opened automotive repair shops in rented spaces only to be forced to retreat to his backyard when business dropped off.
Porter grew his backyard business to the point where the town council started to notice him, so a car racing buddy put him on to his present commercial location at 94 St. Thomas Line. The timing of the move was good for all concerned, Porter says, “… because they were just breaking ground behind my house (on Topsail Road) to build that development of $350,000 houses overlooking my backyard!”
When Porter engages the front axle, the deuce becomes surprisingly nimble for a heavy vehicle, climbing over ditches, boulders, and piles of construction rubble at the end of a road — the rear wheels flexing to odd angles to accommodate the rough terrain. Porter then climbs a 45-degree angle up a mountain of fill, and perches the deuce at the top like a kid playing king of the castle.
Aside from the practical advantages of the unstoppable deuce, Porter likes the look of the old trucks and enjoys his trips into the bush to haul out four-by-four’s that have bogged down. It’s all a part of a lifestyle he wouldn’t trade for a high-paying job outside the province.
“A lot of my friends are gone away, they do welding and they work on drill rigs and stuff like that, most of them are in Alberta, some are down in the Caribbean,” says Porter, “I like being able to go get a coffee, I like being with my wife, I like playing with my dogs in my yard — I like feeling like I’m rooted here.”
If you want to be cool and drive a deuce of your own — the ultimate green grocery getter — the brakes are hydraulic, so you don’t need to upgrade your driver’s license. They go for $4,000 — $10,000 on eBay but they can be costly to operate. A fill-up of diesel will cost about $200 and tires can cost up to $850 each — and you need six of them.
But hey, you’ll never need to shovel your driveway.