MOUNT VERNON — John Ellis’ collection of vintage Army vehicles began as a sort of do-it-yourself project. The first was a 1946 M38 jeep.
“This one was given to me by a guy who had it all disassembled in parts, and he lost interest in it,” Ellis said. “The story behind this is that it was given to me and it was in pieces. He told me I could have it if I put it together. It was easy for me to put it together.
“Now, this required a new tub,” Ellis said, indicating the frame of the vehicle that is behind the engine compartment. “What he gave me was shot, so I went to the Philippines to get a new one made. They still had the tooling to make that kind of thing there. It came over from the Philippines in a wooden box and when I got it, I could start assembling everything and I made a pliable vehicle out of it. Then I kind of got interested in restoring these old vehicles.”
The vehicles are all vintage of their era, but Ellis said he didn’t think most of them saw much use in combat.
“They were all in too good of shape,” he said.
Ellis has restored three other vehicles, a 1950 M37 WC weapons carrier used in Korea, a 1944 CCKW and a 1943 autocar half-track troop transport.
His said his most challenging project was probably the 1943 CCKW, made by General Motors, a vehicle used to transport troops and supplies.
“I bought three of them and made one,” Ellis said. “They were all in real bad shape but I was able to make one out of all three. It was a troop transport and it hauled supplies. This was a World War II vehicle. Now, Gen. Eisenhower always said the CCKW had as much to do with winning the war as the troops. It supplied all the ammunition, all the men, all the food and clothing, and all that stuff to the troops. So those were used in North Africa, in North Italy, they were used in the islands in the South Pacific. And then they were used in western Europe.”
Ellis found the CCKW in Tennessee.
“A guy had them advertised in a magazine and I went down and bought all three of them,” he said. “They were just sitting out in this guy’s back field, deteriorating. I was able to salvage them before they rusted away.”
The 1950 WC is another example of a vehicle that pulled its weight. The M-37 family served with distinction through the Korean and Vietnam wars, and was the last series produced in medium-weight tactical trucks purchased by the U.S. military.
“This was used as a troop transport,” said Ellis of the 1943 autocar half-track. “The hood, the side the armament is quarter inch armor plate. The doors and everything else except the fenders is quarter inch. And you cannot drill it. It is so hard.”
Ellis showed how armored plates swing up to cover the side window area and the front windshield. Each plate has a small sliding panel to see through.
“Each of these panels is also quarter inch armor,” Ellis said.
“And, of course, you’ve got your rifle racks here,” he added. “And you had an M-1 on each side. And this vehicle is set up for three machine guns. There’s a 50 [caliber] in the center and a 30 [caliber] on each side. And I have one mounted on it.”
Ellis has spent a lot of time and effort in restoring the four vehicles. All of them are in good running condition and look as good as the day they were made. They are all accurately restored, down to the most-minute detail, including authentic lettering.
Ellis said he just finished the half-track, and he was taking it out for the first time to a show in Findlay. The half-track, the CCKW and the Jeep will be in the Mount Vernon Memorial Day Parade.
“I’m going to be hauling veterans in the [Mount Vernon parade],” he said, “and then the Exchange Club will be walking alongside of them and handing out flags.”
Ellis reflected on what Memorial Day means to him and the importance he attaches to restoring these vehicles.
“We’ve got to honor the veterans,” he said. “We just have to. We owe so much to the veterans because they’ve done so much for this country and the freedom we enjoy. We don’t do enough for them, and this is one small way we can remember them; it’s just real important we do that for them.
“These vehicles are a piece of history and we need to maintain them and keep them so that people don’t forget our history. It’s so we don’t forget the veterans and the sacrifice they made so we can enjoy our freedoms today.
“And this shows people how they had to fight those wars. This is the equipment they used in the 1940s. This is what they used to win the war and preserve our freedoms.”