Young Man, Old Truck
Like any young man, Johnny Burns is proud of his truck.
But his isn’t just any truck; it’s an M35 Vietnam-era Army truck originally built in 1966. These particular trucks got the nickname “Deuce and a Half” because of their size, weighing in at 13,030 pounds but able to carry a load of 2 ½ tons.
“It’s my big Jeep,” Burns joked referring to its Keiser Jeep parts. “We call him Brutus. He served in Vietnam with the 103rd Movement Division as a medium duty cargo truck. It’s currently set up to carry people but it also carried fuel at one point.”
Although he has not served in the military himself, Burns said his grandfather was a flight engineer during the Vietnam War and this truck is very nostalgic for him.
“He calls me the young man with the old truck,” said Burns. “It’s got a lot of historic value. I like it because someone had to depend on this truck and I want to take it and preserve it. This truck saw Vietnam and now I’m giving it a nice retirement in Florida.”
Burns said that one of the coolest aspects about the truck, besides its history, is it’s fuel.
“It will run on diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, pretty much any flammable fuel you put in it, including vegetable oil,” he said. “This guy has a pretty enjoyable diet!”
However, on the road Brutus can only reach 50 miles per hour and requires very specific procedures before, during and after driving. Burns said he devotes time to daily maintenance on his truck and before driving it he must drain the fuel filters, check the oil, check the tire pressure and radiator fluid and then let it idle for at least five minutes before and after taking Brutus on the road.
“When you drive this, you get a lot of respect for the guys that drove them during the war,” said Burns. “It has no power steering, an unsynchronized transmission, you have to wait to put it in gear. It’s loud and unwieldy, but to me it’s absolutely enjoyable. It’s a blast but to imagine doing this as your job every day, it’s a lot of hard work so I definitely have respect for the guys who drove these.”
Brutus is actually relatively new to Burns as he and his fiancée Tori Goodman traveled to Virginia in late March to purchase the truck. But Burns said be-fore buying the historic truck, he did his homework.
“Before I bought this I spent two years learning all the things I needed to know to work on it,” he said. “You really have to know what you are doing because it can be dangerous to work on.”
Burns explained that the rims for the 10 tires on the vehicle are tricky and have been known to injure and even kill people by blasting off at high velocities when struck incorrectly. He also noted that the paint on the truck is lead-based and thus must be very carefully removed, or left alone as to not release toxins in the air.
“The military didn’t build these to drive smoothly and have good visibility, they built them to last a war,” Burns said.
As for the reason 21-year-old Burns was interested in the 50-year-old truck, he said it’s just a dream he has always had.
“I’ve always had an interest in large vehicles,” He said. “They’re cool, they make people smile and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid. People see it and wave at it; it’s awesome!”
Johnny Burns will showcase his Vietnam-era truck Saturday, May 7 at the Burning Up The Beaches car show at the Destin Commons from 12:30-8 p.m. For more information, visit www.burningupthebeaches.com.