A love of army green

Some people collect stamps, others collect coins, and a select few collect vintage military vehicles.

The men behind the wheels of the 20 or so jeeps, motorcycles and half-tracks that pulled into the parking lot of the Interior Savings Centre on Tuesday morning share that passion.

Many wore uniforms to match the vehicles they drove, but that doesn't mean they are enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces.

"We're just collectors. People collect weird things. We collect military vehicles," said Freedom Route Three convoy co-ordinator John Hawthorne.

Hawthorne did spend time with an artillery unit in the Canadian Armed Forces, which is where his love for the hardware comes from.

Others like Bill McLean are enthusiasts who inherited an interest from a parent or grandparent who is a veteran.

McLean's dad was a tank driver who talked at length about the mighty armoured vehicles, which is why he bought and restored a 1952 Willy's Jeep.

"She was mint when I found her," McLean said, adding that was more than 30 years ago in Penticton. "There was no rust or anything on it."

He's put work into the Willy's over the years. At one point he installed a V8 engine, but replaced that with a V4 to bring it closer to its original design.

"Plus I couldn't afford to drive it," McLean said.

Driving the jeep is "a blast," which is why he didn't hesitate to sign up for Freedom Route Three.

The convoy left Abbotsford on Sunday and is touring the Interior to commemorate war veterans.

McLean said he and other members of the Western Command Military Vehicle Historical Society enjoy showing their rides to the veterans, who always have a story or two to tell.

But it's also a chance for the collectors to talk amongst themselves about their hobby. Sid Blanchett said most, like himself, share a love of military history.

He drives a half-track that is usually on display at the military museum in Chilliwack. The vehicle, complete with a .50 caliber machine gun, attracts a lot of attention wherever it goes.

The half-track had many roles in the war. Some were used as personnel carriers, others were mounted with anti-aircraft guns, he said.

"There are so many different configurations,"

He said the vehicle's top speed is 48 km/h and there is no air conditioning except for the windows.

"It's a cooker. We heated up a pizza on the floor yesterday. It melted the cheese and everything."

The vehicles aren't easy to come by. Hawthorne said most collectors hear through the grapevine about a motorcycle or transport truck rotting in a field somewhere and go rescue it.

He found his Second World War communications truck in Colorado. The vehicle was in disrepair and Hawthorne spent about 1,000 hours bringing her back to life.

"It was basically a piece of junk," he said.

Now the vehicle looks exactly like it did when it first came off the assembly line, at least on the outside. Hawthorne converted part of the inside into a camper for road trips.

"Sometimes it take two or three trucks just to make one," he said. There are a few businesses that also manufacture parts for vintage military vehicles.

David King bought his 1942 Harley Davidson from Ohio, loaded it on a U-Haul, and brought it to his home in Seattle. He spent hours restoring the motorcycle and added it to his collection of military vehicles, equipment and weaponry.

"It's my passion. It's how I show my respect for what (the veterans') generation did for the world," he said.

His dad and grandfather were both in the armed forces. His father fought in World War Two.

King rode the motorcycle all the way from Seattle to join Freedom Route Three. He said the bike doesn't ride like a new Harley. He shifts with his hands, works the clutch with one foot while maintaining balance with the other.

The bike is a hard tail, which means there is no suspension.

"You are usually numb from the waist down," he said.

The convoy is the third of its kind since 2005. The vehicles spent two hours in Kamloops before continuing to Chase.

jhewlett@kamloopsnews.ca

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