Driving a DUKW & the origin of the Dublin Viking ROAR!! | Season 2 – Episode 49
John Furlong is no stranger to the Ireland Made channel having previously featured alongside his World War 2 DUKW amphibious truck in two of our videos; ‘Talking DUKWs in Dublin | Season 1 – Episode 92’ and ‘DUKW in Dublin | Season 1 – Episode 98’. While John shared in detail the history of and restoration of his DUKW, there was one part of the story we wanted to revisit with him – what is a DUKW like to drive and where did the Viking roar come from?
John Furlong’s family has been in the transport business since his father started Furlong Coaches in the mid-1970s. John drives a bus in font-line tourism, and it was when he was driving bus tours of the Normandy beaches that his interest in the vehicles of World War 2 began. John considers himself to be an ‘old skool’ mechanic and in 1998 he lent his knowledge of the DUKW 6×6 amphibious truck to assist with the establishment of Dublin’s award-wining Viking Splash Tours. His collection includes a 1945 DUKW, several Jeeps, a Greeves motorcycle and a Dodge WC – 51.
The DUKW amphibious truck was commissioned by the National Defence research committee (NDRC) who ordered a prototype from General Motors Corporation (GMC) and they in turn engaged New York yacht designers Sparkman and Stephens. Their design used the G-508 (the original “Deuce and a Half”) GMC truck, popularly known as the ‘Jimmy’. To which they fitted a watertight hull and a propeller. Every fourth DUKW was armed, usually with a ring mounted M2 Browning machine gun and unusually this 1945 DUKW was fitted with a 25-pounder gun mounted within the hull.
The DUKW was a unique vehicle that combined many ordinary components into an extraordinary machine. Power for road and water use came from a GMC 270 straight-six engine using a 5-speed overdrive transmission that drove a transfer case for the propeller and a 2-speed (high and low ratio) transfer case to drive the axles. From the transfer case front wheel drive and the propeller were selectable. In addition, a power-take-off on the transmission drove an air compressor and heavy-duty winch.
The DUKW name came from the internal naming system used by the General Motors Corporation (GMC):
D – 1942 production series
U – utility vehicle
K – front wheel drive
W – tandem rear axles, both driven
John’s own DUKW was built in 1945 by the Yellow Truck and Bus Company (GMC) in Pontiac MI. After the war this DUKW was shipped to Italy and used by the Italian fire service. It sat for a while in a field beside Lake Geneva and from there it was transported to Germany in 2008 to undergo restoration for the soon to be established Viking Splash Tours, Berlin. Unfortunately, due to the economic downturn in Germany at that time this project did not proceed, and John was able to buy the DUKW and bring it back to Ireland for restoration. John has all of the parts, nuts and bolts required to restore his DUKW and is aiming to restore his DUKW to the condition in which it left the factory in 1945.
Back to our two very important questions, (1) what is a DUKW like to drive and (2) where did the Viking roar come from?
In John’s own words, a DUKW does what a duck does – there is a lot going on under the water!! As for driving a DUKW, it is a lot of fun. Power comes from a 6-cylinder GMC petrol engine, through a 5-speed gearbox and high-low transfer box.
The four rear wheels are all driven for road driving and the front wheels are engaged for all-wheel drive when exiting the water, before the rear wheels hit land. The propeller is driven from the engine via a marine box. In the water all of the wheels are driving along with the propeller. The control for the rudder is via a cable and a series of pulleys attached to the steering wheel.
There is no power steering, it was not required as DUKW’s were designed so that the steering wheel would only be turned when the vehicle was moving.
When driving on the road, the DUKW driver sat in an elevated position and having a number of mirrors was essential. The original mirrors were small by modern standards, but effective.
On-road maneuverability is poor as the steering circle is very wide and numerous backward and forward turns are necessary to negotiate sharp turns. Top speed on the road is an acceptable 45 mph (72 kph) and as there is no sound proofing, just bare aluminium it is very noisy. According to John the very best bit is driving from the road into the water and the BIG splash!! That butterflies moment, when you see the nose of the DUKW go under the water and surge back up again. It always floats, but it is still a butterflies moment!
When steering in the water there is a difference between a tourist DUKW and a military version as the tourist version will have higher sides and a roof and will inevitably catch the wind. Whereas a military version will sit lower in the water and not be a susceptible to cross winds.
In 1999 when John was working to set up Viking Splash Tours, driver training was a priority as this person had to be a driver, city tour guide and a Viking. A professional actor from the Gaiety School of Acting was brought in to help train the drivers to express themselves as Vikings. On a training run through the street of Dublin, the actor suggested that they roar at people, because that is what Vikings do and so the famous Viking Splash Tours Viking roar was born. No one is safe even Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) News Reporter Flor McCarthy got ROARED at!
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Video & photo credit:
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The Stag Company
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