By sunrise Saturday, a fleet of 60 antique military vehicles dating back to World War II filled a parking lot at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. But they weren't on display.
"We rebuilt, restore and drive these vehicles," said Dan McCluskey, coordinator of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association's 2017 cross-country convoy. "We're not the guys who put them on trailers and haul them to museums. We get out and drive these vehicles just like they were designed to do."
Following historic U.S. Route 66, the collections of jeeps, trucks, ambulances and motorcycles will travel 2,150 miles in 29 days before reaching the Pacific Ocean pier in Santa Monica, California, said McCluskey, noting that every detail of the trip has been worked out during two years of planning. This is the fourth convoy by the not-for-profit group, which boasts the slogan, "History In Motion."
"Going 35 miles per hour or slower, you get to see things," said Janine McCluskey, who rides alongside her husband at the front of the convoy in their 1964 Dodge M43 ambulance. The couple have been married for 42 years and journeyed thousands of miles on the previous three cross-country treks. Vehicles, many of which get around 10 miles per gallon, include motorcycles, Jeeps, trucks and 7.5-ton trailer trucks. Some of the drivers manned such vehicles during their military careers.
"We have them from almost every state, seven from New Zealand, one from Australian, one from Puerto Rico, and another one from France," Dan McCluskey said of the drivers.
Peter Haigh, 61, of Auckland, said his New Zealand buddies shipped a Bedford truck to Seattle and drove it to Wheaton, while others bought a Dodge M37 truck in Cleveland for the trip. Haigh's manning the rescue unit at the back of the convoy to handle mechanical problems. "We've got 10 minutes to get them going or change a flat tire or whatever, or then we put them on our trailer," Haigh said.
Some drivers stay in hotels, but Alabama residents Lamar, 79, and Jewell Roland, 75, say they take advantage of the bunk beds and a bathroom in the back of their 1990 truck from Operation Desert Storm.
"I have a World War II Jeep and a Korean War Jeep," said Herb Wehling, a 90-year-old WW II veteran from Wheaton, as he watched the procession from a folding chair with his rescue dog, Knucklehead, at his side. "I drove a Jeep all over Europe."
"It's just amazing how many flags are out," Janine McCluskey said of the welcome the group receives in towns along the path. "It's like a giant parade across America."