A parade of U.S. firepower
German re-enactor Kevin Fitzgerald of Philadelphia stands alongside a Volkswagen Kubelwagen. Nearby are two World War II era German military motorcycles. The one on the left is a BMW motorcycle while the black one on the right is a much rarer and higher quality motorcycle called a Zundap
The thump of tires and the rumble of tracks may sound like a collection of jeeps, trucks, or tanks, but at last weekend's military event at the West End Fairgrounds in Gilbert, it was something entirely different.
The sound is made by a military vehicle with a truck-styled body - a unique hybrid combination of both tires and tracks - called a Halftrack, a vehicle with regular wheels on the front for steering, and caterpillar tracks on the back to propel the vehicle and carry most of the load.
Last weekend was "halftrack heaven" for both military and history enthusiasts attending the Redball Military Transport Club's annual "Rally and Swap Meet" at the fairgrounds. That's because there were four different operational halftrack vehicles present, along with a wide diversity of over 100 other military vehicles, ranging from World War II to Desert Storm.
According to Gilbert Rally director Jim Gilmore, "this was one of the largest gatherings of Halftracks in one location since World War II."
During World War II, the halftrack provided cross-country capabilities and the handling of a wheeled vehicle. The handling part was a great advantage over fully-tracked vehicles like tanks.
The main advantage of halftracks over wheeled vehicles is that the tracks reduce the vehicle's overall ground pressure and give it greater mobility over soft terrain like mud and snow. They do not require the complex steering mechanisms of fully tracked vehicles, relying instead on their front wheels to direct the vehicle, augmented in some cases by track braking controlled by the steering wheel.
Not only were the rugged halftracks used to transport troops to battle, but they provided potent firepower in both ground combat and for anti-aircraft support.
Members of Redball Military Transport Club also show off their vehicles in parades, reenactments and civic and veterans' events.
In addition to their annual September rally, they also host a Winter Swap Meet every February at Memorial Hall on West 10th street in Jim Thorpe.