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September 14, 2008

Poaching Weasels

I tell people that I have one of the largest private collections of WWII amphibious vehicles in the country, and maybe that's true. I have 4 1/2. One DUKW, three weasels, and one weasel hull.

But I've played with these things enough and I'm bored with them and ready to move on to other things. Plus, I'm low on funds so I call Russ and tell him to come get my weasels.

Russ lives in Loveland, Colorado. He went to kindergarten there. Been there pretty much his whole life. I think that he makes his money in real estate, but as a hobby, he collects WWII vehicles.

He's on the short list of people you want to have around the campfire. He tells me he's coming up on Sunday, so I shoot Robert an email and tell him that he needs to show up Sunday afternoon.

So, on Sunday afternoon, Robert shows up. Then Russ. As usual, I'm not prepared. I've spent the afternoon shoveling out my bedroom. The dust was so thick on my dresser that plants could grow in it with a little water.

Russ and I have tentatively agreed on a price to sell one weasel and one weasel hull, assuming that we can get the weasel started and that it moves and that we can somehow load it and the weasel hull onto his 20 foot trailer.

He doesn't bring the trailer this time though. This is a reconnaissance run. Last time he came up here to see me, Alex and I were sighting in our rifles down at Cherry Creek Reservoir and we ran later than we thought and I missed him completely. So, he's hedging his bets this time. He's making a recon run first and he shows up in some little woman-sized white Honda car - the kind of vehicle that no self-respecting male would be caught dead in.

Now, I can't say for sure when the last time I drove this weasel was. Probably 5-6 years ago. The engine started making an expensive sounding knocking noise and I parked it in the barn and basically forgot about it. There was no plan to fix it and no plan to sell it. It was just sort of pushed into the periphery of my mind and forgot about it.

So now, we need to go down and start this beast and it has no battery and I have no gas at the house so we load up and drive down to Tiny Town and buy 10 gallons of gas and pump it into two Jerry cans and head back to the house.

"Did you forget I was coming?" Russ asks.

"Look. I got a 10 year old kid. She just left. I thought the football game was at 4:00. Give me a break. At least I'm here this time."

Russ laughs.

"You should come out with us when we put some rounds through the Stuart," he says.

"Christ. You've got a DD for that thing? You've got the breech block and the breech ring for it?" I ask.

"Sure do," he replies.

"Christ. You're retarded. You know that now they have the right to search your house any time, day or night, right?" I challenge.

"Kiser....they can do that any way. What world have you been living in? You're still operating under the illusion that this is a free country."

And then he laughs again. He has this sincere, contagious laugh that lets you know that he really hasn't a care in the world. He does not have a boss. He does not have a job. He shoots live 37 mm rounds of ammunition out of his WWII M5 tank on his ranch.

These are the people you want to be around. People that live without fear. Without reason.

"Have you seen my Sherman?" he asks.

"Huh? I've seen your Stuart," I reply. I knew he had an M5 "Stuart" tank, but as tanks go, it's pretty gay. It has a 37mm turret like an M8 Greyhound. Wimpy, so far as tanks go.

"When did you get a Sherman?" I ask.

"About two years ago."


Like, when a guy tells you he's got a Sherman tank, well, I mean, it doesn't get much cooler than that in my book. OK...Maybe if he'd said he had a P-51 Mustang. But a Sherman tank is way cool.

So we get back to the house and I take the battery out of the Tahoe and haul it down to the barn on the four wheeler.

Russ has already figured how handy Robert is to have around. He's got every tool you could imagine shoved into his pocket and, if he's around, you're never in need of a light, a pistol, or any tool you might possibly want.

Robert replaced all of the bulbs in the barn while Russ looked around, taking close inventory of everything on the shelves. Crates of WWII canvas and ammo and things that most people would search for a lifetime to find but never stumble across. I've got it all in spades and this does not escape his attention.

I put the battery in the weasel and now we've all got our sleeves rolled up, trying to breathe life into this 63 year old beast.

We hook up the battery and run a fuel hose into one of the Jerry cans and Russ turns on the ignition and the fuel pump starts whirring and clicking and pumping gas all over the generator and the starter and suddenly I remember why I'm selling this disaster.

The weasel is easily the most dangerous vehicle ever created. The fuel is pumped from a 40 gallon gas tank, over the generator and starter to the carburetor which sits about 18 inches from the battery. All of this is immediately to the right of the driver, on the other side of a piece of sheet metal about 2mm thick. Basically a disaster waiting to happen.

If the weasel throws a rod, it could easily sever the driver's spine or shatter his hip. I say "his", because I've never seen a woman drive one. I doubt you'd be able to find a woman dumb enough to try. It's basically little more than a steel, human rat-trap.

I've driven weasels about as much as anyone, I'd wager. And I've seen people bail out of my weasel with fear in their eyes. One night, a cushion got pulled down against the exhaust pipe by the drive shaft, creating enormous clouds of blinding, toxic fumes, and forcing an evacuation of the weasel.

Once, the battery turned over, shorting out the battery cables, producing a glowing light as bright as the landing lights on a 747, again prompting a bail-out.

Once, the weasel poured enough fuel on the starter than it caught on fire and burned while Robert and I stood helplessly by.

No seat belts. No keys. No ignition. Safety glass? Surely you jest. These things were shipped and operated with dynamite mounted above the crank case lest they fall into enemy hands. Safety wasn't a primary concern when these things were rolling off the Studebaker assembly line in South Bend, Indiana during WWII.

No one with any sense would ever go near a weasel, much less try to start one and operate it. They are little more than steel suicide booths.

So, where was I? Oh right....Russ is pushing the ignition button and the fuel pump is pumping raw gas through the cracked fuel line, sending fuel crashing down onto the generator in waves. It's pooling up in the bottom of the weasel hull because the weasel is amphibious, right? That's right....it's got a hull like a boat...so the gas can't drain out, but just puddles up in the hull. Robert and I have already opened the two barn windows, but the gas fumes in here are so thick I'm about to pass out and gas is running....no...pouring onto the generator and Russ is pushing the button to start the weasel and it's turning over but not firing when I notice that he's smoking a cigar.

"Are you fucking insane?" I ask him. "What is wrong with you?"

"What?" he asks innocently. Sometimes, the rich people are this way. They just get so far removed from the world around them that things no longer connect. Nothing gets through.

"Put that cigar out you retard," I command. But he just ignores me. He's the mechanic, after all. Not me. I send Robert inside to get all the fire extinguishers he can find. Last time I watched a weasel burn, I went and bought about 12 fire extinguishers. True, it's basically closing the barn door after all the horses have gotten out, but better late the never, right?

So Robert comes out with 4 or 5 fire extinguishers and gets the biggest one and stands on top of the weasel so that when it burns, he's going to be all over it this time. Last time, we stood back and watched it burn, but this time - we're ready.

This particular weasel is about six inches shorter than it should be because it was involved in a massive pileup in my driveway. It was involved in a four vehicle accident in my driveway that resulted in thousands of dollars in damage, in which I was the only driver.

Think about that....I wrecked four of my own vehicles in one accident, and knocked bricks off my house in the process, and I was the only driver involved. I was dead sober and lucky that I lived to tell of it.

This wasn't the only time the weasel hit the house. I managed to hit the house at least twice that I can remember. I remember those times because I can still see the scars where I crashed into the house.

The weasel fires some, and turns over, but doesn't start. Russ thinks to check the oil and there's none in it, of course. So we pour in about 4 quarts of 40 weight oil and then he checks the anti-freeze/water level in the radiator and there's nothing in there either so we fill it up with the old-school dog-killing anti-freeze.

Eventually, the weasel fires up and I get it into low range and start trying to work it out of the garage. When it's running, you wonder why you'd ever want to sell it. But after it warms up, it starts burning oil and the knocking sound returns and I back it out of the garage and if it had any keys, I'd toss them to Russ, but it doesn't and his phone rings and he's got to get down the hill and meet his wife and he tells me he'll be back on Wednesday to pick it up and I say "Thank You."

Posted by Rob Kiser on September 14, 2008 at 8:58 PM


Hey Rob, It looks like it might be a little cool up there! We're still suffering in the 90's. Weasel didn't sound that bad!

Posted by: Molly on September 15, 2008 at 6:38 AM

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