This is a perfect example of a peacetime use for a wartime technology. Pictured here is Gary from Hot Springs, Vietnam War Green Beret medic, Desert Storm veteran, thrice-over grandfather, second generation tool-and die maker, and captain of my duck.

Make that DUKW, known as "ducks" to World War II veterans. From 1942 to 1945, Detroit made some twenty thousand of these amphibious vehicles for the armed forces. The ducks could be loaded with cargo from a ship, take a short cruise to shore, drive up the beach, onto the road and to the depot. Using amphibious vehicles, there would be no unloading of cargo from small boats onto the beach and then reloading of the same cargo onto trucks to be taken inland.

Chicago DUKW Corporation, an outfit that restores and maintains DUKW's, estimates that 200 of these machines remain operational today, most of them in tour operations like the three companies offering Duck Rides in Hot Springs. The three companies have a combined fleet of twelve DUKW's, six percent of all operational DUKW's, suggesting that Hot Springs is the DUKW's capitol of the world.

I recommend taking a duck ride if only to get some historical feel for the WWII technology and some sympathy for the WWII GI's. Even though some efforts are made for the comfort of modern passengers (contoured seats and a canvas canopy, for example), the ride is rough and noisy by tour bus standards, especially sitting in the front. Don't forget, this is a combat technology. It's heavy, it's coarse, it's loud, it rattles and bounces. On the other hand, the one-inch armor plating offers some protection from stray bullets during deer season. The tour lasts about an hour and a half, which is about twenty minutes longer than the duration of the novelty. And when it's done, you'll have spent more time in a DUKW than most WWII veterans.

On the tour, along with the regular tourist sites like Bill Clinton's old high school, you'll see Bridge Street, at just under 70 feet, the shortest street in the world, as listed in the Guinness Book. On the lake part of the tour, you'll cruise past Al Capone's retirement home. He had the place built, but was convicted of tax evasion before he could move in. Your guide will also point out the homes of other famous people like Donna Douglas and Raymond Burr.

These particular DUKW's didn't see any military action, nor did any you're likely to find in the U.S. At the end of the war, it wasn't worth the effort or expense of shipping them home. Those that could not be sold for scrap on the spot (for fifty dollars) were scuttled.


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