John Engelke is showing his World War II amphibious craft at this week’s military vehicle convention in Portland, but the DUKW isn’t just a display. It was his ride down the Columbia River.
Engelke plunged the former U.S. Army vehicle into the river on Monday at the Tri-Cities and ended the voyage Wednesday morning when he drove the DUKW up the boat ramp at Vancouver’s Marine Park.
The Benton City resident was accompanied by his son J.T. Engelke, 12, and Kennewick residents Larry Lucas and Art Moore. The three men are members of the Tri-City Military Vehicle Club.
The DUKW will be among hundreds of vehicles — including several from the Clark County area — on display at the Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s international convention. The event starts today and runs through Saturday at the Portland Expo Center, 2060 N. Marine Drive.
Engelke and his group left the river a few times during their voyage. They camped out Monday and Tuesday nights at parks along the river, and Engelke drove around two dams when the lock schedule didn’t match their travel timetable.
The 31-footer is a nice-riding craft, Engelke said, even though they hit some energetic stretches of river. At one point, Moore said, waves were going over the canvas-covered .50-caliber machine gun mounted on top of the DUKW.
After rolling ashore, Engelke went back into the water for a brief spin with several people who’d watched the DUKW arrive, including his uncle, Gail Klopp of Vancouver.
Local vehicle collectors are among the organizers of the international show. Woodland resident Dennis Ripp is president of the Military Vehicle Collectors Club of Oregon, which is hosting the convention.
Ripp and several other Southwest Washington collectors drove a convoy of vehicles to the Expo Center before the Wednesday morning commuting rush. The rolling display of military history from Woodland and Cowlitz County included another DUKW, a World War II U.S. Army M8 armored car, two Jeeps and a weapons carrier.
“Several people in the club have tanks,” Ripp added.
Several DUKW owners will be giving rides to the public in the Columbia River from 3-5 p.m. Saturday. Advance registration is required; tickets are $25.
The fact that these machines still run isn’t merely nice: It’s part of the competition.
“That’s a judging requirement,” said Jack Giesen, a Vancouver veteran who is a member of the Oregon club. “They have to run under their own power to be judged.”
Giesen and his 1942 Dodge three-quarter-ton weapons carrier are familiar sights at Vancouver parades and military heritage events.
“I got it in 1986. It looked pretty terrible. It took 10 years, off and on” to complete the restoration, Giesen said.
You don’t find a lot of these parts at a wrecking yard.
“I got the air cleaner from Australia,” Giesen said. “It was a used original.”
These pieces of military surplus often go through several owners, so there isn’t always a war story to go with the vehicle. But every once in a while, there’s a connection.
One of the Oregon collectors acquired an Army V-100 armored car that had been used in Vietnam. Somehow, he got in touch with one of the vehicle’s old crew members.
The Vietnam veteran told the collector that the crew had named their six-wheeled armored car “Proud Mary” and gave it a paint job that wasn’t exactly regulation Army. The new owner will give “Proud Mary” a ’60s psychedelic makeover, Ripp said.