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Surplus military trucks get new lives

May. 23, 2013 - 10:51AM   |  
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NEW CASTLE, DEL. — They’ve served their country well. Getting parked in a nondescript dirt lot sure doesn’t seem like much of a final resting place.

For many of the camouflage-painted military trucks and trailers lined up in neat rows at the Truck Center near New Castle, it won’t be. The surplus vehicles will be snapped up by buyers, at pennies on the dollar for what they cost taxpayers, and gain a new lease on life.

“They’re built so tough,” said Ed Talley of Washington, N.C., who refurbishes what he buys and makes a living reselling them. “I’ve sold some trucks that were built in the ’70s. And ’60s. And they’re still out there goin’. They’re simple to work on — you don’t have all these computers.

“They hold up.”

Talley had come to the lot, in the industrial area north of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, on Wednesday to pick up a 5-ton M-923A2 cargo truck he’d bought for $4,500. After some work on it, he said, “I’d like to be able to sell it for 10 or 11 (thousand).”

His customers include loggers and construction firms, who also can buy direct from the Truck Center or some of the more than 200 other sites operated by Government Liquidation, the wholesaler with the exclusive contract to sell surplus government items that are not reutilized, transferred or donated by the government to other agencies or nonprofit groups.

Not every buyer is in it for the money. Some are collectors.

“The heaviest load this truck is gonna haul is probably me,” said Bruce Kubu of Damascus, Md., a military truck collector. “I have seven other trucks of varying eras, years, etc. I’ve probably owned 40 or 50 trucks over the years — including some tracked vehicles. And this truck is going in my collection.”

And at a sweet price. Kubu, the high bidder in the online-only process, paid $6,450 Wednesday for another M-923A2 cargo truck that cost $67,139 new.

His winning bid was in the normal range for a 5-ton, according to Linda Amos, a regional manager for Government Liquidation.

Federal and state agencies are among those that get first crack at government surplus, through the Defense Logistics Agency. If the items don’t move, they’re acquired by Government Liquidation, which buys nonscrap items outright and sends the government 1.8 percent of the original acquired value, after expenses are paid, keeping the profit. At five sites, including the Truck Center, only trucks are sold.

The vehicles are auctioned online in a manner akin to an eBay transaction. Bids start at $25. During the bidding period, buyers can look at online photos and videos, and are encouraged to visit the sites and look the trucks over. But they generally can’t be driven, and as a sign inside the Truck Center warns, “All items are sold as is, where is, without guarantees of any kind.”

Those that don’t find a buyer get scrapped. The company says it has sold more than 2 billion pounds of scrap of all types over the past decade.

Joe Dean of Rahway, N.J., already owns a 2½-ton military truck. But he’s looking forward to driving a dozen veterans in his newly acquired 5-ton M-925A1 cargo truck in a Memorial Day parade in Warren Township, N.J. “It’s just fun,” said Dean, who did not serve in the military. “My way of giving back.”

So, why buy another truck? “It’s just bigger, nicer, newer,” Dean said, grinning. “If I could have all of ’em, I would. You can never have enough.”

Some of Talley’s buyers are collectors who don’t mind paying more for a nicely reconditioned truck — although some of the vehicles already have been overhauled. Others are loggers — they like tractor trucks to haul loads on back roads, he said — and construction companies. He’s been doing this for about 15 years.

“They’re good deals,” Talley said.

And profitable — although, he said, “the past couple of years, it’s been real slow.” But the inquiries have picked up over the past six months, so he’s started buying more.

For one buyer, the trucks have been a lifeline. “It’s a fill-in business,” said George Meehan of Toms River, N.J., who bought 35 trucks last year for resale. “I haven’t made any money in five years as a used car dealer.” Thanks to the trucks, he said, “I’m making enough to pay all the bills.”

Meehan, like Dean, didn’t serve in the military but said he feels drawn to the military vehicles. “I just love it,” he said. “I like the way they feel, the way they sound.”

And in the truck resale business, he said, “Every day is a lot of fun. It’s completely different than cars. The people you meet in this are very nice.” He gestured toward Dean, who bought his first truck from Meehan on eBay a couple of years ago. They kept in touch, as he does with all his customers.

“And if the guys want to get something on their own, I’ll show them how to do it,” Meehan said. That’s why he was there Wednesday: to accompany Dean on his first wholesale purchase.

Dean strolled over after driving the truck up a ramp and onto the long flatbed that would carry his purchase home. He looked pleased.

“Congratulations,” said Meehan. “Thank you,” said Dean. They turned their eyes back toward the truck, now chained down and ready for the road.

“This looks better than when we first looked at it,” said Meehan. “I got a good feeling about this one,” Dean replied. They paused.

“This is like the girl you met, the day after, and she looks really good,” said Meehan. “Yeah,” said Dean, with a laugh. “She’s still nice to me.”

“That’s right,” said Meehan. “She didn’t give you a black eye.”

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