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Russ Cassidy's 1955 Dodge M37 includes a .30 calibre Browning machine gun (decommissioned). (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)
Russ Cassidy's 1955 Dodge M37 includes a .30 calibre Browning machine gun (decommissioned). (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)

Classic car

'This is one old warrior that isn't going to fade away' Add to ...

Dah Dah - Dit Dit Dit Dah Dah - Dah Dah Dit Dit Dit

Perhaps not many will be aware the above "dots" and "dashes" represent the letter M and the numerals three and seven in Morse code, but former Canadian Army signaller Russ Cassidy likely still does as he spent three years of his youth tapping out messages on a wireless set mounted in the back of a Dodge M37 three-quarter-ton truck.

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On the other hand, the countless fans of the TV comedy series M*A*S*H* will readily recognize the rugged profile of the M37 as belonging to the trucks and M43 ambulances that appeared in just about every episode.

The Dodge M37 was designed in the late 1940s as part of an effort to update the U.S. military's equipment and went into production late in 1950 just in time for the Korean War. It was based on the Second World War WC-series trucks with a new pickup-style rear box and other modernizing features but was still powered by a 1930s-era, flathead six-cylinder engine displacing 230 cubic inches and making 78 hp, with a four-speed transmission and four-wheel-drive. About 116,000 of various types were built up to 1968.

Canada ordered some 4,500 M37s from Chrysler's Windsor, Ont., plant to support our Korean War effort but Cassidy's was delivered in 1955, after the armistice. Canadian versions had insulated steel cab tops (instead of canvas), heaters and a 251-cubic-inch, 94-hp, flathead six.

Cassidy's M37 may have missed Korea, but he believes it served with Canadian peacekeepers in Cyprus and possibly in the Suez Crisis. It then probably went to a militia unit, rolling up just 27,000 miles before being declared surplus in the early 1970s.

Cassidy grew up in Napanee, Ont., and joined the Canadian army for a three-year stint after high school in 1965. After signing up, he was singled out for the signal corps and assigned to the 1st Canadian Signals Regiment. And, in typical military "snafu" fashion, after joining up to see the world, was posted to duties 30 km from home in Kingston.

He did at least get to see a big chunk of Canada though, most of it from behind the wheel of an M37 wireless truck during the Cross Canada Canoe Pageant celebrating Canada's centennial in 1967. His unit was tasked with supporting provincial teams of canoeists paddling from Rocky Mountain House in Alberta to Expo 67 Montreal over a period of four months.

Memories? "Rolling a Jeep in Saskatchewan and 157 days without using a flush toilet."

But with amalgamation of the forces imminent, the allure of a peacetime army faded and Cassidy joined the Ontario Provincial Police, spending much of his career as a detective and member of the special penitentiary squad and later working with tactical units and border security during the 9/11 period. He also married and had a couple of children.

Nostalgia for his own experiences led to an interest in military vehicles, and after retiring in 2001 he began looking for an M-type ambulance or wireless van. What he found was his M37 three-quarter-tonner just down the road in Cornwall, Ont., and he purchased it last year, from an owner who'd always treated it well. "When I picked it up all I had to do was pay for it and turn the key," he says.

Helping boost its nostalgia value is its original if not exactly pristine condition. "In the army we painted them with a brush and washed them down with alcohol to make them shiny for parades."

Actually his olive drab M-37 looks considerably better than that, but when he brought it home he says his wife Marlene's initial reaction was, "It's ugly.

"So I bought a couple of hanging baskets of flowers and hung them from the grille. It didn't help. She still said it looked ugly. But not to me it isn't."

Cassidy has loaded the cargo bed with period military equipment acquired by applying his skills as a detective to tracking down items for his antique business. And he obviously had an eye out for anything military. "With the idea that if I was ever lucky enough to find a truck, I'd have something to put in the back." The kit in the M37 includes a ground to air tactical radio set, ammo boxes and a .30 calibre Browning machine gun (decommissioned) mounted behind the cab.

Cassidy didn't get to play with his new toy much last year after being sidelined for six months by a heart attack and quadruple emergency bypass surgery, but both veterans were back in action this past spring.

The M37 makes appearances at area car shows, but for Cassidy it's also a daily driver that regularly carries him on runs to Tim Hortons. Top speed is about 50 mph (80 km/h) but it cruises happily at about 38 mph (61 km/h). "In fact we're both happy cruising at 38 mph," says Cassidy, who likes the idea his old truck didn't end up rusting away behind a barn as so many have.

"This is one old warrior that isn't going to fade away. In fact neither one of us is going to go that quietly. I guess you can tell I love the truck."

Back in 1955

The "Richard Riot" in Montreal - provoked by the season-ending suspension of star Maurice Richard by NHL President Clarence Campbell for punching out a linesman - breaks out when Campbell turns up at the Forum for the Canadiens' first game after the suspension is imposed.

The Guinness Book of World Records is published for the first time and some years later becomes the highest selling copyrighted book in the world, thus earning an entry in its own pages.

The television version of the western thriller Gunsmoke (on radio since the 1940s) debuts on CBS with tall, gun-toting James Arness playing Marshal Matt Dillon.

Tragedy at Le Mans when a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh leaves the track and becomes airborne before crashing into the crowd, killing 83 people and injuring 120.

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