Mechanical Mule: The Ultimate 4-Wheeler

Some 4-wheelers are just for fun, and some are for fun or work. Then there's the Mechnical Mule. The Mule is unlike any 4-wheeler on the market. It's a self-propelled wagon, tow truck and walk-behind flatbed all rolled into one. This surplus military utility vehicle can be outfitted with extra seats, a winch, a blade or even a 106 mm recoilless rifle. The 48 by 95-in. vehicle fits inside a standard pickup truck bed and can be stored on its side when not in use.

"I use mine to haul wood to the house all winter long, leave it parked outside, start it at 30 below and haven't done more than change oil on it in more than 10 years," says Terry Markarian, owner, Mechanical Mules of America (MMA). "They were introduced in the early 1950's and were designed to be more maneuverable and carry more than a Jeep. They were manufactured through the 1970's. A Mule could be airdropped, land on its side or top, be righted and driven away."

The 14 hp (military rated), four-stroke, two-cycle aluminum motor needs no cooling system and fits in a compact space under the bed. The driver's seat sits on the front edge of the Mule with a foot basket that extends forward and down. The hand controls, also at the front edge, combine with a flop-down steering wheel to make walk-behind control easy.

Not only does the Mule have 4-WD, but it also has crab steering for extreme maneuverability. The transmission has three forward and one reverse gear, with a high and low range for each. Stick it in first gear, low range, and Markarian says the rig can go almost anywhere. All four wheels are locked, meaning it keeps going as long as even one wheel has traction.

MMA claims to be the only remaining refitter for the Mule. When Markarian and his crew take a surplus Mule out of mothballs, it is torn apart with all metal sandblasted, primed and repainted. All sealed bearings are unsealed, inspected and resealed. Motors are pulled out, inspected, tested and replaced. A new carburetor and fuel pump to handle modern gas are installed, as well as any other parts that need to be replaced, reconditioned or rebuilt. MMA has a specially built "rotisserie" that allows the mechanics to rotate the machine 360 degrees for further work. The original electrical system is replaced with a 12-volt system including starter, alternator, battery and front and rear lights. New upholstery is added, and the reconditioned unit is test driven by Markarian.