Big boy's big toy: Collector has working 1944 troop carrier

Kids love playing with toys, but even adults would have fun with a Second World War military vehicle.

Norfolk County resident David Wassenich has a unique item that would make collectors and military enthusiasts – and the kid in everyone – envious: a functioning 1944 Studebaker M29C Weasel.

“I’ve always loved military vehicles, even as a kid, but owning a tank . . . I didn't realize the general public could,” Wassenich, 39, said.

Wassenich, who collects Second World War memorabilia and other stuff, said he came across the nearly two-tonne vehicle on Facebook Marketplace several years ago, and bought it from a seller in Wiarton, a town about 220 kilometres north of London.

The Weasel isn’t a tank, like the Holy Roller M4A2 Sherman displayed in London's Victoria Park, and had no turret or gun. It was used to carry cargo and soldiers on the battlefield, where its tracks helped it navigate precarious terrain.

Studebaker, an automaker, converted from producing civilian vehicles to war goods after the attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941.

Some 15,000 were built in various versions and used by the U.S., British, Canadian and French armies during and after the war and in Korea, online sources say. Many were later sold as surplus to allies and civilians.

While long gone from military service, some Weasels soldier on in civilian use 80 years later.

Wassenich has heard his was used as a tractor on a farm in Arizona. Others – taking advantage of its rough terrain and amphibious capabilities – were used to reach remote hunting camps.

The father of three said he’s been fascinated with the Second World War since childhood and was curious about the laws of owning a vehicle like a tank.

“I started looking into it and it’s actually legal,” he said. “A (vehicle) like mine falls under the laws of tractors, so as long as it doesn’t damage the road, and has a slow-moving sign on it, and you drive on the shoulder, it’s considered OK.”

Though the engine and gearbox have been replaced with a Chevy powerplant and an automatic transmission, it's otherwise "a genuine 1944 Studebaker Weasel” that Wassenich suspects saw wartime action because of when it was built.

For those interested in his Weasel, it’s for sale – kind of.

“It’s kind of always for sale to . . . the right buyer. I’m not going to sell it to (just) anybody,” Wassenich said. “If someone was going to cut it up and turn it into something else, I wouldn’t sell it to them, because it’s a piece of history.”

For would-be buyers who qualify, the vehicle is listed at $15,000.

And collector Wassenich is angling for another one: "I’m already in talks," he said.

But if you're thinking of buying something like a Weasel, you better have some mechanical skills, Wassenich said.

“It’s not like your Toyota Corolla, where you can drive down to the dealership and get a part or have a mechanic work on it,” he said. “You kind of have to be handy to work on something like that. Where do you take a tank to get fixed?”

Brian Williams, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press