Dispatches - News from the National Musuem of Military Vehciles

Published 2023-05-11

The M274 "Mechanical Mule" at The National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming, near Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.

By Staff

A Unique Vehicle - The M274 "Mechanical Mule"

The M274 "Mechanical Mule" was used extensively by the U.S. on the battlefield in Vietnam to carry supplies, weapon systems, and sometimes casualties over almost any terrain. With 4x4 drive and 4-cylinder engine, this low silhouette vehicle could carry up to 1/2 ton and could be driven remotely by a control cable.

In the 1950s, the United States Army had a problem. They needed a small, lightweight vehicle that could carry supplies and equipment across rough terrain, but the vehicles available at the time were either too large and heavy or not durable enough to handle the job. The solution came in the form of the M274 "Mechanical Mule," a unique vehicle that would prove to be an important asset for the military for decades to come.

The M274 was designed by Willys-Overland Motors, the same company that had produced the Jeep for the military during World War II. The goal was to create a small, four-wheeled vehicle that could carry up to 1,000 pounds of cargo, travel over rough terrain, and be transported by helicopter or other aircraft.

The result was a compact, lightweight vehicle that weighed just 840 pounds and measured 105 inches in length, 54 inches in width, and 45 inches in height. It was powered by a 12-horsepower engine and had a top speed of 25 miles per hour.

One of the most innovative features of the M274 was its suspension system. The vehicle used a series of interconnected bars and springs that allowed each wheel to move independently, which helped the Mule maintain traction and stability over rough terrain. This system also made the Mule highly maneuverable, allowing it to turn on a dime and navigate tight spaces with ease.

The M274 was also designed to be versatile and adaptable. It could be fitted with a wide range of equipment and accessories, including cargo beds, trailers, snow plows, and even machine guns. This made it useful for a variety of tasks, from transporting supplies to supporting infantry operations.

The Mule was used extensively during the Vietnam War, where its compact size and off-road capabilities made it invaluable for transporting supplies and equipment in the rugged terrain of Southeast Asia. The Mule was also used to support special forces operations, where its ability to be transported by helicopter made it an important asset for rapid deployment.

After the Vietnam War, the Mule continued to serve the military in a variety of roles. It was used by the Army, Navy, and Marines, and even saw action in the Persian Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan.

The M274 was also used by civilian organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. Its small size and maneuverability made it useful for transporting personnel and equipment in remote locations, such as national parks and wilderness areas.

Today, the M274 is no longer in production, but it remains a beloved piece of military history. Many collectors and enthusiasts have restored and preserved these unique vehicles, which are now sought after for their historical significance and off-road capabilities.

The M274 "Mechanical Mule" was a remarkable vehicle that helped to fill an important niche in the military's transportation capabilities. Its small size, lightweight design, and off-road capabilities made it invaluable for a variety of tasks, from transporting supplies to supporting infantry operations. Its unique suspension system and adaptability made it a versatile asset, and its use in conflicts around the world proved its effectiveness in a variety of settings.

Today, the Mule stands as a testament to the ingenuity and innovation of the American military, and to the men and women who served on the front lines of some of the most challenging conflicts in modern history. You can see the vehicle on display at The National Museum of Military Vehicles. We are a top Jackson, Wyoming attraction, and a short,scenic and not crowded drive from Jackson Hole. See the museum, and the M274 "Mechanical Mule" which remains an important piece of military and automotive history.