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40-ton Tank Transporter 'Dragon Wagon'
(M26 12-ton Tractor & M15 Semi-Trailer)
(M18 76mm Gun Motor Carriage - Tank Destroyer 'Hell Cat')

12th Armored Division, 134th Armored Vehicle Maintenance Battalion
Rhineland, Germany, Early 1945

Tamiya Con 1998 - Photo Copyright (c) 1998, Gary Zuercher
All Rights Reserved

Copyright (c) 2000, Jim Lewis
All Rights Reserved


If not the largest American vehicle used in World War II, then the 'Dragon Wagon' must be the best known of the heavy haulers. Designed to recover the M4 Medium Tank from frontline battlefield conditions, the 'Dragon Wagon' could tow the tank if the running gear was intact - or haul the entire tank up on the flatbed trailer.

Though the vehicle was rated to transport 40 tons - the weight of the M4 Medium Tank - the 'Dragon Wagon' often hauled far more. Virtually anything the crew could put on the flatbed could be hauled by this truck. Loads up to 100,000 pounds were not unusual for the 'Dragon Wagon'.

The first version of the 'Dragon Wagon' had an armor plated cab to protect the crew. It was anticipated that the vehicle would be employed while under enemy fire. This additional weight, however, belabored the tractor severely and impacted its overall performance. When tank recovery under fire didn't prove the case in actual use in Western Europe, the M26A1 variant was developed. This being an unarmored cab, open topped and radically different in appearance from the armored version.

This miniature is the largest unit in my collection. The M26 Tank Transporter itself has close to 1000 pieces in it - and was built long before photoetch and resin detail parts came along to dress up the basic model kit. A lot of effort, sweat, and work went into completing the miniature overall, so much so that it was no longer "fun". If there truly is a limit to modeling - then this subject ranks right up there. Until you tackle one of these beasts, you won't know where I'm coming from in describing it.

Much has already been said and written about the subject to be original here. So, these pages are broken down in to the subject's three basic pieces: the M26 Tractor, M15 Semi-Trailer, and M18 Hell Cat Tank Destroyer being transported. 


The M26 Tractor was the most intense part of the overall miniature. It took more time and detailing effort to bring it up to the level of the AFV Club M18 Hell Cat Tank Destroyer I'd position on the M15 Semi-Trailer than it did to build the other two assemblies! Though an awesome effort and engineering job, I had to address, cleanup, and detail every part in this unit. Many, many, details are lost in the overall final product, as there are layers upon layers of details in the depths of the miniature. Today, years later, I still wonder if it was worth it. If I could say I had fun with it, it was in the little details. Today, it has a commanding presence on my bedroom end table and it makes me smile when I look upon it.

From a competition standpoint, this is a difficult subject to judge and hope to win an award with. I've been fortunate enough to win three Best of Shows and some special awards along the way with it, but I didn't win them all. I think it's too much to swallow at one time - for both the model builder and the prospective judge, and I know when I look at another Dragon Wagon on the table - my eyes go to all the weak spots of the kit - and there's a LOT of them. I doubt anyone could address them all - if they want the finish the kit in a year's time :-) In retrospect, if Tamiya had done the same job on the Dragon Wagon as they did with their fantastic FAMO and Trailer combination - the Dragon Wagon might fall into the category of "unbuildable" - as you'd likely never finish it!

I finished this miniature before I created my website and before I seriously considered photographing miniature projects along the way. Perhaps one day I'll feel spry enough the revisit this subject, and I'll take photos. However, I've got many, many, commissioned projects on the front burner - don't hold your breath - look how long it took me to upload these photos! :-)

Even though the rear vehicles took some punishment during service, I wanted to model a relatively clean and well-maintained unit. The extreme weathering some modelers prefer for their miniatures actually detracts from the overall study of the subject. Both miniatures represent a combination of vehicles recently entering the European Theater for the thrust into Germany in early 1945.

The M26 12-ton Tractor is a nice unit all by itself - and lends well to superdetailing efforts. Basically, everything is correct and generously detailed. If you're not as crazy as I am, then the basic Tamiya effort is pleasing enough as presented in the box. Strapping is done with painted 3M Post It Notes, as this is easy to work with white glue. All tie-downs are .010" brass wire. Missing weld bead detail was done with .010" Plastruct styrene microstock. All markings are combinations of Archer and Railroad Scenics dry-transfers, and Italeri, Microscale, and Superscale water-slide decals. Amongst the scratchbuilt additions to the M26 Tractor are windshield inserts, complete with wiper arms, blades, and motors. These weren't always fitted (they're removable and stored in the Cab when not in use), as the truck was driven with them off, but were a feature of the actual vehicle. This is a detail easily missed. I also scratchbuilt the ammo racks in the Cabin too. The kit parts were acceptable, but with the doors opened, I sought greater detail. A large part of the Cabin interior, the Black Hawk Tool Chest was not included in the model kit. I scratchbuilt mine. A length of Builders In Scale chain was added to the Spotlight Handle inside the Cabin roof and a handle added to the Cabin interior roof accordingly. The Engine House was detailed according to the photos in the Technical Manual. Various hoses and cabling was done with a combination of solder and rubber tubing - just visible inside the Radiator Doors.

 


In the photo above, one of the M15 Semi-Trailer's connections has worked itself loose - under the gooseneck. Hazards of transporting this behemoth to model shows. It is a beast to move around safely. I even flew this miniature across country (San Jose to Baltimore) for an AMPS National Convention. Suffice to say it did not travel well on that flight out, or on the return junket.

All M15 Semi-Trailer electrical umbilicals were added with soft detailing wire. The oilers for the chain drive was done with .020" solder, as was brake lines and fuel lines. Air valve stems for the tires is done with .010" brass wire. Other than that, these pieces are gorgeous. The soft rubber tires have some tenacious seams to remove. I've seen many a completed Dragon Wagon who's builder omitted this cleanup step. Annoying? Yes. Tedious? Yes. Necessary? Yes - come on now... To make things a little easier, I wet my tires, and then placed them in the freezer. Freezing them made it easier to sand the rubber away. The Air Recognition Panel on the Winch Control Platform is simple tissue, painted Orange. I did not drill the lightening holes in the brass wrecker poles provided by Tamiya. I instead punched out discs of black decal to simulate this missing detail. All the missing Cotter Pins were made from various thickness of solder. These too go virtually unnoticed in the completed miniature.


The Winch subassembly is virtually a model kit unto itself. It dominates the rear of the M26 Tractor, and as with the rest of the overall kit, Tamiya captured it nicely. The minor detail additions go underneath the assembly and are not easy to see. To simulate the cabling, nylon string is used here. When painted and highlighted with graphite, it looks like the well-oiled cable on the actual vehicle. The Cable Drums were secured by large spring devices - here added in natural aluminum, secured to eye bolts on the Winch Frame. The eye bolts are Grandt Line items. The springs are springs - from a crafts store. Below, the Spotlights are wired with solder, and have brass wire handles added to their housings.

The Jerry Can is an Italeri item, in an On the Mark Models brass holder. Strap is painted 3M Post It Notes material. The Vice is a Verlinden item and is not provided in the model kit.



Tamiya provides two of the three semi-trailer umbilicals necessary for the M15 / M26 combination. A scrap length of tubing made up this detail. Again, note one of these worked itself loose from the last transport to a model show. I put it back in place - naturally - after taking the photo...

The Muffler / Exhaust Stack is a nice detail provided in the kit, with a photoetched guard. Toss in a couple of little Grandt Line bolts and you're on to the next part of the model. Below is a closer view of the eye bolts and tension springs secured over the winch drums.

Two more views of the rear end of the M26 Tractor. Brake lines & electrical lines are solder.

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