Travel – 4WD Swagman – Getting the Army Trailer Back to a Stock(ish) Condition

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The “before” pic. The trailer as picked up the evening before this photo was taken.

Being manufactured in 1963, I was surprised that Trailer, Cargo 1/2 Ton, 2 Wheeled, Aust No. 5 – Army Registration Number 101-001 hadn’t been modified more during its service life. Since it was bought at auction by the previous owner in 2015 its biggest modification had been the addition of the civilian 7-pin flat plug to replace the original NATO plug. I don’t mind too much since it fits the socket on the Shorty Forty and saved me having to track down an adapter. I’m glad the previous owner hadn’t chopped and modded this one into a camper trailer or changed the pintle ring.

I don’t favour camouflaged patterned equipment and this trailer was no exception. Before the camouflage finish was applied during the trailer’s refurbishment by Tenix in the 1990s, it had spent most of the late 60s, the 70s and the 80s in plain olive drab paint. Prior to this, and straight out of the factory, the trailer had been painted a deep bronze green as per the rest of the Army’s fleet of vehicles of the early 1960s.

Evidence of the original deep bronze green paint was found under the tac plate holders on the rear of the trailer when I removed them. The cap on the wheel hubs also had this original deep bronze green paint showing under scratches in the olive drab paint.

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I drilled out the pop rivets on the tac plate holders to assess the rust underneath and discovered the original deep bronze green paint with which the trailer left the factory in 1963.

Although it’s not an unattractive colour for an ex-army trailer, I didn’t really want to go with a deep bronze green finish, so I decided to respray the trailer olive drab, as it would have been from the Vietnam era through to the late 1990s.

Before painting, I had to get rid of any rust and prep the surface for paint. Rather than strip the trailer to bare metal, I made the decision to leave the original camouflage paint and markings largely intact for the benefit of any collector or museum who may acquire the trailer from me decades from now. Covered by the new olive drab paint the camouflage pattern and markings will still be discernible if the olive drab is ever rubbed back.

Using a wire wheel I hit any areas of surface rust and then applied rust converter/sealer to the bare metal. I was very fortunate that there were no rust holes or welded repairs required to the trailer tub. I primed these areas and then rubbed the rest of the trailer’s tub over with a hard nylon scouring pad, roughing up the surface to help the paint stick. I then ran over the whole tub with wax and grease remover and then again with tack cloths before starting to paint.

The paint I used is “camouflage green” from Protec Pty Ltd, who are the suppliers of the ADF’s camouflage vehicle paint. The Protec camouflage green is very similar, if not identical to the Vietnam-era “Lustreless Olive Drab” made by Wattyl which was used before the camouflage paint jobs became standardised in the Australian Army from the late 1980s onwards. I opted for 400ml spray cans since it wasn’t a big job and I could use a leftover half can or so as touch up paint. Besides, I don’t have a compressor at the moment, let alone a spray gun.

I purchased 6 cans from Protec in Smeaton Grange, near Campbelltown south of Sydney. It worked out to just over $14 a can which I thought was quite reasonable. It’s a lot cheaper and a lot better quality paint than the Supercheap Auto colour-matched Toyota Dune Beige rattlecans I have been using on the Shorty Forty during various repairs, so I am seriously considering switching to “camouflage brown” paint from Protec next time I give the car a “full refresh”. This “camouflage brown” colour is the tan shade in the trailer’s original camouflage pattern finish.

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Protec Camouflage Green enamel spray paint comes in reasonably-sized and reasonably-priced 400ml pressure pack spray cans. It’s hardwearing, solvent resistant and sticks really (really) well.

After masking off the blinkers and rear reflectors, and removing the numberplate, stop/tail light bucket, and masking off the blackout convoy marker, I set about spraying each section of the trailer. I ended up only giving it one good coat but it came out quite well. The only issue is paint runs, and not mine either. The previous in-service camouflage paintjob was riddled with paint runs. I probably should have rubbed them back, but to be honest most of them didn’t show until after I’d sprayed the green. After the army green paint dried, the runs weren’t all that visible regardless.

In case you were wondering, it takes 2.5 rattlecans of Protec Camouflage Green for one good coat of the outside of a No. 5 trailer including the front and rear of the chassis and the drawbar and pintle ring.  I still have three and a half cans left, so I may yet give the outside of the tub another coat of olive drab in a few days when the weather clears.

The inside of the trailer tub has a few bits of surface rust which I’ll need to strip, kill and prime, and then I’ll prep the tub for paint or for paint-on bedliner. The underside of the trailer has a fair amount of surface rust, so I’ll need to flip the trailer and sort that out before rustproofing, priming and spraying some colour. I’ll probably stick with camo green for the underside of the tub, the chassis, the axle and the suspension.

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The stop/tail light assembly with the light lens removed. This was a reference pic for me for putting it all together again. To the left of the image you can see the corrosion in the green metal “bucket” housing. It looked much worse from the outside.

The tail/stop light bucket was a bit corroded. Incidentally, despite the trailer having just a single tail light as manufactured, the combination brake/tail light unit is quite an ingenious design. There’s a clear window in the side of the red lens which illuminates the numberplate, so no extra numberplate light is needed.

The rusty parts of the steel tail/stop light bucket needed to be sorted out, so I had at it with a wire wheel on the angle grinder and discovered it needed a whole section replaced. I measured up a patch from some sheet gal, cleanly cut it out with a nibbler, etch primed it and riveted it in, then painted the repaired bucket with olive drab. It is a fully functional and low-key repair but at some stage I’ll either get a replacement bucket or get this one welded properly.

I canted the whole assembly down to the left slightly so it illuminated the numberplate better and wouldn’t provide a place for water to settle and cause more rust. I had to drill two more holes in the mount to be able to reposition the light assembly but it was worth it.

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The repair on the stop/tail light bucket required a few pop rivets. Thankfully they don’t seem to draw the eye and aren’t very noticeable unless your gaze happens to linger on them.

Next I needed to sort out the canopy. The trailer was sitting out in the rain for a couple of weeks but thankfully there are drainage bungs in the front wall of the tub so the water just drained away without causing any corrosion before I had a chance to get to the inside of the tub. Still, I made the acquisition of a canvas canopy a priority.

First I had to make up a canopy bow since one didn’t come with the trailer. I had a few old tent poles with 90 degree bends so using the dimensions listed in the army documentation for the trailer, I cut and joined a pair of these poles to the right dimensions. They slotted right in, steady and solid as a rock. I primed and then painted them using the proper paint.

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Test-fit of the home made canopy bow.

I had intended to make my own canvas canopy but the weather being shocking meant I didn’t have room to lay out the canvas to cut the pattern, let alone anywhere to sew it. Instead I bought a canopy ready-made. There are three manufacturers of these No. 5 Trailer canopies:

I bought mine from Bartlett’s. I don’t know if they make these to order or have them in stock on the shelf, but it was only about four days from payment to me installing it on the trailer. Very quick service. People on the REMLR Forum also have had nothing but good things to say about replacement military canvas canopies from both Robco and Wilderness Agencies, so you won’t go wrong purchasing replacement canvas from any of the three mobs I’ve listed above.

It’s been raining almost continuously for the past couple of weeks and as you’d expect, there’s been no water ingress under the canvas canopy.

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The trailer hooked up behind the Shorty Forty.

So what’s left to do? There’s a few bits and pieces like a height-adjustable Hayman-Reese pintle hook (picking one up this afternoon actually), a new axle with Landcruiser-compatible hubs, a rear stand, bolt-on/bolt-off spare wheel carrier, 2 x bolt-on/bolt-off jerrycan holders and a bolt-on/bolt-off canoe rack, but as it stands now the trailer is fully functional, registered and ready to go.

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The new height-adjustable Hayman Reese style pintle hook fitted. It’s hard to tell from this perspective, but the trailer sits far more level than before. I may look at bolting the pintle hook straight onto the Toyota’s chassis since these vehicles were designed with military and mining use in mind. It’ll depend on whether the required backing plates are still present.

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