Also known as the “Army Mule”, the M274 Mechanical Mule is a four wheel, half ton vehicle mounted on two axles. The platform bed on this vehicle is 48” x 95” long. One of its most unique features is its ability to carry a total of 1,000 lbs, which is heavier than the mule itself.
Just outside the Ho Chi Minh Trail diorama at the Armed Forces History Musuem, view the M274 Mechanical Mule and feel the mixed emotions of a young military soldier as he ventures out on this vehicle. What would be recalled as a fast, fun adventure in civilian life holds a very different reality for this soldier. He has power, but he is also quite vulnerable.
About the Mule
The M274 Mechanical Mule was designed during the first part of the 1950s specifically for the U.S. Army by Willys (manufacturers of the infamous WWII Willys jeep) and quickly became recognized as an extremely valuable piece of equipment due in part to its practicality and its sturdiness. Four years after the initial introduction into the US Army, the M274 was also introduced into the airborne, infantry and USMC units. Throughout its 20 years of production, various manufacturers would be responsible for producing the Mule.
During the Vietnam era, the M274 Mechanical Mule was widely used for a variety of tasks. Because of its ability to travel on rough terrain, it was used to deliver cargo as well as weapons and ammunition. It was also utilized as a personnel carrier. A 106 mm recoilless rifle and missiles could be mounted on the Mule and were capable of destroying a tank.
Some Specifications and Uses for the Mule
The M274 Mechanical Mule was manufactured with lifting shackles on each wheel to facilitate a helicopter lift or a parachute drop. The four wheel drive has a two-speed transfer case -three forward speeds with one reverse – giving it a total of six forward gears and two reverse gears. The engine on the Mechanical Mule is located on the underside of the rear platform. Protection for the engine is provided by a steel cage.
The four wheel drive on the Mechanical Mule is shaft-driven. With all four wheels completely locked at all times, the mule is capable of continued movement as long as any one of the four wheels has traction. The mule is also equipped with a tow bar connected to the steering geometry. This allows the mule to be steered by a tow vehicle, which can also utilize it as a trailer. The off-kilter steering wheel adjusts to various positions allowing the driver a number of positions other than sitting – such as kneeling or walking. Operators can also be in a prone position and operate from easily placed controls.
Top speed for the Mule is only 25 mph. It was not designed to be fast, but mainly to keep pace with soldiers on foot. While the M274 low pressure tires were to absorb the shocks, overall it was not intended to be a comfortable vehicle. Instead, the Mule was intended to be sturdy, durable and dependable – something it proved again and again throughout its military life.
Today the Mule is used by ranchers, farmers and wineries. It is also utilized throughout the construction and mining industry as well as by outdoor enthusiasts such as hunters, fishermen and back country campers. The versatility, ruggedness and dependability of the M274 Mechanical Mule has given this vehicle an endless number of uses throughout the military and in civilian life.