These aren't Tonkas he's playing with
April 06, 2011 - There probably isn't a red-blooded American male alive who doesn't have fond memories of playing with little green army men and toy trucks as a kid.
Unfortunately, as boys grow into men they're forced to put those terrific toys away forever, unless you're Mike Miller.
He just bought bigger toys.
Miller, a 1987 Clarkston High School graduate who's lived in Oxford since 2000, is the proud owner of a mini-fleet of used U.S. Army vehicles.
"I don't really have a use for them other than I just like them," he said.
Miller, 41, owns three troop transport trucks, one 5-ton wrecker, a military Blazer and three Army trailers. The oldest is a troop transport from 1971, while the newest is the 1985 Blazer.
He bought them all via on-line auctions at the website www.steelsoldiers.com. He started purchasing these surplus vehicles about three years ago.
"I heard about a couple of guys who started buying trucks, I looked into it and I got hooked," he said.
Prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. There are some real deals out there.
"My one troop transport was $700," he noted.
The trucks come from all over the U.S. including Grayling, Michigan; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Redstone, Alabama.
Miller's got several reasons for collecting these retired military vehicles. Chief among them is the fact that he served in the U.S. Army from 1992-95 at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
"It brings back good memories of when I was in the service and riding in them," he said. "It feels good to have my own."
Miller also enjoys the preservation aspect of his hobby.
"I like collecting them to keep the history alive," he said. "I like it when the kids come to look at them and ask questions. I especially like it when I get a lot of Vietnam vets that will walk up a little misty-eyed. They talk about driving in them or riding in them. That's a good feeling."
Miller strives to keep the vehicles as authentic-looking as possible.
"I haven't repainted anything. That's the way they came," he said.
His massive trucks have rolled in events ranging from the Woodward Dream Cruise to Waterford's Fourth of July parade.
Locally, they've been on display at Seymour Lake Township Park and most recently, were used to transport Oxford High School's wrestlers in a parade down M-24 to honor their winning of a Division I state championship.
Miller and one of his troop transports are currently waiting to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame for their small role in the remake of the 1984 movie classic "Red Dawn," parts of which were filmed in Detroit and Pontiac. The remake is due to be released in theaters this year.
"Me and about 12 other local guys with trucks were in a convoy scene," he said.
For those who have the disposable income, purchasing a surplus military vehicle isn't a hard thing to do.
However, every purchaser is required to be a U.S. citizen and must submit to a background screening process before taking possession of a vehicle, according to Miller.
Buying one of these trucks can be a gamble as far as its condition goes, but so far, Miller's been a winner every time.
"I've actually had to do very little to them – just general maintenance. They've been in pretty good shape," he explained. "I've been lucky. I've heard quite a few horror stories. I don't want people to think that if they go buy one, it's always going to turn out great."
When he began collecting the trucks, Miller noted his wife was "real hesitant at first." But that soon changed.
"Once I got her in one and let her drive it around, she thought it's a great hobby," he said. "The kids have always enjoyed being around them, too."
Miller's planning to add at least one more vehicle to his collection – a military Humvee.
You know how it is with boys and their toys.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.