Tourists sightseeing merrily from those amphibian "ducks" in several cities around the United States make a grim contrast to the vehicles' original passengers: the soldiers who once rode them onto beachheads in Europe and the Pacific during World War II.
Ducks were created because the Allies needed something that could get troops and supplies onto land where no docks existed. The answer was the DUKW built by General Motors Corporation that stuck a propeller, rudder, watertight hull, and bilge pumps onto the classic 2-1/2-ton truck. DUKW quickly became "duck."
From the concept stage, it took only six months to reach full-scale production at the plant in Pontiac, Mich. Thirty-one feet long and eight feet wide, the duck could be used in either four or six-wheel drive. GMC produced 21,247 ducks between 1942 and 1945 - 11,316 in 1944 alone!
Ducks are occasionally called upon during an emergency. They rescued people during the Blizzard of 1978 and have fetched people stranded on sandbars during rough seas. About 400 ducks remain today, many used for sightseeing. Converted for this purpose, they can carry up to 32 passengers and now have seats, a canopy, a kind of open-air observatory in the rear, and other accouterments not part of the original.
"But everything from gunwales on down is original," proudly proclaims "the sarge" - Neal Odams - driver of Beacon Hilda in the Boston Duck Tours fleet. "You're riding on the same suspension system and the same axles."