Book Content - Introduction
Normally, when I decide to do a review of a reference or model kit, it is a review sample or a new product I’d like to work on or read. This review came about much differently in that the book came to my attention by accident and is a few years old. However, within 1 minute of glancing over both volumes of “the Hard Ride”, I decided that they just had to be reviewed in order to get the word out to other WFV enthusiasts and modelers that these books are out there and available. To me, both volumes of “The Hard Ride” are books that are unique and unparalleled.
There are two volumes of the “Hard Ride”, the second volume being this book. I’ve chosen to review them separately but making the write ups available at the same time. In my opinion, they are so closely linked that they must be reviewed together. In fact, the author, James Lyles, told me that the book was originally supposed to be published as one volume, but the publisher unilaterally published them separately. I have to agree with Mr. Lyles, the two volumes should have been published as one.
Anyway, the most important aspect of both volumes of the “Hard Ride” that you should be aware of is that they were authored by a veteran Gun Truck Crew member. In fact, Mr. Lyles was the NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of a number of gun trucks in his Vietnam era military career. Being an ex-gun truck crew member gave him unparalleled access to information and photos not normally available to most authors. Not only did he provide a large number of photos to this book, but as an ex-gun trucker, he was able to persuade other ex crew members to provide information and photos too; No small task. Being “one of their own” he was able to access a massive treasure trove of material and photos from the other ex-gun truck crews because they knew he would do them proud. In fact, there are literally many dozens of contributors to his books, not just a few.
Mr. Lyles does not fail his brethren as it is obvious that “The Hard Ride” is a labor of love to him. By the way the books are written, one can tell he wants you to know about the vehicles, but most importantly he wants you to know about the gun truck crews themselves and their dedicated service while performing very difficult and dangerous missions.
The content of volume 2 concentrates specifically on the Quad .50 and APC hulled gun trucks, M37 “Beeps” and M151 Mutt Gun Jeeps. On the other hand, volume 1 gives basic information about the Guntruck operations and then concentrates specifically on the “regular“ 2 ½ ton M35 and 5 ton M54 gun trucks. Other information and photos provided by the author in volume 2 includes material about Guntrucks with multi-angled armor boxes, misnamed and misidentified Guntrucks, more personal gun crew stories, enemy weapons and some of their Guntrucks, Guntruck weaponry (authorized and unauthorized) and lastly it provides specific information about a grand total of 393 vehicles, including their names, crews, and their donor vehicles (M35, M54, M37, etc.).
Accuracy of Information
The information provided in volumes 1 and 2 of “The Hard Ride” is probably as good as you can get anywhere on any subject. It is top notch. As stated before, being that the author was an ex-Gun Truck commander, you are getting information and photos direct from primary sources. Also, it is obvious by the information itself and how it is presented that Mr. Lyles is very well informed about the full spectrum of gun truck materials from individual gun truck operations/tactics, equipment, convoy procedures as well as the overall mission of the hardened vehicle concept during the Vietnam era. The information provided by the other ex-gun truck crews is of the same top quality, multiple dozens of them! In fact, the information is so solid that many of the misconceptions and incorrect information previously presented as fact in other references are corrected by photographic and/or eye-witness accounts, usually from multiple sources.
Editing of Information / Text Flow
As is the case with Volume 1, the flow of the text in Volume 2 is usually fine and is logical in most instances. The author writes effectively and succinctly and is able to get his point across easily. The major weakness of both volumes 1 and 2 again (in my opinion) is due to the fact that the publisher unilaterally split the book into two volumes. Volume 1 doesn’t suffer too much, but Volume 2 is more adversely affected, at times seeming incomplete or unfinished, especially if read alone. You really need both volumes to get the full benefit of this resource set.
It is obvious to me that parts in both volumes are out of place and used as filler in less logical places. In fact, there are sections repeated verbatim in both volumes. I am convinced that if the book were published as envisioned by the author, these negatives would not have been as prevalent or even present at all.
Photograph and/or Illustration Quality and Selection
Again, the biggest strength of this book is the photo selection. Like Volume 1, there is a similarly large 318 photos presented. Unfortunately, none of these are in color. I am not complaining too much although I would have preferred them in color. Even more startling is that a majority of the photos have never been published before, as they come directly from Mr. Lyles or he has obtained permission to use them from ex-gun truck crewmen. Reading the book is almost like looking over someone’s personal photo album, except with a much more diverse subject matter due the sheer massive number of contributors. The only complaint I have about the photos is that many are smaller than I’d like to see, and the detail can’t be discerned due to that size. However, I’ll “forgive” Mr. Lyles in his decision to present as many photos as possible in his books.
As one can imagine, the quality of the photos is not as professional as some references, since a majority of them were taken by the young crewmen themselves. However, they are surprisingly good considering the age and conditions they were created in. Remember too, these photos were NOT taken for us modelers or enthusiasts to identify widget A or the color of part B. These were taken for themselves and I am ecstatic that these men have shared them with us through Mr. Lyles’ book.
Use as Reference
Taken together, volumes 1 and 2 of “The Hard Ride” are the best references about Vietnam era Gun Trucks that I have ever seen in terms of quality and quantity. I am not saying there is not some other reference equal or better to the “Hard Ride” out there, but I haven’t seen it yet. Again, see my previous comments and opinions about the Photographic selection and accuracy of the book and that should suffice in convincing you that these book are must haves for gun truck enthusiasts in particular as well as for wheeled fighting vehicle aficionados and modelers in general.
Quality of Print Medium
Volume 2 is a soft cover book similar in size to the 8 ½ “x 11” books by Squadron/Signal Publications. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the quality of the medium as it is sadly substandard. The print quality and paper quality are lower than the quality of most mainstream books available. The print and photos are grainy and at times the lower quality paper doesn’t help any matters. What a difference between volumes 1 and 2. It is a pity that volume 2 isn’t of the same quality.
Like volume 1, I feel very strongly that volume 2 of this book is unparalleled in its quality and quantity of information provided about and photos of Vietnam era Guntrucks, crews, operations, etc. It is a must have for anyone remotely interested in gun trucks, armored cars or wheeled fighting vehicles and I would even wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone else with even a fleeting curiosity about these men and their awesome machines.
With all that being said, I am disappointed that this second batch of awesome photos in volume 2 weren’t in color like volume 1. Also, the publisher’s editing and print medium they used results in what I find disappointing at times. It doesn’t do this unique information and photos justice! Due solely to those facts, regrettably I can only give volume 2 an overall rating of “Highly Recommended”. If volume 2 were of the same print quality as volume 1 and it contained color photos, I would undoubtedly have given it the higher rating of “A Must Have”.
Patrick's review of Volume 1 can be seen: HERE (LINK)