You ever see a picture so intriguing and out of context that makes you dive deep into an internet rabbit hole that consumes your day? Yeah, that's me all the time. It's how I came across that dope machine gun mounted to a motorcycle a few weeks ago.

And today's time-waster also came from the same Reddit community, r/shittytechnicals. But this one with four wheels instead of two and a rocket launcher.

What I scrolled to was a picture of a Willys-Overland M274 Mule, a sort of Jeep without a body that vaguely looks like a modern UTV, complete with a BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile launcher on the back of it. From the get-go, I knew I had to know more. But the story that unfolded is one that is so cool, I had to share it with the class. 

Strap in for a fun tale of the military being all hot and bothered by the new hotness, only for them to be like, "Oh shit, we screwed up!"


The M274 Mule was in service for a seriously long time. It was like the 1911 .45 ACP pistol, as it just kept going and going. Entering service in 1956, it was designed to supplement airborne and infantry battalions in the field by being a sort of flat-bed hauler. But its design has roots in the WWII Willys platform, which goes two decades prior to the M274's development with a patent for the Mule being dropped in 1944. 

And it was pretty beloved by the military, as 11,000 of these "trucks" were built between 1956 and 1970 when production was stopped. They were used on bases to haul equipment mostly, but they were also outfitted with armaments, like the TOW missile launcher featured on Reddit, as well as an M60 light machine gun, an M2.50 caliber machine gun, and an M40 recoilless rifle, which is an anti-tank weapon like the TOW.

Yet, though the Army stopped making the M274 Mule in 1970, it was kept in service until late in the 1980s when the HMMWV (Humvee) was introduced. At that point, the heads over at the Department of Defense were like, "The Humvee is perfect for everything! Kill every other utility vehicle!" There was just one problem. The Humvee couldn't do what the M274 Mule could, as it didn't have enough cargo space, nor ability to be an open-top transport ala the Mule and created such a headache, the U.S. military was left scrambling to replace that Willys-based ruck.

So where did they turn? John Freakin' Deere.

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I honestly didn't know that John Deere was a defense contractor until today when I started looking into the M274 Mule. But the company is and made something incredible. Now most of you may be familiar with the company's ubiquitous Gator UTV. It's used by ranchers, parks departments, lawncare companies, golf courses and more for all sorts of projects and uses. Hell, I used to use one back in the day when I worked at a local parks department (It was less silly than Parks & Rec, but still a ton of fun). 

But the Gator isn't what I'd envision a military vehicle looking like, especially in its John Deere green and yellow livery. John Deere, however, thought otherwise and gave the military the M-Gator, a fully decked out mil-spec iteration that I absolutely love. 

John Deere M-Gator

According to the historical record, the first Gator to enter service wasn't actually supplied by the company, nor the DoD. The first Gator was actually an off-the-shelf model brought to Bosnia by the 261st Area Support Medical Battalion of the 44th Medical Brigade and painted camo. It was then used to transport supplies, weapons, personnel and the wounded. But the Gator worked so well, and it grew in such notoriety among Army personnel, the DoD finally stepped in and contracted John Deere for the M-Gator, finally replacing the M274 Mule it so shortsightedly killed. 

One old press release quotes Colonel Frederick Gerber, commander of the 55th Medical Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, saying, ''It functions flawlessly in evacuating [wounded] soldiers from foxholes. And I can buy eight [Gators] for the price of one Humvee.'' And it's since been deployed all over the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and is still in use today. 

The current M-Gator is powered by a three-cylinder diesel engine and is configured in a 6x4 wheel-base. Power is about 20 horsepower, but it can go anywhere, and features a 1,000-pound cargo capacity, while also being able to tow up to 1,400 pounds. And it can do 20 mph in both forward and reverse, making it pretty nimble in combat. 

It also has a rifle mount, can be stored within aircraft and has cup holders. Does this UTV sing Blood on the Risers? I believe so. 

Will the M-Gator outlive the M274's nearly 40-year run? Only time will tell. But from the specs, adoration and capabilities, it has a serious chance. 

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