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DUKWs in London

In London just now there is a big push on to make the place more pedestrian friendly, and less car-dominated. The Congestion Charge is part of this trend. So are the three new footbridges across the Thames, in the form of the Millenium Bridge between the City and Tate Modern, and the two new footbridges they’ve put on either side of the old Hungerford (railway) Bridge to replace the one old puddle-ridden sewer of a footbridge that used to be there.

As a confirmed pedestrian, I consider all these changes to be big steps in the right direction, especially the Congestion Charge. The long term threat is that London may one day stop being a living city, and become a tourist city, like Paris. Paris is pretty. Of course it is. But the trouble with Paris is that increasingly, that’s all that it is.

In London, for the time being, tourism is no threat. London is far too big, busy and ugly for that. Tourism is the seasoning of this great city, not its basic nourishment. And one of the more entertaining sights to be seen in London in recent years has been the tourist related one of seeing one of these things trundling about, these being DUKWs.

DUKWs, or “Ducks” as they have always, inevitably, been called, were originally used for amphibious landings during World War II, and although I’ve never witnessed them actually making the transition, the London ducks are amphibious here too, being both buses and boats at different stages of their travels about London.

While putting this together, I found myself wondering, not for the first time in my life: why DUKW? Well, according to this:

D = First year of production code “D” is for 1942
U = Body style “U” utility truck (amphibious)
K = Front wheel drive. GMC still uses that on trucks today (K5 Chevy Blazer)
W = Two rear driving wheels (tandem axle)

So now you know.

I also learned on my google-travels that London is not the only city where DUKWs are still making themselves useful, and keeping people employed driving them and looking after them. They are to be found all over the place, it seems.

14 comments to DUKWs in London

  • bear, the (one each)

    K on a GM is four wheel drive, not front wheel drive.

  • Jim

    You can, indeed, find them all over the place. There have been popular Duck toors of Boston and Boston’s harbor for years.

  • Ernie G

    I’ve seen them in Boston, and in Tampa as well. An amusing detail is that, on cue from the tour guide, the passengers will shout, “Quack-quack!’

  • I’ve been in a Duck tour of a tourist spot that gets a lot of business from Chicago, the Wisconsin Dells (the Dells themselves, which is why people started going there, not tourist stuff like the waterpark Noah’s Ark, which is why people go there now).

  • its jake

    Sea World uses a DUKW to provide a sort of shuttle service in beachside San Diego. Presumably the craft goes in the water somewhere in Sea World.

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    “Duck” tours of Rockport, Massachusetts’ harbor are also available. Rockport is on Cape Ann, northeast of Boston and is commonly known as “the other cape.”

  • Mitch

    Yes, I see them downtown in Boston all the time. They take a boat ramp into the Charles River and go up alongside the Esplanade. It’s really a fun trip for the kids.

    You may notice that the Duck Tour craft have built-up gunwales to give them extra freeboard. They used to have a nasty habit of swamping in rough water. Not much chance of that in the Mighty Chuck, though.

  • There’s at least one in Sydney, too.

  • Don’t worry Brian, with the Congestion charge London will soon resemble the moribund, tourism dependent Paris economy. It is one of the stupidest things I have seen imposed on London (and there are many), a pure tax dressed up as “free market” road pricing or some such non-sense. So much so that it managed to fool a libertarian like you. I suppose you do not drive much around London…

  • Jim

    But who in their right mind would ever want to drive into London? (This is nothing against London as a city — I love London — but I tremble at the thought of driving in London.) If God had meant for us to drive in London He wouldn’t have given us trains and the Underground and buses and taxis.

  • Dean Speir

    My father was Colonel Frank Speir, Project Engineer of the Army’s Amphibious Warfare Program until the time of his death in 1956. He, along with celebrated sailor and yacht designer Rod Stevens Jr. and “Blue Water Vagabond” Dennis Puleston, was one of the progenitors of the Army’s DUKW at the start of WW II.

    One of the most utilitarian applications we found for surplus DUKWs was in Spring 1956 when we discovered a group of abalone fisherman using them in California to bring their “catch” ashore directly from the boats to the markets. This was opposite the Hearst castle, San Simeon.

    Before the DUKWs became popular as sight-seeing and urban tour craft, they were used extensively by volunteer fire departments along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States as a marine rescue vehicle.

  • Jim

    I’m told that there is now a Duck tour of Providence, RI. I’m tempted to try it someday.

  • Bob

    “DUCK” rides are now available in Baltimore, Maryland’s Inner Harbor.

  • James

    There’s also a DUKW giving tours in Halifax, Nova Scotia.