Hand-feeding a camel, getting up close with a buffalo or being sized up by an alligator are all part of the experience at Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont, Md.
People get to see those animals on board of a 2.5-ton cargo truck that mechanic Andy Catsakis bought at an online military surplus auction, and sold to the zoo for use in their safari rides. Catsakis paid an average of $2,500 for each truck. New ones would have cost $40,000. Catsakis, a member of the Military Vehicles Preservation Association, sells such refurbished vehicles to support his habit of restoring military vehicles.
After stumbling across an auction website, Catsakis began buying military surplus in 2002 and has owned more than 20 vehicles. He opened Winds Way Farms Mobile Service in 2010. The company generates $100,000 annually.
Catsakis scored a bargain on his M1031 truck worth $50,000, paying just $2,500. But it is his "deuce-and-a-half" truck that provided something more valuable than money.
In February 2010, Lovettsville was hit by a monster snowstorm with drifts many feet deep. Catsakis' neighbor, Jan Scott, had begun clearing the heavy snow when chest pains struck. A phone call to 911 revealed that no ambulance could make it through the snow to reach the ailing man. Catsakis loaded Scott into the 2.5-ton, 10-wheeler truck and set off to meet the ambulance on the main road. Scott, it turned out, was having a heart attack and might have died if not for Catsakis' military surplus truck.
"I'm very glad I bought military surplus vehicles," said Catsakis. "They've saved me a lot of money in my business and helped save my neighbor's life."
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