Hank Stukey owns and runs Terra Hydr, Inc., a heavy construction and environmental contracting firm in Portland, Oregon. Terra Hydr uses a customized $140,000 Unimog U500 as a command post for hazardous-spill recovery in urban and wilderness environments. The Unimog will easily sustain 75 mph for long periods while getting to those jump-off points into the great unknown. "We specialize in emergency-response confined-space rescues," Stukey says. When a train derails or a worker gets trapped or injured in a chemical tank, Stukey also uses a Hydra Terra amphibious vehicle to share rescue duty.

Why did he choose the Unimog? It's a tough off-road and work vehicle. According to Freightliner, which distributes the Unimog for parent company DaimlerChrysler, this highly capable multi-use work platform can accommodate a number of implements at once. There are four attachment spaces, although other features allow an even wider variety of implements to be attached, many at the same time. Items also can be installed on the tipper/dropside body and others can be attached at the frame ball points. In addition, permanent or seasonal tools can be mounted directly onto the longitudinal frame supports. The space between the body and cab can be used for outriggers such as a crane or a suction nozzle sweeper. "Besides that," Stukey says, "I wanted a toy."

To date, Stukey hasn't used his Unimog for any deep-woods rescues, nor has he towed any million-gallon glycol recovery tanks, but he's ready and has a contract with an airport where such a tank exists.

Stukey's customers love it--it's easy to impress them with a capable work vehicle that stands head and shoulders above everything else. The Carco Industries crew-carrier body fitted to the flat bed frame of the U500 comes complete with amenities befitting a vehicle used for serious work and play. It has a chemical commode, an ICC/DOT package, hazard and directional lighting, an emergency exit, safety glass, emergency buzzer, security windows, exterior work lights, an intercom, a tow hitch, and a trailer lighting package.

Stukey also has mounted a Braden PD18B hydraulic winch on the front. The 18,000-pound winch can be run from the cab with a joystick. Stukey can fit his toy with a snowplow and has hydraulic capability that'll run, among other things, a one-inch hydraulic impact wrench and a post driver-extractor.

This Unimog can seat nine to 12 people. There are interior dome lights, power roof vents, a 42,000-BTU heater, and air-conditioning. One look inside is enough to convince anyone that this vehicle would be a comfortable work camp or a great playpen. Stukey's custom $40,000 crew carrier turns this multi-use platform into a command post or party place, at the expense of the standard three-side-tipper platform.

Taking this Unimog on the road is an eye-opening experience. Heading into the Pacific Coast range, the capabilities of the two-stage compression brake become obvious, as does the ability of this beast to maintain traction on snow-covered surfaces. It can lumber over four-foot-high boulders in these mountains and shows its mettle as an off-road vehicle.The control panel, mounted between the seats, could be right out of a spaceship and the VarioPilot dual-mode steering system allows the steering column, instrument panel, and pedals to be relocated from one side of the vehicle to the other without requiring the driver to get out of the cab.

Perhaps the biggest standout feature is the Telligent manu-matic shifting system. Simply moving the lever forward or back will shift to a higher or lower gear. Stukey says it takes a little time to grow accustomed to, and his option is to preselect before each shift. "Once you get used to it," he says, "you just want to keep driving." The eight-speed tranny is powered by the MB906 230-horsepower engine and comes standard with six reverse gears. The full-time all-wheel-drive transmission is assisted by permanent differential front- and rear end-link-controlled portal axles. Optional driveline features include a working gear range, crawler gear range, hydrostatic drive, and a hydraulic torque converter. The U500 can be configured to a Class 8 equivalent weight rating of 34,000 pounds.

Spending a day hugging the roads where the snow falls and playing in the dirt behind the Portland airport, Stukey is amazed how quiet and smooth his 'Mog performs on highway. Its performance in the dirt, despite its crew-carrier configuration, also proved impressive. If you've got the money, the Unimog will give you one of the best equipped, most versatile trucks available.