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The swamp buggy is a motor vehicle used to traverse boggy swamp terrain. Swamp buggies may be purpose built, or vehicles modified to deal with the requirements to move around the swamp. All swamp buggies are able to move about on dry land, shallow mud, sand, shallow water and some times deep mud. Additionally they possess one or more of the following abilities:
- Propel itself through or over deep mud and water
- Drive through or over moderately dense vegetation
- Drive over rough terrain possibly including logs and stumps
- Float in water or mud (optional)
Invented by Ed Frank in Naples, Florida, the swamp buggy proved valuable during early development of the Everglades in the 1930s and 1940s. Aircraft tires from war surplus often found their way onto swamp buggies in the 1940s and 50's. Tractor tires commonly used in commercial agriculture became the norm during the 1980s. The state of Florida commissioned the use of buggies by law enforcement as early as the 1930s.
The original swamp buggy, known as 'Tumble Bug', was a tall, ungainly and strange-looking vehicle, riding on huge balloon tires, which could be used for everything from hunting expeditions deep into the Everglades to Sunday afternoon outings. An editorial in the Collier County News, a local Naples newspaper, claimed swamp buggies were "as important to Florida as the cow pony is to the west, in that they are the only practical means of transportation once off the main road."
Swamp buggy races were invented in 1949, when a parade through the city was held and at the end of the parade, the men went to the mud to test their buggies with the crowd watching. The first event was free. From that moment on, everyone looked up to the races, and they were eventually held every year, something that is still a tradition now.
Another tradition started in 1957. The winner grabbed the "swamp buggy queen", the wife of the winner, and threw her into the mud with her dress on. Ever since then, it is a tradition for the winner and the queen to jump into the mud pit together.
Types of swamp buggy
Though swamp buggy design varies greatly, there are two basic types. The 'Glades Buggy', originally a Model A frame with large rear tires, sits lower and resembles a jeep in build. The 'Palm Beach Buggy', a type developed in the northern Everglades in and around Palm Beach County, is a raised platform supported by four large wheels which sits quite high. Though these two types predominate, custom buggies sporting tank-like treads and smooth tires with snow chains were used in the past.