Duell Truck, Duel Truck, Peterbilt 281 (2024)

Who has not heard of the "killer truck" from Steven Spielberg's first feature film, "Duel"?
After we had seen the film in the winter 2010/2011 again, and this time also recorded, the decision was made quickly to build a remote-controlled model of this truck from the elements of a metal building kit. The advantage was that over the years had accumulated a lot of worn material which would have to be painted before re-use anyway - so why not in the "colors" of the Duel Truck.

While searching for pictures and information about this vehicle was soon apparent that the determination of the proportions and the characteristic details should be a lengthy undertaking. For the movie several trucks were prepared and used, which differ in many details. The data are to some extent contradictory, but the following information from the Internet seems assured:

The original truck was a Peterbilt 281 from the year 1956 with a rebuilt engine recognizable by the horizontally lying and yellow colored air filter on the right side of the engine compartment.
The 2 in the model number 281 means that the truck tractor had only one driven axle, and the second rear axle was merely a trailing axle.
Spielberg had deliberately chosen this type, because the split front window and the round headlights looked similar to a face. Together with the optically thick wear and the rusty-dirty color finally the truck got its threatening appearance.
This vehicle was destroyed at the end of the film during the fall into the gorge.

Since the original truck was not in good condition, a Peterbilt 281 from 1960 was kept as a replacement vehicle.
However this was not used in the film and therefore it is not visible.

The original 74-minute television film from 1971 proved so successful that it was extended as a cinema release in 1974, about 15 minutes - and for this another truck was prepared. With a Peterbilt 351 from the year 1964 the laundromat scene, the railway crossing scene and the school bus scene was reshot.
The 3 in the type designation indicates that

both rear axles are driven. At a superficial view, the differences of the vehicles hardly can be noticed, but if one look closer, one can see these very well.
Also this vehicle does not exist anymore.
The only surviving truck is the former replacement vehicle, the 1960's Peterbilt 281 with a Fruehauf tank trailer from 1948.

In 2003, it had a last use in the motorcycle movie "Torque" and in 2004 it was bought by a private citizen.
After another owner, the truck is currently held by a truck vintage car collector www.bradsclassictrucks.com

The surviving Duel Truck
Picture by kind permission of
The inspiration for the model was primarily the original truck, but some in the film bad or not recognizable details were taken from photographs of the still existing truck. To determine the proportions and the determination of characteristic details and color almost 150 pictures and plans have been analyzed, including photos of models as well as numerous pics extracted from the film of the original.

The model of the Duel Truck
To keep the model of the Duel Truck to limited dimensions 111mm-Metallus wheels were used. With these follows a scale of 1:10 resulting in a total length of about 160cm.

According to the original also the model was equipped with only one driven rear axle and a trailing axle.

Duel Truck Tractor (Peterbilt 281)

We started again with the construction of a ladder frame with all the carriers for the add-on parts - and already at this turned out that the existing worn-out material should not be roughly adequate. The missing material therefore was obtained from Metallus and repainted accordingly.

In the procurement of materials was also found that the company Metallus now practically only provides Delrin gears - with the exception of crown wheels. Since the combination of brass crown wheel and Delrin pinion appeared problematic, the 90-degree angle drive was constructed entirely of brass. All spur gear reductions are made of Delrin - however, if these gears are suitable in the long run remains to be seen.

The spring-loaded front axle has been designed in this way, that the steering servo could be attached directly to it and thus follows the movements of the axle. This reduces mechanical complexity and creates space for the rods and gears of the steering wheel drive.
The steering trapezoid was adjusted so that the elongate steering lever cut between the rear axles. Due to the relatively large wheelbase, the steering trapezoid is only slightly marked.

Top view of the mounted front axle ...
(even without suspension)

... and from below with the steering wheel drive
The drive axle is a part of a spring-loaded rocker arm that can move with compression and rebound around a defined centre of rotation.
In this pivot point also the gear of the 90°-angle drive for the force coupling is located. This has the advantage that the power transmission to the drive axle does not require any universal joints or a length compensation.

In addition to the differential the rocker arm contains a total gear ratio of 15:1. The maximum torque thus is produced only directly on the differential, and the 90°-angle drive is only loaded with a relatively small torque.
In terms of a longer shelf-life both the 90-degree angle drive and the power transfer onto the differential was carried out twice.

The drive axle and the ...
(even without suspension)

... power transmission to the rocker arm
Since the Duel Truck in the movie at times seems very fast, also the model should be equipped with a powerful drive.

It consists of 2 motors, such those as used in other models (Igarashi SP 3650-65) operating in parallel on a shaft. This drive, with a total reduction of only about 21:1 gives the model on a flat road a speed of about 2 m / s (about 7 km / h).

The engine block with the two motors
After installing the batteries and the remote control components, the chassis was already ready to go. All the remaining components were then placed mainly in modular construction and grown in succession.

Front area of the chassis ...

... and rear area of the chassis

The complete chassis of the truck tractor
The total view of the completely in black held chassis - here already with cab-ground, parts of the interior as well as cover for the battery - shows the large wheelbase of the vehicle.
The engine compartment of the Peterbilt 281 in the front area is quite narrow and is - as far as it can be seen - backward linearly increasing, and the subsequent cab follows this contour.

There was no problem to reproduce this contour in the model, however, this had already guessed that the hood and the cab-roof thus would certainly not be easier.
In particular a useful interface to the hood had to be found, which at the final model should to be opened or removed as simple as possible without tools.

The model with the engine compartment and cab
As found on the internet also pictures of the interior, the cab of the model also inside could be designed.

The controls of the Duel Truck
Beside of the steering on the floor 3 pedals and 2 levers can be seen.

On the dashboard representative for a switch array the on and off switch for the model and a replica of the characteristic hand brake lever was mounted, which in the final scenes of the movie is frantically pulled forward - unfortunately too late to prevent the fall into the canyon.

The instrument panel has also been reconstructed from an image and after phototechnical editing an appropriate label was produced.

In comparison to the width of the Peterbilt 281 the driving cab is kept fairly narrow.

Whether the original Duel Truck even had a passenger seat, could not be researched. But a picture of the still existing truck, however, shows that for the passenger at least a stool could have been present - and a reproduced stool as a passenger seat was built into the model.

The seating of the Duel Truck
Characteristic is the radiator, whose matt-silver color scheme is intended to represent a worn chrome plating.
Although in the original 17 more or less bent lamellae are seen in the model but only 16 lamellae are housed. They consist of narrow strips, which at the ends are folded and strung on hidden mounted threaded rods.
Like the original, also the model is provided with the Peterbilt emblem.

The inner side of the radiator ...

... and in the assembled state

The mounted cab front
The front side unit of the cab simultaneously consists of connections to the radiator and to the cab rear wall.
Through these connections the vehicle construction gets a substantial stability and allows the attachment of the bonnet and the cab roof.

The visible part of the hood is

not made of metalkit material, because the production out of 0.5 mm Metallus steel plates appeared to be a nuisance.
Instead, 0.5 mm aluminum sheet from the hardware store is used, which was much easier to finish.
The removable part of the bonnet is also made of 0.5 mm aluminum sheet.

The aluminium sheet has some spring properties; to fix it the hood is to put onto the connection between radiator and cab front and snaps with his 4 holes onto 4 screws of the engine compartment side panels.
Accordingly, the hood can easily be removed again without any tools.

The mounted hood
Also the cab roof was made of commercial aluminum not having to buy and to rework too many metalkit plates.
The use of conventional aluminum sheet indeed is a massive aberration from the metalkit system, but the savvy "spanner" certainly will find ways and means to implement similar shapes with flexible plates of the metalkit system.

The other attachments following are to be described at the complete model.

The front side of the Duel Truck
The front bumper of the original was reinforced with railroad tracks and carried several license plates. With this should be suggested that the "killer truck" had several other cars on his conscience.

Both features were taken in the model, whereat the left license plate number in direction of travel was reconstructed from images of the film.

The left entrance step was similarly the case for the starter battery.
This finding is due to an film error in the sequence as the Truck steamrolls the cell phone. There is one scene that shows the battery box without a cover, and for a brief moment the starter batteries are clearly visible. In the next scene, the cover was replaced.
The indicated tank consists essentially of 7 large flanged pulleys with the diameter 65 mm, which are held together by means of a shaft.

The attachment of the tanks is also modeled after the original. It is made by two curved brackets and 2 indicated straps, which were made of Metallus narrow strips.
Underneath the tank, the bands are tightened with screws and thus allow a reliable fixation of the tank.

The left side of the truck tractor

The right side of the truck tractor
The yellow-colored air filter on the right side was not the original air filter of a Peterbilt 281 with Cummins engine, but a Caterpillar air filter. In the 1960's the Duel Truck was repowered with a Caterpillar engine and hence received the matching air filter.

For the air filter of the model in addition to metalkit material various other parts were used which had accumulated in the domestic magazine.
Both form and color was based on images extracted from the film.

On the right side behind the cab beside the exhaust the air pressure reservoir for the braking system and a box are located - probably a toolbox or something similar.
The modeled exhaust pipe is made of conventional aluminum and aluminum round stock from the hardware store and a piece of steel pipe from its own inventory. By Using two clamps of curved narrow flat strips the exhaust is mounted to the cab's rear panel.

The box is visible only in very few scenes, but if one look closely, one recognizes a small ladder to climb the truck easier.
This ladder was soldered together from 1mm wire and fastened with cable lugs on the box.

The distinctive box on the cab rear wall was a so-called swamp coolers, in principle, a part of a simple air-conditioning.
At this air was passed through a block of ice, and by means of a tubing system the cab was be supplied with cool air for a time.

The right side behind the cab
Interesting features had the mirror on the radiator and auxiliary lighs at the cab.
In the 1950s and 1960s the control of combustion engines by far was not so advanced as today. So the driver had careful to prevent an overload of the engine - and an indicator for overload was the black smoke.
To observe the color while driving, a mirror was mounted on the radiator. In darkness, also a spotlight was shining directed to the exhaust smoke.

The holders of the additional headlight, and all other implied mirrors are also made of wires that are soldered into lugs.

The bell of the horn on the cab roof is made of a rust-colored painted grommet and a shaft attached thereto.

The left side of the truck tractor ...

... and the right side
The fifth wheel is also very simple.
First a lock was provided to prevent accidental disconnection, but ultimately this seemed unnecessary. It is important that the drive for the kingpin is situated in the tipping axis of the fifth wheel to avoid back and forth tipping with acceleration and breaking.

Currently, the kingpin of the trailer only is plugged into the fifth wheel and held by its own weight. Thus the trailer can be very simple coupled and decoupled and after the first tests this is perfectly sufficient in practice.

The fifth wheel
Ready to start with a 7-cell accumulator the truck tractor has a mass of approx. 8,5 kg, resulting to a weight of approx. 42N onto each axle.
Because the rear axles additional are loaded with the trailer the required springs could be calculated not before completion of the trailer.
Duel Truck Tank Trailer

From the trailer of the original Duel Truck virtually nothing is known. However, since it has some distinct differences from the trailer of the surviving truck, the model has been constructed solely on the basis of extracted images from the movie.

It is striking, for example, that the original trailer in contrast to the still existing vehicle had no stand wheels. Since the tractor and the trailer usually formed a unit that had to be separated only rarely, one could often dispense with support wheels - and also the model was made easier.

On closer inspection shows that the left sidepart below the tank protrudes more forwards than the right sidepart. Behind these sideparts are storage compartments for fittings and hoses, and - so far it can be seen - are sealed with 2 doors in a different arrangement. This asymmetry has also been applied to the model.

The skeleton of the trailer consists of a simple frame with cross members to which the spring-loaded chassis frame and the kingpin for the coupling with the truck tractor are attached .

To this framework all other necessary components can be mounted easily mainly in modular construction.

The chassis frame in the rear (even without suspension)

The storage compartments below the tank
In the next step the box-shaped storage compartments below the tank were to construct and fixed to the frame.

After completion these storage compartments represent an additional connection between the frame and the sideparts, which give the entire structure a remarkable resistance to deformation.

For reasons of weight and complexity from the outset only the visible part of the tank should to be modeled, in principle only the upper half. But because the viewer from below does not see only in a large cavity, the tank bottom by means of obliquely mounted plates were indicated.

The indicated tank bottom in the rear
(on the right side the bumper beam is visible)

The complete base of the tank-trailer
Accordingly to the storage boxes also the sideparts are unbalanced. They contain the necessary access openings which on each side are closed with 2 doors, these doors can be opened.

The rear of the side parts is chamfered whereat on the basis of the available images an inclination of about 16° to the vertical was determined.
Because of the curves and slopes the facing of the side parts with the relatively thick Metallus flexible plates is impractical. Thus at some places - as in truck tractor - small pieces of 0.5 mm aluminum sheet from the hardware store are used.

Outside view of the rear of the left side part

Inside view of the rear of the left side part

The side parts are secured with 4 screws on the frame and similarly is bolted to the storage boxes.

The tank of the original trailer has an elliptical cross-section which should be replicated at least for the upper half passably accurate.

For this, first the axles of the ellipse were determined and with a width of 19 holes (horizontal semiaxis = 9.5 holes = 120.65 mm) and a height of 13 holes (vertical semiaxis = 6.5 holes = 82.55 mm) a good first approximation was provided.
The calculation of the scale revealed with the aid of a numerical integration of 644mm, that is, for the upper half to 322mm corresponding to 25.35 holes.
Since cladding panels with a length of 25 hole = 317.5 mm should be used , the vertical semiaxis was gradually reduced and the amount calculated in each case again.
A half outline of 317.5 mm thus results from a vertical semiaxis of 79.34 mm = 6.25 hole.
The calculation with fractions of grid intervals may seem unusual and disturbing, but by hindsight it was quite beneficial, a justification will follow later in the description of the tank rear panel.
With the determined axles by means of ellipse construction according to de la Hire a bending templete for the boilerplates was drawn to paper .

The tank consists essentially of aligned Metallus cladding panels that have previously been bent to the stencil. In the front and rear region, the tank is rounded and the tank rear wall also is inclined. Maintained so as not to cut Metallus flexible plates, the transitions to the tank front and rear tank wall were also made of 0.5mm aluminum sheet.
The tank top has a total of three access openings, and these were indicated in the model as well as the boundary of the access openings (upper tank completion).

The front area and ...

... the rear area of the tank
With 10 fish plates the tank was bolted to the side parts:

The assembled sideparts ...

... and the tank
(also the bumper is visible)
The tank front wall consists of a cut and folded cardboard, which is held in form with perforated strips, curved strips and fish plates.

Since curved strips are not available in any length, to some extend they were cut from available curved strips to the proper lenght.

The mounted tank front wall
More difficult was the construction of the tank back panel because it has an elliptical shape, is inclined to the vertical, and also is convex. Since this form is difficult to achieve with steel plates, the tank rear wall was also made of cardboard and painted accordingly.

For the preparation of the curvature, the cardboard was moistened and in this state the camber was molded. After drying, the form was conserved, but for reasons of stability at the border Metallus curved strips and fish plates were attached which partly also were to cut to the required lengths.

Prior to installation, both parts the tank rear wall and the trailer rear side were to be assembled as a unit.

The tank rear wall with the trailer rear side

The mounted unit
At this point it should also be established why the vertical semiaxis of the tank with an optimum length of 6.25 hole mathematically quite makes sense:
On the basis of the images was - as already mentioned above - for the tank rear wall an inclination of about 16° from the vertical was determined, and in this position teh tank and the tank rear wall must match.
The projection of the tank rear wall has also concluded a vertical semiaxis of 6.25 hole, but the actual length of the vertical half axle L considering the inclination is calculated to
L = (6.25 hole / cos 16°) = (6.25 hole / 0.96) = 6.5 hole

A semiaxis length of 6.5 holes corresponds to an axis of hole 13 hole - and this fits into the grid.

As final structural components, the doors, the ladder and the slant to be applied covers of the side parts were mounted.

The doors at the left side

The ladder on the front side

The inscription on the right side
The tank trailer was printed with several warnings to advise against its dangerous content. On both sides a large and a small imprint were situated with the word "FLAMMABLE", shown with red letters on a white background.
Unfortunately, at the appropriate areas the model has no sufficiently large surfaces, which are not penetrated by screws. Therefore the labels for the large imprint in some places had to be provided with openings for the screw heads. Font and font size were chosen that no letters are perforated.
Calculation of the spring suspensionFront axle of the truck tractor

Spring suspension of the front axle of the truck tractor
The front wheels carry a weight of about 42N, which - less an assumed value of 10% for the weight of the axis - is distributet to 4 identical helical compression springs.

With a wanted stroke of 10mm from this results a spring rate of

c = (42N · 0,9) / (4 · 10mm) = 0,95N/mm
Axles of the trailer
The wheels carry a weight of about 54N, which - less an assumed value of 10% for the weight of the axles - is also distributet to 4 identical helical compression springs.

With a wanted stroke of 10mm from this results a spring rate of

c = (54N · 0,9) / (4 · 10mm) = 1,2N/mm

Spring suspension of the axles of the trailer
Rear axles of the truck tractor

The springs of the two rear axles carry the weight of the rear part of the tractor of approx. 42N less an assumed value of 10% for the weight of the axles, and a part of the weight of the trailer of about 34N - thus a total of about 72N.
Because the fifth wheel is not situated halfway between the rear axles, but closer to the drive axle the weight force of 72N is distributed in proportion to the 64:36 on the drive and the trailing axle (at the original Duel Truck it was 60:40), so in the ratio 46N:26N.
Since both the drive and the trailing wheels are mounted on a rocker arm and the springs are not situated directly above the axles, there is a further distribution of the weight forces in the ratio of the effective levers; because of the present design approx. 29% of the forces is assigned to the anchor and about 71% to the point of the spring suspension. These forces are to halfe again as each axis has 2 springs.
Finally it to note that the travel at the springs to the lever ratio is greater than the travel of the wheels. In the present case at a spring travel at the wheel of 10mm the springs are compressed by 14mm.

Spring suspension of the rear axles of the truck tractor
Given these conditions, the following spring rates can be calculated:
Drive axle:c = (46N · 0,71) / (2 · 14mm) = 1,2N/mm

Trailing axle:c = (26N · 0,71) / (2 · 14mm) = 0,66N/mm

All springs could be made of 2 different existing blanks (bulk stock).
After installation and testing of the suspension again is turned out that the assumed spring travels can be approximated very well despite of this simple calculation.

Although the color scheme of the model was based on the original truck resp. on the existing truck, the model does not look worn and dirty, but more like a new car.
On the one hand surely this is due to the shiny screws, but also to the missing artificial aging.

The completed Duel Truck from the left ...

... and from the right side
To what extent in the future at this model an artificial aging is carried out is still unclear. Possibly first certain technique has to learn such as airbrushing, etc., to achieve a satisfactory result.
And finally a Video of the Duel Truck (78s / 12,9MB).
Data of the Duel Truck tractor:

Weight:approx. 8,5kg ready to go with accumulator
Number of parts:ca. 2515, of which
ca. 755 construction and special parts
ca. 730 screws
ca. 895 nuts
ca. 135 washers
Data of the Duel Truck trailer:

Weight:ca. 9kg
Number of parts:ca. 1945, of which
ca. 475 construction and special parts
ca. 690 screws
ca. 720 nuts
ca. 60 washers

Duell Truck, Duel Truck, Peterbilt 281 (2024)
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