LIMESTONE, Maine -- The buzz of hydraulic wrenches and the clatter of tools fill a cavernous room as workers restore military Humvees at the former Loring Air Force Base. Even during breakstime, a few mechanics buzz away.
Those mechanics know the stakes are high: These Humvees may go to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Maine Military Authority has doubled production to meet demand for Humvees that are being sidelined from the wear and tear of combat operations. Many are getting heavy armor to protect against roadside bombs.
The importance of the work is never far from workers' thoughts. Some of the recent arrivals from Kuwait show signs of damage. ''It's a matter of us doing our jobs so they can do their jobs," said Edward Rek, one of the mechanics.
The Maine Military Authority got its start overhauling surplus Humvees for National Guard units. It was awarded Army contracts worth $22 million for 620 Humvees this year because Army depots in Pennsylvania and Texas were at capacity.
In Maine, monthly production has grown to 220 units and the authority expects to deliver 1,900 Humvees by year's end, said general manager Gary Cleaves.
When it was created in 1997, the Maine Military Authority was the only place overhauling castoff Humvees. It started with 14 civilian workers and eight Humvees.
These days, it employs 540 people and is one of the biggest success stories of the redevelopment of Loring Air Force Base. The operation uses the former runway maintenance building, the former jet engine maintenance shop, and a former supply warehouse.
Across the former base, Humvees are everywhere.
On a recent day, 250 tan-painted Humvees were ready for delivery. Another 800 were awaiting refurbishing, along with other military vehicles: M-109 Howitzers, mobile kitchens and laundry units, maintenance trucks, and construction equipment.
Humvees are a common sight on local roads. They undergo 150 miles of tests before being declared fit for military service.
While the Maine Military Authority refurbishes anything with wheels or tracks, it has focused on the Humvee, or High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.
New Humvees from factories in Indiana and Ohio cost about $72,000 to $75,000 apiece. The refurbished ones cost $25,000 to $40,000 depending on the contract -- providing a substantial cost savings Cleaves said.
When they arrive, some have smashed glass, torn sheet metal and burn marks. A few were pancaked when parachutes failed to deploy in training. The bulk of them were simply worn out.
Those that cannot be repaired are stripped of parts and scrapped. But most can be revived.
''Give us a frame and some body parts, and we can do the rest," said John Langley, assistant supply and production director. ''We can build anything."
All Humvees are getting larger 6.5-liter diesel engines to address complaints that they're underpowered. They're also getting updated suspensions and 200-amp alternators. And 300 are being equipped with beefed-up springs to handle armor plates and ballistic glass to protect soldiers.
They come in different configurations: troop carriers, ambulances, scout vehicles, missile carriers. And before they leave, they'll be mechanically sound. Body damage will be repaired. And they'll be repainted. Engines are placed on a dyno for up to three hours and transmissions are tested on a special machine.
''It has to be right," Langley said. ''When someone out there is running through bullets, they have to be reliable."
The Maine Military Authority, which is self-sustaining, was created to oversee the Maine Readiness Sustainment Maintenance Center and is managed by the Maine National Guard.
Mechanics receive an average annual pay of $30,000 and benefits. Pay and pensions are managed by the state.
Cleaves sees plenty of additional work down the road. There are currently 150,000 Humvees assigned to National Guard and regular military units.
Those assigned to units returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will need some work, he said.
Also, work will continue for National Guard units nationwide, which are currently 12,000 units short of their necessary numbers, he said.
But the Maine Military Authority isn't stopping there. As it looks to diversify, the company is looking at the possibility of refurbishing school buses, snow plows and other equipment used by state and local governments.