Reporting Frank Vascellaro
Web Extra: Frank The Tank Slideshow
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Reporters take some assignments in stride. Other assignments require no arm-twisting. This story belongs among the latter.
When I discovered the fact that there is a Minnesota company that allows people to get inside massive tanks and drive them around, I thought I’d died and gone to Guy Heaven. There’s all this adrenaline about wanting to get in and drive them and listen to them and smell them and hear them clank around.
But the people who run Drive A Tank in Kasota, Minn. say their business is almost evenly split between gender lines.
“A lot of women see it. I think they are a little more eager to get out and do things like this,” said 25-year-old co-owner Tony Borglum.”It seems like they lead the thing; it’s always the women that drag the guy along.”
Among the tanks WCCO saw on our field trip was an Abbot Self Propelled Gun, a British-made weapon in use from 1965 to 1995. Carrying a 105-millimeter gun, its purpose was to lob large shells a long distance.
As I quickly found out, though, tanks are built for function, not comfort. It could also be that I’m a little bigger than your average British man. My head was sticking out of that cabin to such an extent, I have to assume I’d be killed instantly if I was driving it during wartime.
Though it weighs more than 30,000 pounds, the Abbot actually responded to my controls with ease. It was straightforward: push right to turn right, left to turn left, pull back to stop.
As fun as it was to drive the Abbot down hills and through mud, at Drive A Tank, they don’t just set you loose in tanks to drive the trails around their 30 acres. There is a class and safety briefing beforehand.
“We’re the only people in the country doing this,” said Borglum.
In the class I took with Jeanie and David, a couple from Illinois, we learned the U.S. Government doesn’t sell surplus tanks. While the tank’s guns no longer fire, the big vehicles can just roll.
Also, it takes a year, and a lot of paperwork, to import surplus armor from Europe.
“You need ATF import permits, but you have to have vehicle serial numbers. You really don’t know if you’re going to get your Form 6 until you have the vehicle serial numbers,” said Borglum.
The class continues outdoors, making Drive A Tank a little bit like a museum … only one where you’re allowed to touch cold war relics like the 432 APC, an armored personnel carrier. The British made about 3,000 of them between 1962 and 1971. They’re designed to deliver 10 troops into battle.
It’s a tight fit for the driver and the tricky part is looking through a periscope to see where you’re going. Your view of the outside world is about 3 inches by 9 inches.
The grand finale: Larry, a Chieftan Main Battle Tank nearly 25 feet long, 10 feet wide and 9 feet high. Just being inside gives you a massive, powerful feeling. Weighing more than 60 tons, Larry can crush just about anything in its path. Like, say, cars.
That’s right. For $500, you get the chance to crush a car with a tank. Also included with the price of admission, you can test fire some of their historic firearms in the indoor shooting range. There are a lot of choices, including a circa 1942 Tommie gun and a World War II 0.30-caliber machine gun.