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Military Vehicle Technology Foundation: October 2010

man and shell bazooka
Hal posing with a 90mm tank shell And a bazooka-like
antitank rocket launcher

Hal visited the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation in Portola Valley, California, about a dozen miles from home. A wealthy man named Jacques Littlefield started a private collection of military vehicles in 1976 and by the time of his death in 2009 had collected over 250. The foundation currently maintains a part of his 500 acre property in Portola Valley and the vehicles, which are focused strongly on armored fighting vehicles (tanks, artillery, troop carriers, and even missiles) from all over the world. They give tours by reservation on Saturdays and I accompanied Mike and about a half dozen guys through the collection. Mike, who is in automotive mechanics instructor by trade, has an encyclopedic knowledge of armored vehicles. He told me that he has over 800 books about tanks in his collection. (I used to be very interested in armored vehicles when I was an ROTC cadet and later when I was the communications officer for a tank battalion in the 9th Infantry Division, but even so I only have five books!) The tour was two and half hours, but it was at a breakneck pace. We had to skim by a number of interesting items in the collection and Mike had race along as if he were on speed in order to give the details of the vehicles he did cover.

I am embarrassed to say that I screwed up the photography on this visit. The images here are thumbnails only. After I uploaded the full scale images to my PC, I erased them from the camera, only to find that I had somehow deleted them all on the PC! I was able to recover thumbnail sizes from previews stored by Adobe Bridge (which lamentably does not use the PC's Recycle Bin for deleted images), so that is all I am able to offer here. My apologies. Perhaps I will use this as an excuse to return to the foundation. The tour was such a whirlwind, I was not able to remember exactly which vehicle was which, so some of the photos below do not have captions. Photography there is a little difficult because the vehicles are really crammed into their three large warehouses. There are a number of vehicles that are stored outside, which is sort of sad because they will never be more than rust buckets.

One of the fun things about U.S. Army tanks is that they named many of them after Civil War generals, which you can see below. My favorite vehicle name in the collection was the Weasel. I was familiar with all of the U.S. vehicles in the collection, either from my own experience in the Army or from visits to other armored vehicle museums in the past. However, they had a rich collection of British, French, German, Soviet/Eastern Bloc, Chinese, and Israeli vehicles, too, ranging from several from World War I up through almost the present day. Mike told us that President Clinton signed a law that prevents private collectors from having the most recent vehicles. Thus, they do not have a real M1 Abrams tank, although they have partially disassembled prototype from General Motors—the loser (to Chrysler) in the competition for building that tank. They also have a training turret used for Abrams training. I was offered the opportunity to climb inside, but I am really too tall to consider it. I probably would've gotten stuck! Some of the earlier tanks were so tiny inside that they must have recruited midgets to fight in them. Mike emphasized throughout how dangerous it was to operate those vehicles in combat. He also told us some grisly stories about tanks in the 1991 Gulf War, which he said he avoids discussing when the Cub Scouts come through.

There were two vehicles I was disappointed to find they did not have in the collection. One of the most unusual tanks in history is a Swedish model called the S-Tank, which did not have a revolving or elevating turret, but used its tracks to rotate and its suspension to elevate. Also, I was hoping to see an M577, of which I commanded two in the Army. It is really like an M113 armored personnel carrier, but is about 5 feet taller and is used for command posts, and in my case, signal equipment that accompanied tank battalions. But these are very minor complaints because they had whole hosts of interesting vehicles that I had never seen before.

In addition to the fully restored vehicles, they also had a collection of associated equipment, such as antitank weapons, and tank shells and missiles.

For those having an interest in military history, I would heartily recommend booking a tour at the MVTF. Details are on their website.