DOUG'S 'HEAVY METAL' GALLERY

 

T A N K SC A R R I E R SG U N SA R M O U R E D   C A R S

 

TRACKS.
   (Ver 1)

 

For an MV collector, you know you’re in heaven when the road signs read.




I’ve always had an interest in MV’s, in fact, I’ve always wanted to restore a fully tracked vehicle. My choice would be an M5 Stuart. But tracks aren’t particularly practical for street driving. So after hearing all the stories and seeing all the pictures of a friend's M37’s, I bought one. It’s a ‘51 with 55,000 miles on it, and it’s solid as a rock. The fire engine red paint came from a western Wisconsin fire department, and the truck’s fitted with the duece-and-a-half hard top. Even after more than a year, I still haven’t fully explored its off-road capabilities. Next on the list is an M274 Mule, a completely practical MV, don’t you think?

Back to tracks. For several years my job has taken me onto military bases. Each time I visit the base - which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, although it is quite a few years ago now - I visited the maintenance facility where they work on all the armor, artillery and trucks used for training. I’ve gotten to know a number of the tech’s there, and, after much cultivating - along with a bit of begging and pleading, I got a ride in an M1 Abrams main battle tank. Three rides, actually.

The first occurred during my first visit to the camp. I needed to meet with the base operations officer to get the okay on our work plans. Turns out this captain had checked out an Abrams for lunch! I was instructed to meet him at the end of road, at the entrance to the tank training area.

We drove out there, parked at the end of the pavement, and waited. A few minutes later, a huge cloud of dust rolled toward us. As it got within about a quarter of a mile, we could feel the earth tremble. As it approached, all we could see was the muzzle of the 120 gun poking out of the dust cloud - an intimidating sight, needless to say. This monstrous machine rolled to a stop alongside our car, and we had to just sit with the windows up for about three minutes until the dust cleared. As I looked out the side window of the car, I was looking at the underside of the track, just about even with the bogie wheels. This thing was huge!, 130,000 pounds, to be more precise. The hatch opened, and the captain hopped down to meet with us. While we reviewed our training plans, I couldn’t help but eyeball the tank with envy. The driver, an old timer who had probably been trained on M26 Pershings, sat quietly in the driver’s compartment just below the turret. Finally - I couldn’t help myself - I had to ask. “You mean they pay you to do this!”

That sort of broke the ice, and the next thing we knew the captain asked if we’d like a ride. You think?

He kicked out two crew members and we climbed onto first, then into the turret. My co-worker standing in the cupola first while I sat in the gunners seat and debated whether to select “infr-red”, “laser” or “optical” for my sighting system, and whether I should load a “sabo” or “HE” round in the gun. I resisted the temptation to push any buttons.

Off we went. I couldn’t see much through the periscope, but I could feel the Abrams accelerate. As it automatically shifted up through the gears, I was impressed with both the acceleration and the ride quality. Noisy, to be sure, but much smoother than I expected.

After about 10 minutes of driving on dirt training roads, we stopped. We swapped places so that I was standing in the tank commanders seat with my upper body out of the cupolo. We were parked on the right side of a very wide dirt road. Through the intercom, I heard the tank commander order the driver to make a U-turn, so I fully expected the tank to make a 3 or 5 point turn - first forward, then back, then forward, etc.

Not so. We just drove into the woods! Instinctively, I recoiled and started to cover my face. But the 6 inch sapplings, small trees and brush just snapped off cleanly, without so much as a hint of resistance to this 70 ton beast. Down the side of the shallow embankment, through a marshy swamp, and back up onto the roadway. All I can clearly remember is the sound of the sapplings snapping off in front of us!, 20, 25, 30, 35mph, I heard the driver report through the intercom. Up to 43mph, the tank’s governed speed for training. Smoothly and efficiency, with none of the violence, bouncing an shaking I’d envisioned. I won’t say the Abrams was fast, but it was reasonably quick up to speed, and seemed to get there effortlessly.

We turned into a 90 degree right hand corner on the dirt road without braking, and my only complaint was that the driver turned just a big too soon, threatening to run off the edge of the road at the exit of the corner. But if you’re riding in a 70 tank, who cares? What can you hurt?

The tank commander called for a left turn, off the dirt road, and we headed cross country. Up and over terrace steps, which disappeared without a fuss under the tracks. Remember the movies of conventional tanks rearing up, nose in the air, as they climbed terraces or embankments? Not so, the Abrams. With the computer controlled suspension, the tank just stepped up onto the next level with a minimum of fuss or bother. I definitely got the impression that there can’t be much natural terrain or man-made obsticles that could stop this tank.

Back to our meeting place, a hearty “thanks” to the tank commander and crew, and we were back to the real world. An amazing, and unforgettable experience, particularly for an MV’er like me.

But that was just the beginning. This past fall, I spent another week at the base for work. I arranged my schedule so I’d have a couple of hours each afternoon while my co-workers handled things. Guess where I went? You bet, the maintenance facility. To renew my acquaintances with the tech’s there. I got another ride in an Abrams, courtesy of one of my comrades. It was a formal ride, quite slow and calm, but still a thrill, for sure. And I got a close up look at a “power pack” from an Abrams - the Testron Lycoming 1500 horsepower gas turbine engine. An amazing powerplant, to say the least. It’s remarkably compact. The complete engine is roughly 5 feet long by 3.5 feet wide by 2.5 feet tall. The compressor stage is about 12 inches in diameter, and the turbine is about 24 inches in diameter. A huge heat exchanger, called a recuperator, superheats the incoming air before it is compressed to help give the engine good performance and economy at part throttle.

The next day, I got another ride in an Abrams, but this one was much more “unofficial”. A tech I’d been visiting the day before was just buttoning up an M1 after repairing an hydraulic leak in the turret. Big job to replace a single hose, he’d had to remove and replace most of the turret interior components - through the hatches!

After refilling the hydraulic system with 30 gallons of oil, he needed to road test the tank. Good thing I was there, eh? “Want to take another ride?, he asked. “You think?” This time, with no official presence, I got a much better “ride”. Out of the maintenance facility, along the dirt path leading to the training area, and.....full throttle! Up to 43mph in what seemed just a heartbeat. Hung out around a 90 degree right hander...Through the woods on a very narrow, winding path...And out onto a huge training area.

A pivoting U-turn - the Abrams can turn around on it’s own axis by driving one track forward, and the other in reverse. Then, back to the maintenance facility, again, at speed. I think he was trying to impress me. He succeeded!

It gets even better! I stopped back the next day to visit my favorite tech. He told me about “his” M88 tank retreiver that was parked at a different location on the base. He made a passing remark about wanting to get it back to the concrete parking area before winter. I picked right up on that, and said “you probably need a little help with that, don’t you?” He laughed, and said “Sure. Come on, let’s go get it.” We got a lift from his buddy out to the parking area where the M88 was stored. If you’re not familiar with the “88”, it’s been around awhile, and until the Abrams, it was the largest fully tracked vehicle in the military inventory. It’s huge, something around 50 tons I think, fully armored, and equipped to head out onto the battlefield to repair and retreive disabled tanks.

Basically, the M88 is an armored box built on an M60 tank chassis. It’s powered by an 800 horsepower turbo diesel engine with a manually shifted three-speed automatic transmission. Instead of a weapon, the M88 mounts a huge hydraulic boom and a massive winch assembly, and is equipped with a monstrous tow bar and various tools to deal with fixing armored combat vehicles.

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We climbed in through the side hatch. The tech - who also shall remain nameless to protect the innocent - dropped into the driver’s seat on the left, and I climbed into the co-driver’s seat on the right. He showed me how to open the hatch above my head, and elevate my seat so I could poke my head out of the hatch for better visibility.

The big turbo-diesel fired right up, and after a few moments of warmup, we were off. But first, he manuevered very carefully and slowly out of the parking place and through the entrance gates. His buddy, who had driven us out there, was holding open the gates as we passed through.

“Watch this”, the tech shouted above the din of the motor. As we cleared the gate, he hit the smoke generator sending a billowing cloud of diesel smoke out the exhaust, completely engulfing his buddy at the gate. I think he knew it was coming.

The tech was laughing now, having a good time with us, and the “88”. We headed out of the parking area, crossed the base’s main paved road, and started across a huge cantonment area used to assemble and organize the various units for training exercises. This is a big area, to say the least, roughtly half a mile wide by almost a mile long. With absolutely nothing out there this time of year.

As we rolled along, I noticed we were drifting a bit to the left, off the defined dirt road. We seemed to be angling toward a huge puddle - actually what looked like a small lake, to be more accurate. I wasn’t sure what was happening until I noticed the gleeful smile on his face.

Yep, we hit the puddle - a ton! Emptied it completely. What did you expect? 50 tons at 20mph pack a huge punch, for sure.

As we both laughed at the rooster tail of water in our wake, I knew the timing was right. “Hey, what do you think about maybe letting me drive this thing?”, I hollerd. He let the “88” slow to a stop, looked all around carefully, and finally said “sure, what the hell. Can’t hurt anything here.”

Oh, man, oh, man, oh man. Dream come true. He climbed up out of the hull, I slipped down into the driver’s seat, and he quickly outlined the simple controls. “Steering” wheel for the hydraulics to apply brakes to each track. Manual shifter on the right for the tranny. Throttle pedal, and brake pedal. Instruments on a pod to my left. Heck with the instruments, let’s go!

Off we went. Just drop it into first gear, apply power and away we went. Gingerly at first, and straight ahead - just to get a feel for things. The tech was sitting on top of the hull with his legs dangling into the co-driver’s comparment. Either he was having a good time, or he wanted to be close enough to yank me out and take over quickly. I assume it was the former, not the later.

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Up into second gear, still accelerating. the “88” isn’t anywhere near a quick as the Abrams. More like a truck than a sports car. Finally, into third at about 22mph. I veered us to the left a bit, onto the dirt road leading off the cantonment area and back into the wooded training area. Past a field on the left with a handfull of old M60’s, parked forlornly, awaiting their fate. Last year, there were over 30 of these old warriors in this field, this year just a half dozen or so. The others had been overhauled and sent to the middle east! Heck, all I wanted was just one of ‘em!

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As we approached that same big sweeping 90 degree corner, the tech yelled over “maybe I ought to take it from here.” “Trust me”, I shouted back, “I can do this. No sweat.” He signalled to stop, which I did. As things quieted down a bit, he described how to take the corner in little bites - turn, straighten...turn/straighten...turn/straighten. This, to avoid throwing a track - never a good thing on a tank. He described how if the inboard track slows or stops too long and the chassis pivots around it, huge quantities of dirt can be forced up into the rear of the track. Then, when the track rolls forward again, this clump of dirt can walk the track off the drive sprocket at the rear. Don’t wanna do that, for sure. So I did exactly as he described. Up to speed in second gear, enter the turn, and turn/straighten...turn/straighten...turn/straighten. Piece of cake.

Having successfully negotiated the corner, he just waved ahead and said “go ahead, have fun”. With renewed confidence, I drove the “88” for a couple of miles through the woods, down dirt roads, over hills, back onto blacktop, up to over 25mph, and back toward the maintenance facility. I stopped just at the end of the pavement so we could switch seats, and he drove it back to the “88’s” winter home.

What a rush! Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to drive a tank. And thanks to a great guy to whom I owe a ton, I got to fulfill that dream.

Way cool! Can’t wait to go back there next spring. Next on the list is pulling the lanyard on an M109 self-propelled howitzer......just kidding!

My thanks to Paul.

 

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