The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Where Can You Drive a Tank?

Enjoying the Spirit of Fury at Drive A Tank

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a tank in motion. The deep rumbling roar of the engine combined with the squeaks, squeals, and chinks of the treads. Before it’s even in sight, you know something strong and primal is coming. Taking in these sounds, one begins to understand just how bizarre and foreign this modern war machine must have seemed when it first debuted on the dirty, rough battlefields of World War I.

The chiseled sign is almost as tough as a tank. Almost.

The chiseled sign is almost as tough as a tank. Almost.

The idea of what a tank exactly is seems to be a generational thing. Since I was born in the early ’80s, the word “tank” conjures images of giant cartoon G.I. Joe battles intermixed with footage from Desert Storm. A firsthand look wouldn’t happen until much later when in the military, and even then they were mostly on the periphery. And though I’d crawled inside one of two modern tanks, I’d certainly never driven one or pulled the proverbial trigger on one.

As it turns out, you don’t have to go through the arduous process of joining the military and receiving weeks or months of tank training to do either one of those, so long as you can make your way to Kasota, Minnesota. So make our way there we did.

driveatank fv433 abbot

Of course there would need to be some preparation. For training purposes, I watched Fury, Beast, and 1995’s GoldenEye — it was disappointing to later learn that no, unlike tanks depicted in that 17th James Bond film, one can’t drive and shoot at the same time. Childhood dream, scattered and shattered.

Drive A Tank (DAT) is run by one Tony Borglum, and as of this past September, it’s been in operation for 10 years. Originally Borglum was into racing and modifying street rods, along other aspects of competitive motor sports. He caught the military vehicle bug when he picked up a 2.5-ton 6×6 to trick out as an off-road vehicle. “It was like going to your first gun show. Once you see everything that’s available, it just rolls from there.” And roll it did. Starting with a British Ferret armored scout car, DAT now has 20 different pieces of armor and numerous other examples of heavy military equipment spread out over their large facility.

Despite the name, not all of the armor available to drive at DAT are technically tanks. There are several self-propelled artillery pieces like the FV432 Abbot. To the untrained eye there’s little difference: armored, tracked, with a huge gun and turret.

There are a variety of packages available on DriveATank.com. As the company name heavily implies — driving them is one of the main draws. The most popular by a good margin is their Four Star package. You get to drive two different armored vehicles and fire some historically accurate machine guns. Add in driving over a car, and the entire experience will run you about the same as a decent weekend shooting course. So while the price may be high for some, it’s certainly not insurmountable.

We went a step further, probably because Fury was just so damn good, and signed up for the full Sherman Driver Experience. DAT says they’re the only place in the world you can go and trawl around in a functional Sherman tank without joining a backward third-world military. We would drive their tank trails with our heads exposed like one would do in less hostile areas, and then do it again buttoned-up using just the limited view gifted by periscopes.

Speaking of Fury, many of the original costumes and dummy weapons used in the movie itself are owned by DAT. Brad Pitt’s STG-44 made an appearance, as well as Gordo’s actual costume from the movie. So, of course, we used them.

sherman tank drivingtanker jacket

The physical driving isn’t terribly difficult once you’re talked through the controls. Each tank or propelled artillery piece has its own nuances, and none are anything like driving your Toyota Corolla to work. The experts at DAT are on-hand to talk you through everything (and make sure you don’t run into any trees). In the end we weren’t able to do any jumping or drifting that we’ve seen on YouTube, but we highly suspect the staff at DAT can do just that if they were so inclined.

DAT has some of the original costumes and props from Fury, for maximum tank nerdery.

DAT has some of the original costumes and props from Fury, for maximum tank nerdery.

So how about shooting? Most all of the tanks on the market have disabled main guns; otherwise they would be considered destructive devices. However, destructive devices are legal in many states provided one goes through the proper channels. Still, others make do with alternative firing mechanisms. The Sherman at DAT can fire a specialized projectile that doesn’t use traditional explosives as a main charge.

tank ammo tank shell

Though we don’t know the exact details of the shells and firing mechanisms, we do know that each projectile is formed with a rapid prototyping machine and loaded into a heavily modified system. Instead of being filled with explosive material, the projectiles are filled with chalk or paint — so you still have a visible impact, albeit not quite as awesome as in the movies.

There are indeed some tanks with operational main guns out there in private hands. The safety of these items may be called into question, however. Many of these ostensibly functional main guns are re-welded demills of guns that had an incredibly short service life to begin with (call it a calculated risk when the fate of the free world is at stake fighting Hitler). It might seem silly, but oftentimes owners will sleeve their barrels down to .50 BMG. Similar systems are used for tank training around the world.

sherman tank gunner sherman tank interior

In order to be effective, a tank crew has to operate like a well-oiled machine with everyone playing their part correctly. The commander, gunner, loader, driver, and co-driver all have to act independently yet together. Maybe someday the battlefield will be full of autonomous fighting vehicles or units being remote controlled by some nerd in a van from thousands of miles away, but that day isn’t today. And it certainly wasn’t the case back when grandpa fought on the Western Front so many years ago. What you get at DAT is a taste of those great battlefields of the past.

Regardless of how big the outside of a tank is, the inside could only be what a real estate agent would describe as “cozy.” That is to say, you’re crammed in there among all of the controls, and everything around you will snag or snare any bits of loose clothing or gear. Yeah, you don’t want to be bulked up in this one. You have to keep in mind that tanks were never built for comfort, but instead as a force multiplier on the battlefield. Even the most modern tanks are short on space, and you certainly won’t walk around inside one like they do all the time in movies.

tank drive over car

So, of course, we slept in it. Because sleeping inside the metal box of a Sherman, in Minnesota, in November always seems like a good idea when you’re planning it. There’s at least one good place to sleep inside this steel coffin, provided you’re the only one who has to do it. Right in the top of the turret, underneath the commander’s seat. We survived due to a combination of unseasonably warm weather and an insulated Big Agnes ground pad originally purchased for cold weather camping. You need some kind of insulating layer between your body and the metal frame, because any down or other fill inside your sleeping bag will be compressed by your body when you lay down.

You could probably squeeze two grown adults in there if need be, but there was no way the men at the Battle of the Bulge were comfortable. As I gazed at the night sky through the open commander’s hatch above, these were the thoughts that kept me awake.

We also drove over some cars. Part of the DAT site is a boneyard of crushed vehicles right alongside complete automobiles standing by and awaiting their fates. For the purposes of turning a Chevy Lumina into a pancake, we didn’t use the Sherman, instead opting for a British FV4201 Chieftain.

Absolutely the strangest part about driving over a car is that you mostly only notice the noise. No doubt many of you have been in car accidents before, and even a relatively minor low-speed collision can cause you to get slammed and jerked around. We’ll tell you firsthand there’s none of that going on when you’re inside a tank that’s rolling over a car. Metal grinds, glass flies in the air as the windshield bursts, and the tank barely moves in a perceptible fashion (at least compared to normal driving). Remember, we’re talking about something that weighs significantly more than a Prius or other daily transport.

german-guns

As mentioned, there are some period-correct machine guns available. Also on the DAT site is a gun shop and range fully equipped with an SOT. In addition to the historical pieces, they have some more modern offerings such as automatic M4’s.

Do you want to own a tank yourself? Private tank ownership in the United States isn’t without some controversy, but perhaps not for the reasons that you’d think. Ever see a tank outside an American Legion, VFW, or similar? There’s a better-than-decent chance that those tanks are simply on long-term loan from the U.S. government rather than being actual property of that particular location.

For a long period of time the government would provide tanks to about anyplace that was described as a “museum,” some of them being little more than an outbuilding on private property. Years and even decades later, ownership changes, paperwork is lost or forgotten, and then that U.S. property tank unlawfully changes hands. On the buyers end, everything may seem copacetic, only to find Uncle Sam knocking at the door years down the line.

As such, collectors are usually extraordinarily cautious when buying American tanks from private parties, instead opting for official dealers and American tanks originally exported to foreign nations and then later re-imported back in the states. The Sherman tank pictured in this article, for example, was first produced for a foreign nation.

Time was, when my spouse would complain about how expensive firearms are as a hobby, I used to make comparisons to racing cars or about anything equestrian. From this point forward, I’ll just bring up the costs of owning and operating a functional tank. Even the most inexpensive tanks cost far more than your average luxury automobile, to say nothing of fuel, maintenance, or land required to use them. Your bigassed 4×4 may be hard on gasoline and parts, but it doesn’t come close to even the lightest tank. And the prices go up in a nearly exponential fashion with condition and functionality.

So instead, as I lay back in bed I’ll remember the beautiful cold night sky seen through that turret hatch, and sleep soundly. And maybe make my way back to Kasota.

drive a tank

Drive A Tank
Address : 550 W. Cherry St.
Kasota, MN 56050
Phone: (507) 931-7385
URL:
www.driveatank.com

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