Looking back, I can see the role of a big brother was to demonstrate their “coolness”, whether in actions or possessions. I was forever wanting to tag along where ever they went, or play with what they had.
When I was four, nothing held my attention more than my oldest brother’s latest models — M13 and M3A1 half-tracks. Tom let me watch him assemble the pair of Monogram plastic kits. When I got bored watching him glue parts together (or maybe just a bit light-headed from the fumes), I stared at the box cover art imagining soldiers blazing though Nazi fortresses in these trucks with tracks.
When Tom completed the model kits, he showed me how the rear door opened on the M3A1 and how the anti-aircraft gun spun around on the M13. What captivated me, though, was when he pushed them across the dining room table. Not only did the front wheels turn, but the tracks rolled as well! I was hooked. I experienced my first bona-fide half-track envy. It would not be the last time.
As the weeks past, I pestered him relentlessly to show me the “tank-trucks” (I couldn’t pronounce “half-track”, so devised “tank-truck” as the label for the olive-brown plastic vehicles). Needless to say, most of my pleading ended in tears rather than 1/32nd scale battle scenes. To add insult to this injury, my big brother admonished me — no, we warned me — “never dare touch these models”.
Oh for a Tank-Truck of my Own
One early evening during that summer of 1966, my dad was upstairs (we lived in a big old Victorian house), shaving. An evening shave was unusual—it meant he and Mom were going somewhere. My folks didn’t go out much, especially in the evening without the kids. In retrospect, I suspect it was their anniversary. But I was only four and I really didn’t care about the reason, I just knew they were going to leave me alone — at night — with my brothers!
That didn’t bode well—who was going to take care of me? Good thing Celine —my protector — was there. She would keep the boys from teasing me too much. Still, I didn’t like the idea of Mom and Dad being gone after dark. I sat in the bathroom with Dad as he shaved. I told him I didn’t want him to go anywhere. “The boys are going to beat me up if you go!” I cried. “No, they won’t,” he assured me. “Celine will take care of you.” That wasn’t enough. I cried some more.
Dad attempted to divert my attention, “I will bring you something. What do you want?” This was my big chance! Without flinching for a second, I announced, “I want a tank-truck!” simultaneously brushing the tears from my face and my memory. Dad knew that was a hard request to fulfill. “What else would you like if I can’t find that?” I wasn’t quite as prepared for a follow-up. A moment’s reflection produced the image of machine guns in the hands of the guards on “Hogan’s Heroes”, my favorite television program. Those Germans had a way of carrying their MP-40 submachine guns at the ready with the sling going under one arm and returning over the opposite shoulder. I announced, “I want a German machine gun”.
Well-Armed, but not Mobilized
My folks went on their “date”, my brothers teased me until I cried, and my sister put me to bed. But, when I woke up the following morning, I found a black plastic Broomhandle Mauser pistol in a cardboard display box next to my bed!
To a little guy of four, that Broomhandle looked a whole lot like an MP-40 submachine gun. I raced downstairs into the kitchen and ripped it from the box. Digging into the bottom drawer next to the stove, I pulled out a green-handled pair of scissors and a ball of butcher’s cord. After cutting a length of cord, I tied it to the bottom of the pistol’s grip and around the barrel. I “slung” my pistol and went outside to find my brothers (whom I imagined as renegade American soldiers). After gunning them down, I showed them my reward for enduring their wrath!
Despite being so well-armed for backyard battles against imaginary Allies, my heart yearned for a “tank-truck”. I am sure my “machine pistol” immobilized more than one fantasy tank-truck that morning.
Mobilized Through ‘Lend-Lease’
Time passed. The days of playing army were long gone (well, they were revived during my “reenacting period”, but that is another story!). About eight years ago, I interviewed with Krause Publications to become the editor of a new magazine they had purchased — Military Vehicles. I spoke with a number of people, but the real test of my abilities concluded with meeting the big cheese, Mr. Chet Krause, himself.
Following a few minutes of small talk in which he judged my military know-how, he asked me if I owned a military vehicle. I told him that even though I raced cars and did a lot of wrenching, I didn’t own an “MV”. “However,” I explained, “I have always wanted a half-track (somewhere during the intervening 30-odd years, I had mastered that particular two-syllable word).”
“Hell,” Chet replied, “I don’t pay enough for you to afford a half-track!” He went on, “I’ll tell you what … You come work for us and you can drive my half-track any time you want.” He had me at “Half-track.”
For the next few years, I lived in OD bliss. Chet had a huge collection of WWII vehicles, and he was very generous with letting me drive, study and photograph them. I spent my spare time washing and detailing the trucks, jeeps, high-speed tractors and even his M4 Sherman. Through his generosity, I was living out my childhood half-track dreams.
Sometimes, an opportunity for revenge is best left unused
Each year in Iola, the Car Show Office sponsors a Military Vehicle Show. Usually, about 150 vehicles are displayed and paraded for an audience that numbers about 10,000 over the two-day show.
A couple of years ago, I invited my oldest brother Tom (the one who had the half-track models when we were kids) to come over for Show. He didn’t know it, but I had a surprise for him.
Tom and his two boys came for the weekend. I had to work most of the show, but on Sunday, I was able to break free. At noon, all of the vehicle owners were gathering to parade their vehicles. Because Mr. Krause had about 40 vehicles on display, he needed drivers.
I told my brother to walk with me. We crossed the parking lot to where Chet’s M16 anti-aircraft-gun-equipped half-track was idling. We stood by the driver’s door. Tom assumed I was going to climb into the driver’s seat. Over the sound of the idling engine I said to him, “Hey, remember your models of half-tracks when we were kids?”
“Yeah,” he replied, “One was like this, wasn’t it?”
It was, sort of, but this wasn’t the time to flex my military vehicle knowledge.
“Yeah. It is.” I continued, “Remember how you wouldn’t let me play with them?” He just looked at me, not knowing if I was going to dredge up — yet another–painful childhood memory (I tend to be a bit dramatic at times). “Well, you can play with this one — hop in. You’re driving.”
Still No Track, but the envy is gone
A few years after that parade ride with my brother at the steering wheel, me next to him and my nephews in the back playing with the .50-caliber anti-aircraft mount, Chet sold his collection. Someone else is enjoying that fine restored track.
Forty years have passed since I asked my Dad to bring me a “tank-truck”. I don’t harbor the desire to own a half-track anymore, though (Chet was right, I don’t get paid enough to take care of one!). Nevertheless, they will always mean more to me than just another fascinating piece of WWII history. To me, half-tracks are part of growing up and learning to appreciate the benefits of having a big brother.
Keep em rolling,
Editor, Military Vehicles and Military Trader