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WWI Tank rolls again!

Restoring a vintage vehicle is a daunting task in itself, but when that vehicle is a historical artifact, it becomes even more of a challenge. Two members of the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum tackled a formidable challenge when they attempted to get a World War I Ford tank running again.
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By Kone Brugh II

the Ford Tank was one of the featured exhibits at the Annual East Coast Military Vehicle Rally conducted May 8-10, 2008, at the Ripken Stadium, Md.

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Restoring a vintage vehicle is a daunting task in itself, but when that vehicle is a historical artifact, it becomes even more of a challenge. Vehicles have had a life of their own, and unlike other artifacts (such as a table where a treaty was signed), it is difficult to maintain them to their original state. For one thing, any vehicle that was witness to any significant event was used, damaged, repaired and modified before and probably after the event. It is very difficult to capture Ordinance equipment and keep it in a “historic” condition because it often degrades with time and requires constant maintenance.

For me, as a retired Ordinance Sergeant Major, to experience a historic vehicle I need to experience its soul, to hear it running, smell the hot oil and feel the vibration of its mechanics. For me, it has got to function as originally designed. As a new member of the Ordinance Foundation – which assists the Ordinance Museum in Aberdeen in preserving the wealth of historic material in its collection – I challenged the foundation to expand its mission by restoring selected vehicles to running condition. After much discussion, retired Warrant Officer Leonard Kolacki and I were authorized to inspect several vehicles to determine if any might be made to run again.

The Ford 3-Ton Tank was selected as our trial horse because it was complete, looked good, and was of simple technology. An easy job, I thought. We quickly learned that the Ford was restored to running condition in the 1950s and was known to operate until about 1962. Fifty years of indoor storage should not have taken too big a toll on the machinery — or so I thought.

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The project was approved and limited funding provided. Len and I worked a statement of work outlining how we intended to proceed. We thought it important not to get in over our heads with repairs we might not be able to complete. We began by merely cleaning, lubricating and making simple repairs until we had confidence that the power plant was still basically sound. Another major consideration was safety. We took extraordinary care not to damage anything and even greater attention to fire prevention.
The Ford Tank is a marvel of simplicity and a great example of ingenuity. Most of the machinery was readily available off-the-shelf hardware. The two engines and transmissions are Ford Model T. The final drive appears to be two Ford truck units yoked together. There is one radiator, which may be modified from something else. One carburetor serves both engines and the water pump could have served a marine engine. I doubt that Ford engineers spent more than a few days on R&D for our first tank.

My extreme concern for fire safety was well-founded on this tank. The fuel tank sits directly above the high-voltage ignition system. The driver sits mere inches in front of that and the single carb is poised to direct the notorious Model T backfire in the worst possible position.

In addition to changing all fluids, required repairs were limited to the fuel and electrical systems. The wiring had lost most of its insulation and remaining fuel had turned to the consistency of road tar. We had the ignition coils professionally rebuilt by a Model T expert and the wire harness for each engine was slightly modified from reproduction Model T units. Cleaning the fuel system was a greater challenge as we wished to save all the original components. We tried everything and found that alcohol, time and patience does the trick.

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William W. Ward (on the left) and Leonard Kolacki (on the
right) both members of the Ordnance Museum Foundation,
volunteered to see if they could get the Ordnance Museum’s
1918 Ford 3-Ton Tank to run under its own power.

With all obvious repairs and services complete we were ready to fire the old girl up. Knowing that the Fords were hard to start due to the drag of the planetary transmission, we did what all T drivers do in the winter — jack the wheels up. In this case it was the track but the effect is the same. This allows the track to turn as the starter turns over and increases cranking speed for easier starting.

After still more tinkering, repairing vacuum leaks, adjusting carb and spark she fired. What a sound! Eight low-compression un-muffled cylinders turning iron track for the first time in 50 years. With smoke rolling out of both pipes and the whole thing vibrating like hell, we had an unequaled felling of satisfaction.

Now the tank is an excellent teaching aid. Military history students cannot only see how far we have come, but can have exactly the same sensory perception the first crew had. Sadly, old equipment is just too demanding to keep in an operational state indefinitely. We can, however, record this one in video. Future generations can view the recording and experience a little closer what it was like to drive a WWI tank.

Visit the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum

We hope you will visit the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum to experience more unique artifacts in person. The Ordnance Museum is home to one of the finest collections of armored vehicles, artillery pieces, small arms and ammunition in the country. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily. It is closed on all national holidays except for Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. There is no admission fee. Books, apparel, souvenirs and memorabilia can be purchased at the gift shop. It is conveniently located right off Interstate 95, just follow the signs. To visit Aberdeen Proving Ground without current federal or military ID, you must enter at the Maryland Blvd. Gate (Route MD-715 from Route 40) and show a picture ID and your vehicle registration. Visit the Museum Foundation’s Web site ( for a map and further instructions on how to get to the museum.

The Ordnance Museum Foundation
The Ordnance Museum Foundation needs public support to preserve this world-class collection of artifacts. Membership is only $35 a year and includes a one-year subscription to Military Vehicles Magazine. Joining is easy and can be accomplished online. The Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is home to many rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts. The Ordnance Museum Foundation, Inc. is made up of men and women who volunteer their time to preserve this unique collection for future generations. If you are like-minded, please consider joining or making a donation. For more information, visit the Foundation at or query “Ordnance Museum” with your favorite browser.

Kone Brugh II,

Chair, Board of Trustees

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