The Nokesville “Tank Farm” tells the story of American warfare through a collection of armored vehicles
One of America’s most extensive collections of disused tanks and other military vehicles began in 1982 when a Washington lobbyist turned history buff bought an army jeep.
Once you start collecting mobile military artifacts, Allan Cors said, it’s hard to stop.
Three years after buying the first jeep, Mr. Cors, a former top lobbyist for glass and ceramics giant Corning Inc., bought his first tank: an M5 Stuart. It was the last version of a light tank given to British troops under the Lend-Lease Act before the United States joined the war against Nazi Germany.
The collection grew – and grew and grew.
“I filled a warehouse in Warrenton, a warehouse in Crystal City and my garage at home,” Mr. Cors said. “My car and my wife’s were in the driveway. She was very understanding.
Mr. Cors now owns at least 80 military vehicles, including a vintage M1917, the first mass-produced tank in the United States, and one of the few operational M4 Sherman tanks from World War II. In 1989 he purchased a farm in Nokesville, Virginia to consolidate and display his collection.
“I have been interested in military history since I was a child. It has stayed with me all my life,” said Cors, who served one term as president of the National Rifle Association.
It held its first open house for friends in 1992 and welcomed around 75 visitors. The event has grown every year, with more people telling Mr. Cors that they want to see his unlikely fleet of battle tanks.
The farm is now the site of an annual Tank Day. Visitors can climb dozens of armored behemoths and watch military reenactments show what life was like for dog-headed soldiers in World War II. Last year, around 20,000 people attended the first Tank Day since the pandemic began. The two-day extravaganza starting Saturday could have a bigger crowd.
Museum officials estimated the collection to be worth several million dollars. Predicting the vintage tank market is not easy.
The collection is expected to become a centerpiece of the National Museum of Americans in Wartime Experience, the nonprofit organization chaired by Mr. Cors. The museum will be located along Interstate 95 in Dale City, Virginia. Museum CEO Dennis G. Brant said the goal was for visitors to make physical connections with military vehicles, the ultimate interactive experience.
“I can go to the Marine Corps Museum, but I can’t touch anything. Everything is behind glass. I can go to the army museum and I can look at it, but I can’t touch anything,” he said. “This museum is going to be ‘touchy-feel’.”
The museum also hosts an oral history project to document the stories of frontline military personnel, soldiers in the rear, and even families back home.
“Everyone does a double take when they see a tank rolling here on the track. But it’s the veterans who make it all possible,” said Dennis Gill, who leads the museum’s Voices of Freedom project. to document their stories.”
Mr. Gill’s grandfather was a waist gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber during World War II. He was shot down over Romania and taken prisoner by the Germans. He will die of a heart attack at 46, having never shared his story.
“Everything we know about the family comes from his [discharge papers] and some newspaper clippings of his exploits,” Mr. Gill said. “We don’t know what he went through as a POW or what it was like for him in a B-17 – getting shot down and jumping out of it.”
Mr. Cors has also acquired a number of tanks from foreign countries, including some behind the Iron Curtain. He salvaged an East German T-72 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unified Germany officials said it could be his if he paid the shipping costs.
After several years, Mr. Cors said, he realized that simply accumulating military equipment was not the main purpose of his collection.
“Vehicles, to me, are just a way to tell the stories of those who served,” he said. “The real story of the Tank Farm is not about the tanks.”
The collection also houses a British Centurion tank, a landing craft for Marines in World War II and a pair of odd Swedish S tanks, which have no turrets and aim by moving the entire vehicle towards the intended target .
“This is my circus, and these are my monkeys,” said Marc Sehring, director of operations at Tank Farm.
He said kids tend to think of the various tanks and armored personnel carriers as just big things to climb over. The reactions of veterans are often very different, even those of those who have never told their families about their war experiences.
“When they see a vehicle, it brings back a memory and all of a sudden it starts to flow,” Mr Sehring said. “They see things they fought against.”
Mr Sehring said they hoped to eventually add newer American tanks, including the M48 that US troops used in Vietnam, the Cold War-era M60 tank and the more modern M1 Abrams.
“But American tanks are really hard to find. We tend to blow them up or sell them to other countries,” he said.