Test Drive a Sherman Tank, Crush A Home — For Fun

December 4, 2015, 4:01 PM UTC

It was a scene out of Jurassic Park: Standing in the woods on a crisp fall morning, hearing the crashing sound of an enormous, 33-ton beast making its way through the trees toward us. Finally it emerged, its turret-mounted 76-mm gun barrel aiming right at us.

The predator in question was an M4 Sherman tank, the only decommissioned civilian version you can drive in the U.S. And that was exactly what my family and I were about to do.

We were at Drive A Tank, a Kasota, Minnesota-based concern, that gives ordinary civilians a chance to experience some of the most hardcore military machinery on the planet. For anywhere from group rates of $200 a day, up to $4000 for demolishing a car and $5000 for crushing a mobile home, the young and well-informed proprietor, Tony Borglum, hosts about 2,500 people a year to drive his 38 military vehicles; nowhere else in the US can you commandeer the variety of mechanical behemoths he offers, nor shoot the number of machine guns. Divisions of corporations like Audi and IBM come to Drive A Tank for a different and more aggressive form of team-building than the average offsite allows.

My partners in destruction were my husband, my stepson, 18, and my two children, aged 10 and 12. Before taking us into the field, Borglum gave us an hour-long history lesson about the military vehicles we were about to experience.

And then, I found myself in the driver’s seat of a British FV432 APC (armored-people carrier). After a few minutes of instruction—“put your butt in the right rut,” Borglum commanded—I squeezed down and, pulling the proper levers, gave the gas pedal a push. We lurched forward, my kids atop and hanging on for dear life, watching as we tackled the muddy track ahead. The FV432 was slow and noisy, but hurled itself around corners—and even splashed through a small pond—before finally completing the large lap. It took more muscle than I would have thought to steer the thing, but I quickly got the hang of it.

Borglum eventually got all of us (except my daughter) into the driver’s seat of one vehicle or another. From the look on my son’s face, he will never forget the experience of piloting the FV432—probably driving the largest machine he may ever command.

Over the course of the morning, we also drove the Sherman M4; an Abbott SPG; and a 60-ton Chieftain (only 90 exist in private hands in the world).

IMG_6584Courtesy of Drive A Tank

But the fun was just beginning and it was finally time for the moment I had been waiting for. Borglum brought us up to a large clearing, where a ready-for-scrap, late-model Cadillac sat, awaiting its fate—my sacrificial sheet metal. I climbed inside the mighty Chieftain, my kids poised on top to participate in the action, and following Borglum’s instructions, drove slowly and purposefully toward the sedan. I expected a huge jolt and crunch, but as I maneuvered the massive tank over the hood, roof and trunk of the tired old car, I felt nearly nothing—testament to the Chieftain’s battlefield capabilities. For all the moments of road rage I have felt over the course of my life, that one quick car crush satisfied a lifetime’s longing. The flattened remains needed no further words—or squashing.

We were not done destroying, however. Next up: a double long mobile home, long ago abandoned and ready for demolition. My stepson, Gavin, took the wheel first.

It was surreal to watch the British FV 432 tank (with periscope) slowly meander up to the front door of the mobile home and casually punch right through it. Glass and debris flew, but the home remained standing. “I saw the chandelier in the front hall coming toward me!” said Gavin.

It took seven more passes to completely flatten the structure. A sense of accomplishment settled in for all of us.

Final thrill: We went inside. Drive A Tank is headquartered in a large structure that houses Borglum’s whole collection of military vehicles as well as an indoor shooting range with double airlocks for safety. After donning eye and ear protection, we each took turns at target practice, first with a Sten submachine gun, then M4 assault rifle and then the grand finale—a brutally powerful WWII Browning M1919 A4 machine gun. The force of the weapon’s kick nearly sent me flying, and gave me further respect for what soldiers in the field endure on a daily basis.

Borglum is also working on a war games feature—using lasers to shoot at opponents and shutting down their tank.

I had questioned the sanity of making such an adventure a family outing, but it ended up being one none of us will ever forget—and one we’d like to repeat. For my video-game-addicted son alone, the intimidating power of these machines of war forever changed how he will view combat—real or fantasy.

If you’ve been stuck on what to get a loved one who has everything, this level of experience tops the list.