Don't Kick the Tires

Patrick Robb's vehicles were not owned by a little old lady who drove them to church on Sundays.

Over the years, the tank has been sold to about thirty countries, says Robb. Ferrets even saw action during the war in the Falkland Islands. Unfortunately for the British, they were on the Argentinian side.

Today Robb travels all over Europe looking for vehicles. "After the fall of the Soviet Union [in 1991] there was basically a fire sale of equipment" throughout Europe, he says. The U.S. government, by contrast, sends its old combat vehicles to the scrap pile. While it's possible to purchase American military trucks and cargo vehicles at auctions, anything more dangerous is strictly off-limits.

"Part of it is political," explains Fred Harris, a property-disposal specialist with the Army's Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office in Memphis. Harris says the country's Big Three automakers pleaded with the military not to flood the market with vehicles that could go toe-to-toe with their off-road and sport-utility vehicles. But Harris says that's only part of the picture. Many military vehicles aren't street legal, he says, and the government is also afraid that parts may be sold abroad and used against U.S. soldiers. "It's never a good thing to have our own guns pointing at us," Harris notes.

But according to Robb, the blame for all the Humvees stuck in the scrap heap belongs solely to Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. Some of the vehicles that are destroyed, Robb adds, have only a few hundred miles on them. "I paid a lot of money as a taxpayer for that shit," he says angrily. "Quite frankly, that's distasteful to me. It makes no economic sense."

Robb envisions one day selling his wheels of steel to fire departments to help combat forest fires, to construction crews who need to lug stuff into hard-to-reach places, or even to law enforcement agencies. For now, though, the main buyers are off-road enthusiasts like Lakewood resident John Cruse, a heating-and-air-conditioning repairman who bought his tank about a year and a half ago and likes to take it camping. "People always want to come by and talk" when they see the tank, Cruse says. He's equipped his ride with a small boom box and drives it "whenever I can get in it. It beats going to the movies."

Robb says people routinely flag him down to ask about his Ferrett and tend to converge around it when it's parked. He and the tank get invited to parades and festivals. And though the gas mileage stinks, the machismo never runs low. "Last year I went to this biker party," says Robb. "And I was God.

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