Take out road frustrations with a tank

At a Minnesota 'theme park' frustrated motorists are climbing into surplus Cold War army tanks to crush junk cars - and loving it.
At a Minnesota 'theme park' frustrated motorists are climbing into surplus Cold War army tanks to crush junk cars - and loving it.

If you have the dough it'll be 'tank you very much' for the fun.

For anyone who has been stuck in traffic, it's a tempting fantasy: if only you were driving a tank and could roll over everything in your way.

Some American drivers are now flocking to an out-of-the-way spot in Minnesota to turn that vision into metal-crunching reality.

Drive-a-Tank offers them the chance to pilot surplus military tanks and other armoured vehicles around an old limestone quarry and smash junk cars like an action movie hero.

The ride is loud, grinding, hot and dirty - ideal for satisfying your inner Rambo.

"It was awesome. I mean, controlling that machine, it's incredible," says Jacob Ostling, 19, among those who took a turn under the turret on a recent Saturday and flattened a car in an explosion of glass.

Tony Borglum, a construction and heavy equipment contractor, opened the tank park three years ago after seeing similar attractions during a visit to England. He says he knew it would fit nicely into American culture - a more visceral version of what millions of guys are doing in video games.

He began buying up old Cold War era surplus and now has 11 armoured vehicles on an 8ha site 80km southwest of Minneapolis. Customers spend hours churning up and down a hilly, wooded course, getting a first-hand sense of what armoured warfare might be like.

"It's not as glorious as it looks like on TV," says Borglum, a short-haired 25-year-old who wore camouflage pants, a tan polo shirt and boots at the session.

But it satisfies the curiosity of those who have watched tanks in war movies.

"It was very realistic," agrees Brad Walker, who brought his 21-year-old son, Nick, for a day out before the young man got married.

"It kind of gives you an idea exactly how hard that job is."

Nick Walker, who squeezed his large frame into the cramped compartment, adds: "It's not a big person's job."

Drivers sit in the small space in front between the tracks and navigate by looking out the hatch. "It's very noisy. Lot of vibration. Kind of warm but not uncomfortable. Took a little getting used to the manoeuvrability, but it's just ... a blast," says Marvin Bourne.

A basic package that includes driving a tank and shooting a machine gun costs NZ$550, with more expensive options for driving several models and shooting other weapons such as assault rifles. Drivers who want to smash a car pay an additional $550. For about $3000, a customer can drive a tank through a trailer home.

Learning to control the lumbering machine with its two steering sticks takes only a few minutes. It was "easier than I expected," and "an awesome Christmas present", says Bourne, 58, who brought his wife, Karen, as passenger. He was among several visitors who had been given a ride as a gift.

Borglum says his park isn't the first in the US but he knows of no others still operating. Event coordinator Kessa Baedke says more than 600 packages have been sold this year.

On display is a British Chieftain Mark 11 which featured in the 2002 Matthew McConaughey dragon invasion film, Reign of Fire.

Another Chieftain, nicknamed Larry, weighing 60 tonnes with a top speed of 50km/h, makes short work of any obstacle in its path.

"To have that much weight on just two brake handles, it's awesome," says Ostling after the tank rolled over a car and rained glass around his head. The car "was like a tin can".


-AP

- NZ Herald

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