American Heritage Museum (Collings Foundation)

Back around 2000 I heard whispers, on the internet, of a collection of military tanks in nearby Portola Valley at the “Pony Tracks Ranch”. It was not open to the public, but some groups were getting private tours. I tracked down a few crumbs of information on the internet, and left a telephone message to ask if the Studebaker Club could have a tour. (Yes, I own a 1963 Studebaker convertible that my grandfather bought new. I rode in it when I was a baby!)

Jacques Littlefield, the billionaire with one of the best collections of “toys” in the world, promptly called me back, and we were in! We had an amazing tour, led by Jacques himself, of his huge collection of about 200 tanks. It also included his restoration shop with Russian-language manuals, a (very serious) hoist to lift the turret off a tank, and other such exotic tools to restore these beasts to full operating condition.

Fast forward a few years, Jacques passes-away at a relatively young ago of cancer, and his wife wants the stuff outta there! His “Military Vehicle Technology Foundation”, with a group of loyal members, is disbanded and the collection went to auction.

A quick overview of the former collection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfPRdmXCKXI and one of many longer YouTube videos of the former collection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWU0AsxOQiQ

Fortunately, the same awesome Collings Foundation, which has a WW2 warplane tour every year, stepped up and bought the best parts of the collection. It was all trucked to the Boston suburbs, and beautifully presented in this new building!

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Just inside the front door, it honors Jacques:

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Below is the address and website, should you wish to plan a visit! (Note they are in a “pre-opening” phase right now in late 2018, with very limited hours.)

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Jacques’ space in Portola Valley, was a massive garage, in the hills above Silicon Valley. Below is what you see upon entering the new space:

(A few items are not from Jacques’ collection, including 2 airplanes and the amphibious landing craft at lower-right below (PA45-18). It was purchased from a fisherman in Normandy who had still been using it since the Americans left it behind in 1945…)

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Some really rare stuff, sorted by military campaign or theater.

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Heavy on German and American armor, there is a little bit of Soviet hardware, too! (The signs explaining what each item is have not been added yet. “Coming soon”!)

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Below is one of two SCUD Missile Launchers that Jacques owned. This one has Iraqi markings. (Jacques told me a great story of how his first one was hung-up in Customs at the Port of San Francisco for a very long time. He had to document that it was not capable of operating if it was going to be in private hands. The second one he bought went right through!)

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The exhibits do not discuss winners and losers, and right versus wrong. The goal is to preserve the lethal hardware, and present it in a historical context.

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My favorite quote of Jacques’, which explains his fascination of these machines, I saved from the defunct website of the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation:

“For me, the important part of the tanks is understanding the industrial know-how that allowed them to be built, and then document those findings. There may not be much appreciation for them now, but hopefully after I’m gone people will look back and say, ‘Thank God he saved these historical vehicles instead of just letting them rust away and disappear forever.”

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The large camouflaged tank, below, to the right of the Soviet tank, was Jacques’ prized German “Panther”. It spent 70 years at the bottom of a river in Poland. Jacques acquired it, and restored it to operating condition! (Here is the restored Maybach V-12, being fired-up for the first time. Jacques is the bald guy, to the rear https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VZQVLQAk94 )

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All of the tanks have had their barrels cut and reattached so as to make them incapable of firing properly. Jacques used to hold an Open House every year for his neighbors and law enforcement. He knew his hobby was unusual, and he knew his neighbors did a double-take every time there was a new “toy” being trucked thru the neighborhood. Opening the gates and letting them look around was a really good idea!

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Where did he get these? Well, just like old warplanes, they are sold to collectors by small countries who often use them for many years after the original countries have moved on to newer stuff. Some the items are a bit trickier. The first SCUD Missile launcher was from, I think, the Czech Republic when the Soviets pulled-out. The second one was left when the Iraqis were pushed out of Kuwait.

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One of his other stories that I recall, was hearing of a vintage WW2 American tank that was owned by a warlord in Bosnia, back in the 1990s. He sent someone there, with a big wad of cash and said “buy it”! Due to the fragmented war in the former Yugoslavia, it was quite a task. It included paying-off other warlords to allow the tank to pass thru their territories, on the way to the port.

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The below German tracked troop carrier is huge! The top of the grille is about 7 feet off the ground.

IMG_2935Many of my pictures are from the elevated walkway. You’re also able to walk to within a few feet of each tank, on the lower level, and look at it closely. They have plans to keep at least some of them operational and take them outside for public events.

Should you decide to visit, be sure to check their hours and days at https://www.americanheritagemuseum.org/ I believe they are now closed until April 2019, when they will have their formal Grand Opening.

Here is a link to the Collings Foundation’s annual magazine, with discussion of both the tanks and their aircraft: https://issuu.com/collingsfoundation/docs/2018-collings-foundation-annual-mag?e=35563074/65926028 The aircraft collection is quickly expanding, as well. New additions include an iconic twin-tailed P-38 Lightning, an F-4 Phantom, and a 1914 Curtiss.

Enjoy your visit, and tip your hat to the memory of Jacques, who did indeed create a collection that is like nothing else.

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About AlphaRoaming

Random outdoor roaming: hiking, cycling, camping, backpacking & plotting more of the above Grew up on the edges of the Adirondack mountains of New York, just a bit west of Vermont. Now living in Silicon Valley and venturing out when and where I can!
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