Tank Town USA: Drive Tanks, Crush Cars
Even in times of anger and divisiveness, we can take comfort knowing that America has a spiritually uplifting place like Tank Town USA.
This could be you for 500 bucks.
“When I opened, I thought people would say, ‘Oh, this was pretty cool,'” said Todd Liebross, Tank Town’s owner. “Instead it’s been, ‘This was the most awesome thing I’ve ever done in my life!!!'”
Todd grinned. “People like driving tanks.”
Surprisingly, there are no tanks in Tank Town, which Todd freely admits. Instead, visitors drive FV432s, armored personnel carriers formerly used by the British Army (The U.S. doesn’t sell operational armor to the public). “99 percent of people accept them as tanks,” said Todd, who told us that he hoped to get a real British tank as soon he could afford one.
Any disappointment you might feel at not driving a mobile hell-howitzer quickly disappears once you slide into the driver’s hatch and rev the engine. The view is panoramic, and you’re in control of 15 tons of armor-plated steel. Learning how to drive takes about 30 seconds. Despite our best efforts at journalistic detachment, we found ourselves uttering unexpected “Whoo-hoos!” of glee. It’s a lot more fun than driving a car.
Todd is a reassuring presence in the commander’s hatch, telling you where to turn to crest a hill or plow through a wallow. The engine roars, the exhaust pipe spews blue smoke, the treads rattle and squeak — a sound familiar to anyone who’s watched Pattonor Saving Private Ryan. Tank Town operates in a big dirt pit that becomes a muddy quagmire when it rains. Not that it matters; you will get filthy whenever you visit Tank Town (wear old clothes) and you’ll be sore the next day — but you probably won’t mind.
The best seat at Tank Town is the plastic chair bolted to the back of your machine, where the passengers ride (The $50 fee includes one driver and one passenger). This upgrade, invented by Todd, is something we called the Chair of Chaos. Positioned sideways and high to avoid the engine vents, it’s at the far end of a moving, bouncing fulcrum, tossing and whirling whoever’s strapped into it as the driver weaves up and down and around the hills. “The kids always think they want to drive — and it’s a cool ride,” said Todd. “But that passenger seat’s the best.”
The ultimate catharsis at Tank Town is its “crush” option; for $500 you can flatten a junker car supplied by the attraction. The waiting area is festooned with fragments from dozens of vehicles obliterated by Tank Town’s customers. “Honda Civics crush down pretty good,” said Todd, and the Chevy S-10 pickup “really flattens.” The toughest car to crush thus far, said Todd, has been the Chrysler PT Cruiser. “That thing really is a tank,” said Todd.
Chair of Chaos.
Despite Tank Town’s apparent simplicity, Todd has put a lot of thought into it, although now he admits that his initial assumptions were all wrong.
“I thought it was all gonna be 18-to-35-year-old guys,” Todd said, but his customers have ranged all the way from patriarchal World War II vets to kids who’ve just qualified for their driving permits. Half of his drivers are women, and, according to Todd, they’re more enthusiastic than the men.
“This couple bought a car crush for their three kids,” Todd said, “and one, I guess he was 16, never smiled. And the mom said, ‘If he doesn’t smile by the end of this, I’m done. I’m never doing anything for him again.’ So he gets off after crushing the car — and he’s just beaming, ear to ear. And she was like, ‘He’s smiling! I haven’t seen him smile in five years!'”
“It’s amazing,” said Todd, “that something that was made to do a lot of harm can also make people really happy.”