What’s your hobby? Collecting tanks? Meet the collector who got delayed by engineers.
People collect all sorts of things, but not many collect tanks, let alone keep them all in their backyard. How many tanks are we talking about? About 240, to be exact. And the guy who owns them used to be a Silicon Valley engineer.
This Silicon Valley resident, Littlefield, graduated from Stanford University and worked as an engineer at HP. He is also the world’s largest tank collector. Of course, unlike us, he is extremely wealthy, with a 57-acre estate in the mountains of Silicon Valley and billions of dollars in wealth.
The truly wealthy people of Silicon Valley live in places you’ve never heard of, where land prices start at tens of acres. Their yards are so big that they could rent them out for UFO landings, and no one would ever find out. Their houses can’t be called mansions, that would be an insult, we can only call them estates. It takes several minutes to drive from the iron gate to the house. Many of these houses have horse stables and private vineyards.
The entrance to his estate takes a 5-minute drive.
Perhaps, being an engineer was just a way to experience the feeling of being delayed. Once he had enough of that, he went back to doing what he loved. He has been interested in tanks since he was a child, and started collecting real tanks when he grew up. Later, he quit his job and started collecting tanks full-time. He traveled all over the world to find abandoned and destroyed tanks from wars, paying tens of thousands of dollars to bring them back to his estate in California. Then, a team of over ten mechanics would try to rebuild them. The problem was that many of the tanks from World War II had no blueprints or documentation, so they had to be found in libraries all over the world. Replacement parts had to be found from other tanks of the same model, and if that didn’t work, they had to be made from scratch using the original blueprints. On average, it takes three tanks of the same model to repair one tank.
The T-34, the most famous tank in Russia during World War II.
This is the largest tank restoration site in the world.
One of the most famous reconstruction projects was the discovery of a Nazi Panther tank at the bottom of a river in Poland in 1990. The tank had been lying there for 46 years since World War II. The buyer didn’t miss this heaven-sent gift and purchased the 49-ton scrap metal for $5,000 from the Polish government, plus $35,000 for transportation. It took seven people over half a year to put together the Panther tank using parts from three scrapped vehicles of the same model. It is now one of the few operational Nazi Panther tanks in the world.
The World War II Nazi Panther tank lying at the bottom of a river in Poland for 46 years
The total cost of this collection item exceeded one million dollars. The entire process was also made into a special episode by Discovery Channel.
His collection was purely for personal enjoyment and was never publicly displayed until his death in 2009. His family established a foundation in his name, and volunteers maintain the massive collection, which is open to thirty visitors per week. The foundation relies on donations to cover basic expenses.
In 2012, I bought a donation receipt and drove for over an hour to visit his collection. I stopped in front of the estate gate, and it opened automatically. Following the signs, I drove along a dirt road for several minutes. Along the way, I saw a forest and a small lake, and occasionally, abandoned tanks hiding in the bushes, like a vase of rotten flowers in our backyard. It was a strange feeling, as if I was on a real battlefield, imagining the gunfire and distant explosions in my mind. But seeing the tanks so heavy, ancient, and decayed, I realized that this was a tank graveyard.
Abandoned tanks hiding in the bushes
When I arrived at the parking lot, I was shocked to see visitors’ cars parked next to several rusty Russian tanks. The scene was not only abrupt but also a temporal and spatial dislocation. The photos show that the open space near the residence was full of tanks, some left to rust, with children’s swings nearby.
Abrupt parking lot
Children’s swings and playground nearby
Most of the exhibits are in three huge warehouses, and what you see outside is just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t imagine how these massive machines were transported here from all corners of the world, but that’s the charm of collecting – the difficulty and the “impossible” make them even more precious.
About 200 tanks have been rebuilt in the warehouses, while there are still around 40 outside. Some are being rebuilt, some may not have their turn yet, some are unsure how to handle, and some are like the abandoned children of a cattle drive. Among them is the world’s oldest first-generation tank, which is 107 years old, as well as tank cranes, trailers, and a trailer for a Hellfire missile during the Gulf War, with the missile still attached.
Shortly after the visit, almost all of the collections were auctioned off, leaving behind dozens of tanks that couldn’t be moved and no one wanted, continuing to rust away.
This person could be considered a collector who was ruined by engineers, but fortunately, he had money and realized early on that he should pursue his hobby wholeheartedly. If such a person were to remain a nine-to-five engineer, it would truly be a waste of talent and life.
As we left the estate, we saw the decay and weight hidden in the bushes along the way, and I thought this was probably the heaviest investment in the world. When I say “heavy,” I don’t mean money or weight, but rather the effort put into it.
If we look at this with a shallow and sarcastic view of “it’s just because he has money,” it would be demeaning to someone’s passion for pursuing their dreams. Money is the cheapest thing, what’s expensive is enthusiasm, the energy invested, and the ability to bring it to the extreme – that’s what’s most worthy of respect.
Seeing those heavy pieces of steel being discarded, perhaps because the rebuilding failed, I thought about how they had all come from thousands of miles overseas… Even if they were all scrap metal, I’m sure he still lived the most purposeful life.
The scrap metal will always be there, no one will want it at auction, and it can’t even be moved. You could say it’s the bones of tanks… just leave it as his tombstone. Scrap metal is not the end, but the process, and he has already enjoyed the pursuit, so the ending is not that important.