Three Gibson County residents have taken up the task of building a World War I-era M1917 tank that will be dedicated to Gen. George Patton Jr., who fought in World War II.
Patton's grandson, a veteran himself, George Patton Waters, will accept the tank for his grandfather at a ceremony Thursday, Nov. 2, at the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes.
The three men, Randall Becht, his 18-year-old son, Grant Becht, and Brian Bartholome have built the tank mostly in their garage. This tank will be the first one on display in Indiana. Randall Becht and Bartholome run a business called Hoosier Restoration and Movie Props, the moniker under which this work was done.
"We didn't do this kind of stuff when we started," Randall Becht said.
According to the Pennsylvania Military Museum's official website, the M1917
See Tank/Page A3
weighed 6.5 tons, stands more than 7 feet tall and measures more than 16 feet long. These vehicles would be equipped with a machine gun in the turret and a crew of two soldiers. M1917 tanks can be found at several museums across the United States, including New York, Chicago and Kentucky, but this is the first to be displayed in the Indiana Military Museum.
Randall Becht and Bartholome traveled to Chicago at the beginning of the project to measure an existing tank on display outside of a museum there, with permission. They spent six hours taking measurements in the cold, and Bartholome had pneumonia at the time, unbeknownst to Becht, whom he only told once they were finished. They took detailed photos as well and returned to Indiana to begin the eighteen-month process of building the tank.
"We came back with a lot of ifs," Becht said. The Indiana Military Museum did supply them with GI manuals of the tanks specifications, but only once they were virtually done building it, as a sort of test of their aptitude.
"A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this," said Bartholome.
Since it has nearly 100 original parts in it, this particular tank is considered a restoration, not a replica, which would be far less valuable, according to Becht.
The pair did have help with many pieces of the vehicle. A Canadian company built the tracks, all but six of them engraved by Vincennes University with the names of companies and people who donated money or resources to the project. More than 120 donors are included in the track engravings. On one of them is Eaton Detroit Spring, who built and provided the springs in the track assembly, free of charge because of the nature of the project. "They nailed it, having never seen it," said Becht.
Becht credits his wife, Janet, with the inception of the project. She connected Becht and Bartholome with the curator of the museum, Judge Jim Osborne.
The two manufactured many of the steel pieces themselves, at their place of employment, Industrial Filter, where they used laser cutters and water jets to make the large panels that make up the body of the tank. They credited Mike Bartholome and Sarah Frazier with Industrial Filter's donation.
The seat, fire extinguishers, canteen, fabric and binoculars within the tank are all original, the pair said.
The gun inside the turret fires, but only for military salutes, not live rounds. The paint scheme on the outside is made to look like it would have in 1917, complete with spades on it in memory of Gen. George Patton, who used a card numbering system for tanks, though these never saw battle because they arrived to Europe too late, according to the pair. Brecht said he was told it "looks like Gen. Patton parked it and went to the mess hall."