21 November 1949 - 7 January 2009
Jacques Littlefield, who assembled one of the largest private collections of military vehicles in the world and championed open space in San Mateo County, the county within which he lived, died on the morning of 7 January 2009 in Portola Valley, California. He was 59 years old and had battled colon cancer for the past decade.
Jacques’ fascination with armored vehicles began in his childhood when he started building plastic models of tanks. While in college, he built his first scale model, radio-controlled tank. He acquired his first full-sized vehicle in 1975. In 1998 Jacques set up the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation to manage his collection of over one hundred fifty vehicles and restore new additions. The collection ranges from a World War II era U.S. Army M3A1 wheeled scout car, the first acquisition, to a Soviet-era mobile Scud Missile launcher, and includes such famous tanks as the U.S. Sherman and Patton class; U.K. Centurion, Conqueror and Chieftain; German WWII vehicles including a Panther; and Soviet-era Russian tanks.
Jacques Littlefield was considered a scholar and expert on the history of armored warfare and the foundation helps serve the interests of authors, historians, educators, the defense industry, veterans groups, model makers and the entertainment industry. The collection is housed at Pony Tracks Ranch in the hills above Portola Valley, California which Littlefield acquired in the mid-1970s. Pony Tracks Ranch originally was the country estate of former San Francisco mayor(1912-1931) and California governor(1931-1934), James "Sunny Jim" Rolph, Jr. Over the years, Jacques Littlefield restored many of the old buildings on the ranch, such as the stables, and acquired additional property helping to maintain open space in the hills above Portola Valley.
Jacques was the son of the late Edmund Wattis Littlefield and Jeannik Mequet Littlefield. He was born November 21, 1949 in San Francisco, California. His father was CEO of Utah International and he served on many corporate boards during his career. Jacques Littlefield is survived by his mother, a strong supporter of the arts and a member of the Chairman’s Council of the San Francisco Opera; his brother, Edmund Littlefield, Jr.; and sister, Denise Littlefield Sobel.
Jacques also is survived by his wife, Sandy Montenegro Littlefield, and five children: David, Scott, Allison, Jacques Jr. and Jeannik, and one grandson, Kingsley.
Jacques Littlefield grew up in Burlingame, California and attended Cate School in Carpinteria, California before studying at Stanford University where he received his Bachelor’s degree in 1971 and an MBA two years later. He worked for Hewlett Packard as a manufacturing engineer before focusing solely on building his museum and restoration facility.
Jacques served on the boards of the George S. Patton Museum in Fort Knox, Kentucky, the Cate School, the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education, the Hoover Institution, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Filoli Center. He was a member of the Bohemian Club and Captain of the Sempervirens camp. He will be missed.
"Tanks" for the Memories; Jacques Littlefield Passes Away
TechCheck with Jim Goldman, CNBC, 13 January 2009
Silicon Valley is no stranger to legendary figures: Apple Inc.'s Steve Jobs; Intel's Gordon Moore; Hewlett and Packard.
And there was Jacques Littlefield, a 59-year old bon vivant who used a big chunk of his massive, Utah International mining inheritance to amass one of the world's greatest private collections of military vehicles.
And he housed his 230 tanks, missile launchers, armored cars and personnel carriers on the Pony Tracks Ranch, his sprawling, 430 acre compound atop his very own hilltop in bucolic Portola Valley, California.
I made several visits to his home preparing a profile about him for our program "High Net Worth" last year, even taking my 7-year old son Jeb with me on my last visit, because how could you not take your kid along for a private tour of the ultimate toy collection. Jacques was kind enough to indulge Jeb and his endless questions about the tanks, particularly the rocket launchers, and he could not have been more gracious. Jeb asked adult questions; and Jacques treated him like one. Jeb likes to learn; Jacques loved to teach and it was fun to watch.
Jacques Littlefield died last Wednesday after a decade-long battle with cancer, leaving behind his huge collection, and lots of questions over what will happen to it next. He joked with me that he had signed a pre-nuptial agreement with his wife that spelled out that if they were to get divorced, it wasn't a question of whether she would get any of his collection: Instead, she would have to take the ENTIRE collection!
When I asked him whether he was "obsessed" by tank collecting, he told me that, "Obsession would be way over 230 vehicles. 230 vehicles will be just a start. When I get serious about this, I would lose my amateur status," he laughed.
You can't really appreciate the scope of Jacques' collection, its magnitude, until you see it in person. He's got 45,000 square feet of custom-built garage space, and he'd already outgrown it. He had a full-time crew of five restoring these vehicles back to their original luster, tanks that he'd collect from scrap heaps all over the world, spanning warfare throughout the 20th century. And because so many of them are so old, and, well, they're real tanks, finding replacement parts to get these things operational again, is hardly an easy chore, he said.
"Did Michelangelo tell you how many hours the Sistine Chapel would take? Time to go home now. Let's punch the clock! If I can pick up the phone and order parts, I can just go to Toy's 'R Us and buy something and assemble it. But part of the challenge is figuring out what it was, having the difficulties of finding the original parts."
Jacques spent his life living his childhood dream, and had the means to do it right. He started building models as a kid, and quickly developed a passion for rebuilding real tanks. He spent anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 on the vehicles, and when he's done restoring them, they can be worth millions. He told me back then that he was in it for the history, not the money, and that he was having a blast with his hobby, though not literally.
"Why would you waste money on food or clothes or vacation when you can have this really wonderful piece of machinery," he asked me.
His most recent project: a German tank found in a Polish river, submerged for 40 years, and now brought back to working condition after five years and 10,000 man hours. It's striking; the restoration logistics almost as complex as the logistics to get this hulking mass of machinery from Europe to Silicon Valley. He had even more issues when he tried to import a real SCUD missile launcher after the first Gulf War, which made his neighbors a little wary until he reassured them he wasn't going to be running live-fire exercises on his property.
Jacques lit up that day when I asked him about that first time he got in the cockpit of his first restored tank. "My mouth was sore from smiling. I remember that very well." And Jacques will be remembered well too.
There was speculation that the collection would move to the museum, but now people connected to Littlefield's collection hope to keep it right where it is, and continue Littlefield's legacy.
Go to: Photos from my December 2003 visit to the Jacques Littlefield Military Vehicle Collection
Go to: Photos from my January 2007 visit to the Jacques Littlefield Military Vehicle Collection
Go to: Photos from Korea and Japan: 1968 and 1969
Go to: My Return to Korea: October 2003
Go to: My Digital Photo Collection
Go to: Home Page
Go to: Medal of Honor Citation page
This page created on 9 January 2009. Photograph copyright 2009, by NEIL MISHALOV