Photo by Neil Mishalov: 20 December 2003
Jacques Littlefield passed away on the morning of 7 January 2009. He was 59 years old.
The latest information regarding the Jacques Littlefield museum: GO HERE
I revisited the Littlefield museum on 6 January 2007:
HERE ARE ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHS
The Jacques Littlefield Military Vehicle Collection
My First Visit
Portola Valley, California: 20 December 2003
On 28 November 2003, as I was reading through the pages of The New York Times, I came upon a fascinating and intriguing article written by Ms. Patricia Leigh Brown. Ms. Brown wrote a human interest story about an individual who collects and restores tanks and other military vehicles. As I read the article I became aware that the collector, Mr. Jacques Littlefield, lives in Portola Valley, California, which is about 50 miles from my home.
I contacted Mr. Littlefield by e-mail, and requested permission to visit his unique collection of military equipment. Mr. Littlefield responded to my request and he invited me to join a small group of people who would view his collection on 20 December 2003. The tour was scheduled to commence at 10 a.m., and the tour guide would be Mr. Michael Green, a respected author of military books that are specific to tanks and other military vehicles.
I arrived at Mr. Littlefield's 470 acre ranch at 9:45 a.m. I proceeded to drive to his 10,000 square foot vehicle restoration facility, the designated arrival location on his ranch. Upon my arrival, I saw two self-propelled assault guns sitting outside the vehicle restoration facility awaiting restoration. At that time I knew immediately that I was about to view something special and something that I had never seen before.
I have been a student of World War II for many years, particularly the battles on the Eastern Front, or as the Russians call it, "The Great Patriotic War." I am familiar with many of the weapons and vehicles used during that bloody conflict. Unfortunately, pictures in military history books, many of which are of poor quality, were the only visual representation I had of the weapons and vehicles used during World War II. That all changed after viewing the Jacques Littlefield military vehicle collection.
Mr. Littlefield's collection can not be described easily in words or truly appreciated in photographs. Suffice it to say that his collection is awesome and magnificent. I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Littlefield, and he is a gracious and helpful gentleman.
I have posted 108 pictures of the Littlefield collection of weapons and vehicles on my web site.
First, you may want to read the article from The New York Times
November 28, 2003
To the Collector, the Spoils
By Patricia Leigh Brown
Portola Valley, California
THERE is an adage in collecting that "you should always buy what you like." Jacques Littlefield really likes tanks.
"This is not mainstream U.S.A.," Mr. Littlefield said with characteristic understatement about his collection of 220 military vehicles, including 66 tanks from late World War I through the 1980's, which makes up perhaps the world's foremost private museum of armored fighting vehicles. "It's definitely a niche."
For the record, Mr. Littlefield, a self-described "tank nerd" and die-hard libertarian, is not what he would call a "right-wing wacko." He just happens to be zealous about restoring tanks, tank destroyers, armored cars, self-propelled antitank guns and other military hardware - all of it legally deactivated. Roam with him in his red Jeep Wrangler across his 470-acre ranch, passing a propeller from the Lusitania that sits beneath a tree along the way, and it is difficult not to feel shock and awe at an apotheosis of his collection: a muscular German Panzer IV - the tank equivalent of a Rembrandt - standing watch over Mr. Littlefield's private 46,000-square-foot shrine to heavy metal.
The Panzer, or the Mark IV as the British called it, invaded Poland in 1939, France in the summer of 1940, Russia in 1941 and, under Rommel, attacked British forces in the desert of North Africa. It is one of Mr. Littlefield's pretty rare specimens. His definition of rare: "If there's only one, and I've got it. Common is if there's a second." He also has a six-ton M-1917, the first American production tank from the end of World War I; a 12-ton halftrack personnel carrier from the movie "The Dirty Dozen"; a 1944 German Panther tank rescued after 40 years in a Polish bog; numerous one-of-a-kind prototypes; and a pair of Soviet-made Scud-missile launchers fitted with dummy missiles.
Mr. Littlefield, 53, who said he never served in the military because of a hearing loss he suffered as a child, is among a small but growing fraternity of military-vehicle collectors. Most content themselves with so-called soft-skinned vehicles like jeeps and the occasional halftrack. But a handful, like Mr. Littlefield, specialize in restoring 60-ton armored boy toys. All but one of his are in mint driving condition and outfitted as if ready for battle. Frank Jardim, director of the Patton Museum of Calvary and Armor at Fort Knox, Ky., called the Littlefield collection, which draws 3,000 to 4,000 visitors by appointment a year, "very likely the premiere collection in the world." Mr. Littlefield said that he had spent millions of dollars, though he has never added up how many.
With the exception of the Fourth of July, when he entertains friends by crushing a used car or two with a tank, Mr. Littlefield seldom drives his vehicles. What he says turns him on is the complex technology - the dizzying array of hydraulic, mechanical and electrical systems that make a Sherman tank different from a Ford Mustang. "A tank has everything a car has, but a whole lot more," he said recently, the scent of the plastic used to fill in rust pits permeating the air.
MR. Littlefield, like many collectors, be it of tanks or Hula-Hoops, began his obsession early. It started, he said, first with Erector sets when he was 10, then moved to radio-controlled boats in the swimming pool. (His father, Edmund Wattis Littlefield, who died two years ago, was at the helm of the mining company Utah International in 1976 when it merged with General Electric, a deal valued at $2.2 billion.) Next, he moved on to radio-controlled models of tanks, which frustrated him by crashing, then to radio-controlled tank models from a kit. When the kits failed to challenge him, he began engineering miniature tanks from scratch, starting with a one-eighth-scale M-48A3, a Patton tank used in Vietnam, outfitted with a radio-controlled turret, elevated cannon and a gun firing .22-caliber pellets.
Other children fantasize about Disneyland. Mr. Littlefield dreamed of control valves. "My idea of a wonderful vacation was going to visit the Chrysler tank plant in Detroit or the G.E. appliance plant in Louisville," he said. It helped that his father sat on the corporate boards.
At Stanford, in the early 1970's, where he majored in economics and got an M.B.A., he hung around the mechanical engineering shop, forgoing peace marches in favor of whipping up a one-fourth-scale radio-controlled M-60A1, using scaled-down blueprints. Even then he enjoyed being a renegade, "the nail sticking up" as he put it. "He was the only student with radio-controlled tanks around," recalled Jim Adams, a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering.
In a sense, all Mr. Littlefield has since done is increase the scale. His first acquisition, which he restored himself (he now has a staff of five), was a rundown World War II-era American M-3A1 wheeled scout car, purchased for $3,500 in 1976. He worked briefly for Hewlett-Packard as a "flunky engineer" - a job he procured with an economics degree by showing off his tank-model portfolio - then left to manage family investments and pursue his passion full-time. "There is a genre of human being like me," he said of the collecting gene. "It's like a type of dog."
Novelty is part of the appeal. "It's not something everybody has," he said of his 220 military vehicles, which reside at Pony Tracks Ranch, a hilly expanse that includes an early 1900's coach house and a covered dressage riding ring, visually dominated by huge metal sheds housing military vehicles. Winding private lanes with views of San Francisco Bay are dotted with rusted engines and tank fragments, lending this tony, horsey corner of Silicon Valley a slight Battle of El Alamein quality.
It is helpful for his personal life, Mr. Littlefield acknowledged, that most of the vehicles were procured before he met his third wife, Sandy, a Harvard Business School graduate and a former executive, whom he married last year. Mr. Littlefield has three children from a previous marriage. "She'd rather we do other things, like fix up the house," he said.
His 12,000-square-foot workshop serves as a vehicular MASH unit, with a 15-ton overhead crane and rotating welding fixture that can spin a tank as if it were a chicken on a rotisserie. Another sign that this is not your average garage are the labels on dozens of bins that hold spare parts: "Lighting, infrared"; "Night vision sights, US & foreign"; "Panther swing arm housings."
Spare parts are difficult to come by. Panther collectors, of whom there are about five worldwide, will occasionally put in a group order for torsion bars and the like. "You have to grab them when you can," Mr. Littlefield said. "It's like Kleenex by the pallet at Costco."
Vehicles arrive from all over the world in a mandated state of disrepair. Tanks and other military vehicles are required by the government to be "deweaponized" or "demilitarized," with holes cut in the hull and turret to make them unsuitable for combat.
The government has recently become more stringent about what can be bought abroad. "Tanks and other military hardware are produced and manufactured for supporting U.S. foreign policy and our friends and allies," said David Quinn, a deputy director of the Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers at the State Department. "That equipment is not produced for every citizen to have their own tank."
For years, tanks were largely unappreciated as collectibles, parked outside V.F.W. halls or converted by cities into snow plows, said Michael Green, co-author of "Modern U.S. Tanks & AFV's." The collectors' market began in earnest at the end of the cold war, when disarmament treaties caused governments abroad, particularly in Eastern Europe, to sell surplus or obsolete military vehicles, often at scrap metal prices.
The chain of ownership can be fascinating. At the end of World War II, Panzer IV's "littered the countrysides from France to the Soviet Union," Mr. Green said. Mr. Littlefield's Panzer IV was bought by Syria in the late 1950's or early 60's and was then captured by Israel in the 1967 war, which installed it in a museum. The Panzer arrived at Mr. Littlefield's earlier this year after the museum traded it to him for three American tanks - a Lee, a Grant and a Stuart - the first American tanks used in combat in North Africa in World War II.
Mr. Littlefield has the luxury of disassembling each vehicle, cleaning each part and repairing it to the original specifications, going so far as to cut his own stencils, mix his own paints and sand and replate every bolt - there are thousands in a tank - to make sure they are historically accurate.
He has started the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, a nonprofit organization, to keep the collection intact and make it available to contractors, designers, modelers, students and, occasionally, Hollywood. When George Lucas's Skywalker Sound needed the rumble of a Sherman tank running at 30 miles an hour, making a right turn and then backing up for "Saving Private Ryan," they knew whom to call.
But nothing makes Mr. Littlefield happier than performing an archaeological excavation on a dismembered tank. "I like problem solving," he said. "Once it's working perfectly, it's not as much fun."
Here is an article from Forbes magazine about the Jacques Littlefield military vehicle collection.
December 24, 2001
Arms and the Man
Dogged pursuit of his obsession has made Jacques Littlefield the Patton of collecting.
By Victoria Murphy
Jacques Littlefield's workshop is a field hospital for military vehicles. Here a bare chassis on a stand, there a set of tracks being repaired or a piece of armor plate in need of patching. His passion is tank restoration. History does not excite this man. You won't find him poring over accounts of the Maginot Line or the Yom Kippur war. What turns him on is technical perfection--the hunt, say, for a two-gallon oil can made for nearly every U.S. World War II-era tank. The oil cans were usually discarded and hence are rare. "I bet in some old warehouse there're probably 20 of them just sitting there," he muses.
Littlefield bought his first tank for $20,000 in 1982--an M5A1 Stuart, rushed into production in 1942 as America rearmed. He has since amassed a fleet big enough to go one-on-one with Ireland or Botswana, 55 tanks in all. A rival collector with a mere seven tanks says admiringly, "He has tons of really rare things that no one else would bother with."
There's the Conqueror, a clunky, 74-ton British tank built in the mid-1950s. When fired it shook so powerfully that the sights of its 120mm gun easily got misaligned. Gunners never had much luck hitting anything with that monster. He has a Sturmgeschutz, a German self-propelled 75mm gun mounted on a tank chassis that zoomed out in advance of infantry with direct explosive and antitank fire. Its gun fired forward only.
Today these souvenirs of military might sit locked away in six warehouses totalling 70,000 square feet on 470 acres of rolling hills in the heart of Silicon Valley. Littlefield bought the property in the 1970s and could probably get a tidy sum for it now, but he's not about to give up his tanks. Inside the 5,000 square feet of garage and work space, a 15-ton overhead crane takes out turrets and removes engines. Nine full-time mechanics restore four tanks at a time, typically, over a two-year stretch.
While another collector might get his kicks thrashing his Sherman through the mud or parading it down Main Street on Veterans' Day, Littlefield rarely takes his out for fear that they may "leave a mark on the street" or "annoy the neighbors." Besides, he could wreck the precious hardware. So fastidious is he that he asks guests to remove their shoes before stepping into these former killing machines.
Every detail of a restored Littlefield tank must be perfect--the color of paint on each handle, extra ammo stowed in the back corner of the turret, the props for the canvas cover that was likely never used in battle. He often uses his board seat at the Fort Knox Cavalry Armor Foundation to get access to the Army Museum's fleet. Last month he spent seven hours crouched inside the turret of an M26 Pershing. He's fixing up a Pershing of his own, and he needed every measurement. Three years from now, it's a safe bet Littlefield's specimen will be more authentic than the Army's.
His biggest current project--restoring the Sturmgeschutz--has cost him, so far, $200,000 (double the purchase price). It has required fabrication of 250 parts, not including the original manufacturer's logo-marked nuts and bolts. "I can't think of anything that's inaccurate on this tank," he says. The gunner's periscope on his M60 tank, used during the Cold War, is in such good condition that designers from United Defense, a military contractor with an office in nearby San Jose, have dropped by to take notes. "That's the mother's milk of this hobby for me," says Littlefield, 52. "I have this knowledge that no one else has."
Littlefield set out to emulate his father. Edmund Littlefield, who died recently, amassed a $1.7 billion fortune by running the family construction and mining company, Utah International, and merging it with General Electric. Following those footprints wasn't to be. After getting an M.B.A. at Stanford and spending five years as a product manager at Hewlett-Packard, Jacques realized he wasn't cut out for budget meetings. "My father used to ask me to picture myself at age 65. He'd say, 'Is the Earth a better place since you've been here, or are you just kind of a drag on the program?'" Jacques considers his collection "a significant contribution," even if it isn't "inventing a new vaccine [or] starting the Guggenheim."
"It's an eccentric hobby," Littlefield goes on. "It labels you as different. And 'different' doesn't work for a lot of people." Especially when it comes to shelling out the dough. The tanks themselves aren't that expensive--$35,000 each, on average, plus another $6,000 to get one into the U.S. Restoring just eight tanks and repairs on another ten have run to $2 million. Total tab so far: $5 million.
Littlefield can deduct some of this money as a contribution to the educational foundation he set up to maintain the collection. After his demise he plans to leave enough to cover operating costs so the tanks can stay together. His kids will decide whether to keep all that hardware on the ranch or relocate it.
The hunt for tanks takes adventurous collectors to such far-flung spots as the Australian outback, where American and British tanks were shipped after World War II for use as farm equipment. Littlefield works through dealers who keep in contact with foreign governments and military museums. "He is the best customer I could have," says Robert Fleming, a British dealer who has sold Littlefield ten tanks. In 1995 Fleming spent two weeks armed with a revolver, a 9mm semiautomatic and $10,000 in cash (for "commissions") to score his client a few U.S. Army M18 Hellcats in Bosnia. He got word from the Ministry of Defense in Sarajevo that NATO was offering 15 of them in a village near the eastern town of Srebrenica. Fleming bought over 13 tanks and had them trucked over Serb, Bosnian and Croat territory down to the Croatian port of Ploce, where they were shipped to Liverpool, England.
Each country has its own rules about the degree to which a tank must be deactivated before it can gain entry. To get the Hellcat into Britain, which has relatively permissive laws, and then into the U.S., workers had to torch a hole roughly the diameter of the muzzle into the barrel's side and cut off the rear end of the gun. The tank was sprayed with disinfectant to prevent the spread of animal diseases in this country.
A hiccup in this process can cause big delays. Two years ago Fleming brokered a deal to get Littlefield a Scud B missile on a truck bed. He insisted it wasn't live, but U.S. Customs disagreed, and confiscated it.
Littlefield shrugs off such setbacks. At the top of his Christmas list: a German Tiger I tank from WWII. Legend has it that in battle it took four U.S. Shermans to destroy a Tiger--and three of them might end up as victims. Only 1,300 were made, and most of those that survived battle were melted for scrap. "People call me saying some guy somewhere has come across a Tiger," Littlefield says. He knows the odds, and compares them to finding a Rembrandt in a barn in Iowa. Says he: "Show me the metal."