In retrospect, Ed Jurist’s Vintage Car Store clearly stood way out ahead of its time in the 1960s and 70s. Unlike today when a sprawling worldwide collectible vehicle business pretty much blankets the globe, the Vintage Car Store in Nyack, NY ranked as one of few top tier go-to places for connoisseurs seeking high quality classic cars. Ferraris, 4½-liter Bentleys, Rolls Royce Town Cars and Maseratis mingled with a 12-cylinder Allison air craft engine on display and striking transportation themed wall art. However, even in this rarified atmosphere of vintage collectibles, Jurist’s exterior display area featured a real show stopper, a 1943 M4A3 Sherman Tank, for sale.
A Sherman tank’s incredible journey from Nyack, NY to the final episode of M.A.S.H.
While sitting in Ed Jurist’s cozy almost cramped Vintage Car Store office in the early 1980s I noticed a brass ring mounted on a wooden plaque. Inquiring of Jurist, I learned that this treasured artifact had been attached to the ripcord of a parachute that had safely floated him to earth after his WWII B-17 bomber had been shot down over Nazi Germany. Taken prisoner by the Germans, Jurist subsequently succeeded in escaping his captors. This pretty much tells you all you need to know about Jurist the pioneer classic car and vintage military aircraft aficionado. After taking ownership of the Vintage Car Store in 1961, Jurist traveled all over the world seeing South America, India, Europe, Middle East, Far East and Australia to set up agents and ferret out salvageable military equipment and locate desirable classic cars.
When I spoke with Jurist in 1982 the tank had been sold two years prior (February 1980) to Bill Wahnish, a gentlemen with a large film industry car rental business (Bill’s Car Rental) in Hollywood. In 1979 Bill had flown back east slammed a hatch or two, kicked the treads and said, “I’ll take it.” It would be two almost three months before Bill would take delivery in Los Angeles.
For Jurist selling a 73,000 pound Sherman tank with a seized engine is one thing. Moving it is quite another.
Jurist laughed when recalling and said, “It’s not like the town will let you drag it through the streets or over the sidewalks.” Transporting the M4A3 would require winching the tank onto a low flatbed. Jurist said, “That may sound easy, but how do you get that low bed into position? The flatbed is a huge trailer. It would require the street to be blocked off.
This operation called for serious planning, coordination, wide load clearance and timing. Local Nyack Police, NY State Police and NJ State Police stood poised and ready in the dark early morning of February 29, 1980.
Quiet streets allowed the loading to proceed smoothly though achingly slow. Once loaded, the flatbed with Sherman tank firmly lashed in place moved through the silent streets with all the dexterity of a house being relocated.
After slowly creeping towards and across the New York/New Jersey state line, the heavily burdened flatbed then made its way to a Paterson, NJ, rail head. As the railroad lacked the equipment to lift the tank, the Sherman had to be positioned on the loading platform so that the railroad flatcar could receive the beast.
With the tank loaded and firmly secured including the turret which had to be turned around to face backwards like a catcher wearing a baseball cap, the tank would head west. What could possibly go wrong? The answer, plenty, as time would show.
One day into the journey from Paterson, the tank broke loose. It took another week for riggers to lash it down again. After just ten miles of its rail journey to Chicago, it broke loose again. Another week’s delay. Just outside of Chicago, the tank came loose and was almost sideways on the flat car as the freight train rumbled towards the Windy City. Conrail was traveling west but the tank was facing south. Finally Santa Fe sent out a crew to lash the tank down once and for all. This added one more week. Lashed properly at last, the tank arrived three days later in the Los Angeles Rail Yards.
Bill Wahnish a warm and friendly bear of a man began in Hollywood as a truck driver for the movie studios. By 1980 Bill and his wife of 42-years Beverly had been restoring old cars as a hobby for over 25-years. During that period Bill’s collection of cars had attracted the attention of the film industry. By the time the tank arrived that hobby has morphed into a full time car rental business for the film industry with credentials that including the contracts to supply period vehicles for films like “Chinatown” and “Day of the Locust.” Bill’s Car Rental now had over 130 vehicles available.
When asked about the tank Bill said, “I have wanted to restore a tank for over twenty years.” At that time probably no more than a half dozen Sherman tanks could be found in the country that ran. Bill said, “I just wanted the feeling of accomplishment that I had restored one.”
Bill first set eyes on his new purchase as he drove down the Long Beach Freeway and saw it in the rail yard from an overpass. With the tank loaded by railroad crane onto his flatbed the tank began its journey to Bill’s storage lot. Crowds formed as the flatbed bearing the tank slowly navigated its way.
With all hands on deck the restoration took about 6 months. Happenstance and good fortune certainly helped in speeding the restoration. Job one for Bill? He needed to replace the seized 1100 cu. in. 500 horsepower Ford V8 that propelled the Sherman up to 24 mph.
Bill thought he would get some tips from his friends down at the local Fred George Military Surplus store. Indeed he did. When he asked a counterman for any suggestions, the counterman called to the back asking, “Do we still have that rebuilt 1100 cu. in. Ford V8 in the crate back there.” “Yes,” came back the reply. Clearly with the wind to their back, Bill’s dedicated team of employees and volunteers poured an enthusiastic 2,000 man-hours into the restoration.
Interestingly, Bill had never driven his completed tank. Bill said, “I just love to look at it go.” When I got my own opportunity to ride in the tank, it would be driven by, then, 23-year old Craig Michelson. Craig’s father, Donald Michelson founded the American Society of Military History Museum which gave young Craig incredible access to and experience with military vehicles of all types.
Craig arrived and climbed up onto and down into the Sherman. It fired up with an angry growl. That served as my invitation to climb aboard. Bill’s storage lot provided a large open area for my test drive. Poised at the open turret hatch, I had a General George Patton-like vantage point to savor the opportunity to take a spirited ride in military history. The best part came when the Sherman under Craig’s capable control stormed up to the end of Bill’s property and pulled alongside the McDonald’s parking lot bordering Bill’s property. He locked up the tank to an abrupt stop and rotated the decommissioned 75-mm turret gun towards the parking lot with the customers munching away in their cars. You had to see the looks on their faces. Priceless.
Bill’s Sherman had made many appearances in feature films but its most famous appearance resulted due to a serious forest fire in the Malibu hills where the M.A.S.H. set was located.
Much of the final episode had been shot for the 1983 finale. In the episode, a Chaffee light tank has been driven into the camp by a wounded soldier. With the tank in the M.A.S.H. camp, enemy mortar fire begins to rain down on the medical facility. The shot that had not been filmed before the forest fire required images of the tank being driven out of the camp by Hawkeye. However, not only was the M.A.S.H. set destroyed, which could be rebuilt, but so was the Chaffee tank. A call went out to Bill’s Car Rental and Bill and his Sherman tank answered the call. If you ever look at a rerun of the final M.A.S.H. episode take notice that the tank driven into the camp is not the same one driven out. Did not catch that the first time did you?
Tanks for this, Burton. This is not a weekend-warrior Mash-up retread. It is a study in-depth-charged with excitement and history. It truly feels like art-till-a-reader gets delivered from Jersey to Hollywood. How-it-sir, flows so eloquently. It is truly the bomb.
All puns aside. Well read as you are and as media savvy as you are, your comments mean a great deal.
“Do we still have that rebuilt 1100 cu in Ford engine in the crate? Yes”
How come that never happens to me?
Great story, thanks.
I didn’t know you were looking for an 1100 cu. in. V8. Engine swap for the pickup?
OMG, that McDonalds parking lot vignette is hysterical!! So entertaining, Burton…
Glad you appreciated it though the Big Mac crowd not so much:)
What a great story!!! Keep ’em coming!
Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it. Be well.
I did some photography for Ed, c. early 1970s. Did two of the Rolls Royce autos he had. I also was allowed to shoot, on Kodachrome, his classic sign, which sold recently for $4800! I did a 20×30 print for myself- came out beautiful! And when Victor opened his shop below the store I had him go over it- for $125 he repaired the brakes, tuned it up, carbs, electrical, the whole deal. Victor was some mechanic! I visited him once when he had a V-12 engine apart- valves, lifters, parts everywhere! I asked him how in the world did he know where it all went! He kind of just shrugged his shoulders, funny!
Oops, I should have mentioned the car that Victor worked on was my 1959 Austin Healey 3000- ran great from that point on- just basic tuneups, etc.