As an automotive journalist, I have the opportunity to drive a variety of exotic machinery, a perk that's resulted in a personal list of novel first drives. That said, nothing I've ever driven compares with the uniquely geeky thrill of donning an olive-drab helmet and rumbling through the gently rolling countryside north of Dallas in a 55-ton Chieftain main battle tank.
Tactical Tanks uses these recently retired British bad boys to create simulated four-hour military missions for a wide variety of individuals and corporate clients. Whether owner Dave Estes and his staff are hosting a handful of bachelor-party buddies out for a good time or four-dozen coworkers on a highly structured staff-development outing, the result is ultimately the same--a motoring experience that won't soon be forgotten.
The Chieftain I drove is one of the 35 military vehicles that make up the Sherman, Texas-based businessman's private military-industrial complex.
Housed in a 10,000-square-foot building surrounded by an eight-foot razor-wire-topped fence, the predominantly British Tactical Tanks fleet includes six Chieftains, eight Abbott 105-millimeter self-propelled guns, and seven FV432 armored personnel carriers. Vintage artillery pieces, U.S. Army-issue Jeeps, trucks, and a World War II half-track round out the collection.
Estes's clients have 265 acres in which to play with this extreme toy collection. A staff of eight, including four full-time mechanics, keep the tracks turning smoothly.