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Real men drive tanks
Knoxville News Sentinel ^ | 8/8/5 | FRED BROWN

Posted on 08/08/2005 1:08:44 PM PDT by SmithL

Even as a child, Benton Bryan had always wanted a tank. A big one, say a main battle tank, one that could blow something up, or just pulverize a building.

All the better if it had been engaged in muzzle-to-muzzle warfare on a battlefield. So, in March 2004, Bryan, 40-year-old chief operating officer for John H. Daniel Clothing Co., purchased his tank from the British.

Advertisement Tennessee Press Service Inc. He persevered through four years of research and negotiating with the British to close the deal. But it was well worth the wait.

"Let's just say I have a unique set of friends," says the son of Richard Bryan, 58, the company's chief executive.

Benton Bryan, the third-generation Bryan to run the clothing company and also chief executive officer of Hunter & Lords, a subsidiary of John H. Daniel, now owns the baddest boy on the block in East Tennessee, if you don't count a National Guard or U.S. Army Reserve armory or a military base.

The tank even came with desert tan, a working turret that moves around in menacing fashion and a very big gun that goes up and down, as if following something.

In other words, Bryan's tank is the real deal.

The tank had been deployed with the Royal Scots Armored Brigade and was in Germany, running around on NATO assignments during the final days of the Cold War. The Brits decommissioned the tank about 1996, and it went into England's collection of military bargain basement equipment.

"They will sell surplus military to anyone," says Bryan.

The British Mark 11, the last version of its Chieftain tanks and the most modern main battle tank a civilian can own, was shipped from Southampton, England, to Brunswick, Ga., and trucked to Knoxville, where it was unloaded on 17th Street.

Bryan, his 14-year-old son, Hunter, and Chuck White, a mechanic who works for Bryan, drove the 56-ton monster down 17th Street to a garage in the Old City. It was a hoot, says Hunter, especially when the cops showed up later, all jittery, nervous as cats and icky over a tank in downtown Knoxville.

His father was inside the tank with White when Hunter noticed the shaky police patrolman, who had been summoned to the parking lot behind the John Daniel Clothing Co.

"I said, 'Dad, a policeman is here,' " Hunter says.

From inside the tank, his father shouted back over the noise of tools clanging and banging: "What does he want?"

"He says he wants to know what this is."

"Tell him it's a tank!" Bryan shouted.

That was a little too much for the now very nervous cop. He called for a SWAT team, which promptly arrived in full regalia.

They recognized the tank immediately, says Hunter.

"They were very nice," he says.

"Oh," says Bryan, "they knew right away what this was all about."

But the question begs: Did it matter whether they understood or not? You are not likely to argue with a fellow who owns a 56-ton tank, with a 120mm canon stuck on the front. And you are not exactly certain whether or not the gun works, and if it works, is it loaded?

Bryan explained that he had long ago called the Knoxville City Police to inform them that he was bringing his tank from England to his garage in the Old City.

No one seemed interested then. It wasn't until it actually arrived that it got the city cops twitching in their britches.

The story of the "Benton" tank - painted right on the side by the Brits - getting from 17th Street from behind a furniture company to the garage is one of the best parts.

"We didn't have a clue how to drive it," says Benton. "But, sure enough, inside were instructions. Chuck climbed inside, cranked 'er up, shifted some things and off we went."

"I have driven a lot of things in my time," says White, "but a tank is not one of them."

"We had one guy in the gun turret, and Chuck," says Bryan.

"We were about to knock down telephone poles and electric wires. Not to mention cars and buildings," says Bryan.

The Knox County Sheriff's Office and a few interested Tennessee Highway Patrol fellows arrived to help escort the tank.

Since then, Hunter has been all over the tank, learned to drive it, along with his father, and says it is "cool."

He's the only ninth-grader at Webb School of Knoxville, probably the only ninth-grader in the state, who owns a tank.

"Yeah, kids come up and say, 'Do you really own a tank?' They don't believe it until I take them to the garage and show them."

And there it is, big as, well, as a tank.

The "Benton" Chieftain is 10 feet, 6 inches wide, 10 feet, 6 inches tall and 35 feet long from the end of its 120mm cannon to the back plates. It has 12 very large wheels and four smaller ones in the front and back for the steel tracks.

It carries 500 gallons of fuel (either diesel or heating oil, doesn't matter, it can run on both) and can get along at 45 mph.

"We don't know how many miles per gallon it gets," says Bryan.

It isn't your energy-efficient-class vehicle, however.

It's probably just as well. If you have to ask, you can't afford it. Which brings us to the cost of the Chieftain.

Bryan won't say exactly what the armored vehicle cost him, but says: "Just think of a pricey Mercedes Benz. In that range."

Bryan's M11 tank is fully armored. Only its guns have been decommissioned and made inoperable. There are one or two secret switches, he says, that also make the tank virtually unworkable.

Other than that, Bryan says, "the tank is fully functional. You should see it when it runs over a car. It just packs it up in the tracks, like you get mud in your tennis shoes, and flips it out and over, landing on top of the tank. Amazing," he says with a laugh.

Hunter laughs and raises his eyebrows. "Cool," he says.

The father-and-son tank team also have taken their big toy to a friend's farm out near the Melton Hill exit off Interstate 40.

"It was great," says Hunter.

"We parked it in the woods," says his father. "The barrel was pointed out almost over the interstate. People would drive by and do a look. It was just like in the war movies."

Then they toured it about the farm, cutting tracks deep enough to hide a Volkswagen.

"You should see what it does to real estate. It just spews out the earth," says Bryan.

"You get it in the forest and it's like a big ol' dinosaur. It just shakes the trees."

"Yeah," says Hunter, "the coolest thing I did was to pave a new path through an entire forest.

"It was no problem."

His father, bald and big, laughs and beams at his blue-eyed son who has a thick head of blond hair.

"We've never been asked if we have a tank driver's license," says Bryan.

He watches as a crowd gathers in the parking lot. Some are taking photographs of the tank.

A carpenter in charge of a nearby building renovation says he lost $1,000 worth of tools overnight from his building.

"I just called the boss and told him some new security just showed up," he says with a laugh.

While the curious are taking photos of the tank, Bryan walks about, chatting easily.

"Yeah," he says, "Humvees are for women. Real men drive tanks."

Hunter laughs.

Nobody, but nobody, is going to argue with his father on that score.

TOPICS: Local News; Military/Veterans

Hunter Bryan, 14, already is adept at operating his father’s British Chieftain tank, which is stored at a garage in the Old City.

The turret of a British Chieftain tank aims toward Jackson Avenue in the Old City. The cannon is disabled, but everything else on Benton Bryan’s tank is fully operational.

1 posted on 08/08/2005 1:08:49 PM PDT by SmithL
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To: SmithL

He could have joined the Army..hell of a lot easier, and cheaper..

2 posted on 08/08/2005 1:10:12 PM PDT by ken5050 (Ann Coulter needs to have children ASAP to pass on her gene pool....any volunteers?)
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To: ken5050

And the cannons work.

3 posted on 08/08/2005 1:22:08 PM PDT by whershey
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