Can't Keep 'Em Down On The Farm: Iconic Tank Finds Temporary Strip District Home

Jun 17, 2015

Heinz History Center President Andy Masich climbs aboard a WWII-era Sherman tank on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. The tank joins the "We Can Do It" exhibit on display through Jan. 4.
Credit Mike Richards / 90.5 WESA

John Tippins takes his nieces and daughter for an occasional ride on his farm in Ligonier -- on his tank.

That 1944 M4A3 Sherman is now parked in front of the Heinz History Center in the Strip Distrtict after a 60-mile journey Wednesday on a lowboy truck, which typically transports bulldozers, not military-grade vehicles. 

Tippins loaned it to the history center until Jan. 4 when the museum's World War II exhibition "We Can Do It" ends.

“The Sherman is the iconic tank of WWII, and having it parked right in front of the History Center ... makes a pretty big statement that 'We can do it,'" said Andy Masich, the center's president.

The exhibit focuses not only on conflicts overseas, but also the impact Pennsylvanians had on the war's eventual outcome.

Rolled out in 1941, the Sherman was used frequently by the U.S. and its allies, including at the Battle of the Bulge when Gen. George C. Patton’s 3rd Army came to save surrounded American soldiers in the Belgian town of Bastogne in December 1944. 

Union Steel Casting Company in Lawrenceville produced the turret of Tippins’ tank along with thousands more until the end of the war. His model saw some action, he said.

“America built more than 60,000 Sherman tanks during WWII, but right here in Pittsburgh we made a special version with a beefed up turret that could accommodate a 76-mm high velocity gun,” Masich said. “And that’s what we have here. This is the MV-A3. 'Easy Eight,' they called it.”

Tippins said he purchased the tank for more than $100,000 but wouldn’t be surprised if it's current worth exceeded three times that much. His love for tanks eventually prompted the buy, he said.

“Ever since I was a kid, I always was interested in tanks," he said. "And after I’d seen war movies when I was 10 or 11 years old, and reading a lot of books and going to museums, eventually once I got older and became an adult I thought, ‘Well it’s just not good enough. I need to have and own my own Sherman tank.’”

The center was in the market as well. Officials contacted their museum partner, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Army to find the perfect tank to display as an extension of its WWII exhibit. 

“I certainly hope that it gives people the chance to see it and to understand what our veterans went through during WWII," Tippins said. "It’s a pretty scary thing to be next to today, to just realize how big it is. If someone were shooting at you, that would be even scarier still.”