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Runs like a tank

Posted September 03, 2014 in Ames, Community Featured
Leo Milleman restored one of the prototype tanks created by John Deere.

Leo Milleman restored one of the prototype tanks created by John Deere.

It isn’t what’s currently in the structure that makes Leo Milleman’s garage story unique. Rather, it’s the plans that were hatched there and the memories it holds of a piece of American history most people know little about — even lifelong residents living in an agricultural state where John Deere implements are as common and nearly as numerous as pickup trucks.

Milleman, a retired urologist, once rebuilt a 1940 John Deere tank, the beginnings of which took place in his garage on Northwood Drive in north Ames.

“The real .30-caliber machine guns were delivered late one night to my garage, and then the project started there,” says Milleman, who began researching the tank in 2002 and started building it in 2004.

The project then moved to other garages and back again as it developed, until its completion in 2006.

“We had a machinist in Panora, a tractor mechanic in Perry and my place in Ames,” Milleman says. “Pieces and parts went back and forth for painting, grinding and welding.”

In the lead up to World War II, John Deere built two of the tanks in 1940, and in 1941 they were tested by the U.S. Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. However, they failed the Army tests, Milleman says, and the two prototypes were then sent back to Waterloo and dismantled.

“We found a brief story on them, and I dug out the archives via Pentagon research, and we reconstructed them over two years,” Milleman says. “They are the only two in existence.”

September 2014 Ames Living What's In Your Garage? Leo Milleman mugOne of the tanks is owned by Brian Anderson of Ames, while the other is owned by Milleman and his former medical partner, Curt Clark of Ames.

Rebuilding the tank was a natural fit for Milleman, who grew up on a farm near Spencer.

“I loved the ‘put-put’ of John Deere two-cylinder tractors,” Milleman says. “I have over 20 of them now, and it all started after I moved to Ames after my medical residency in Iowa City.”

Milleman has driven the tank in numerous parades and taken it to many expos around North America. It’s currently on display at a military exhibit in Albert City.

Contact Darren at 953-4822 ext. 304 or to recommend someone for an upcoming issue of “What’s In Your Garage?”

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