When Kasota businessman Tony Borglum announced his plans to open a business offering customers the chance to drive real tanks, people told him he was crazy.

“Everyone was of the thought process, ‘That’s a stupid idea and nobody’s ever going to want to do it, so knock yourself out,’” he said.

But since opening his doors in 2010, Borlgum has hosted thousands of customers from around the world, as well as being featured in everything from Forbes to Larry the Cable Guy’s show “Only in America.”

“There’s definitely demand for it,” he said. “Basically, what we’ve learned is, if you do something that’s super bad-ass, that everybody else says is impossible, if you can pull it off, people will travel the world to see you.”

Photo courtesy of Drive A Tank - Tony Borglum on one of the many tanks in his collection.
Photo courtesy of Drive A Tank – Tony Borglum on one of the many tanks in his collection.

Motors and Machines

Growing up in Waseca, Borglum was always drawn to motors and machines. Participating in motor sports and truck pulls, he also enjoyed building his own vehicles: first a garden tractor, then a truck, then a street rod.

As he grew older, his interest turned to Army trucks, and he bought one as soon as he could find one. But his search for a good Army truck also opened his eyes to another intriguing possibility: the Ferret armored car, a British fighting vehicle built for reconnaissance missions. The price was steep—about $25,000—but Borglum wouldn’t be deterred; instead, he figured out a way to travel to England and buy a Ferret there, where the price would be so much cheaper that it would make up for the airfare overseas.

I can’t tell you how many people walk through my door and say, ‘I want to drive a tank and blow stuff up’

So, in 2006, he and his father packed their bags and headed to England, where they began searching the entire country for the best deal.

“They thought we were nuts,” Borglum said. “Here, we think nothing of driving to Minneapolis twice in a week. This was unheard of to the Brits. Pretty soon, everyone in England, in the military world, had heard about these two crazy Americans who were driving all over the country looking for Ferrets.”

From Transports to Tanks

Along the way, they stumbled across a place that offered customers the chance to drive an FV 433 Abbot tank, and their plans shifted again. When they came home, they weren’t just the proud new owners of a Ferret; they also owned three FV 433s.

Borglum originally planned to open a business offering rides in Waseca, but there were difficulties obtaining all the right paperwork, so he moved to Kasota instead. He opened in 2010, and business has been growing ever since. Last year, more than 1,650 people visited. Borglum and one other full-time employee handle all those customers, though they do sometimes have part-time help.

Borglum has a fleet of nearly a dozen vehicles. Many of them come from Great Britain, since the country has been surplusing its tanks for decades (though it recently ended the practice). In addition to his Abbots, he has a British Chieftain Mark 11, one of only five surplus models in the world (and the star of the 2002 Reign of Fire movie), and a Russian T55. The star of his fleet is the Sherman E8, which was used in World War II.

According to him, the Abbot is one of the easiest vehicles in his arsenal to drive, while the FV 432 is the most confusing and the T55 is the most work, since it has manual transmission and brakes. No matter what guests drive, though, it tends to be a lot more work than they imagined.

Wide Variety

Photo courtesy of Drive A Tank - Sherman E8 medium tank
Photo courtesy of Drive A Tank – Sherman E8 medium tank

“I can’t tell you how many people walk through my door and say, ‘I want to drive a tank and blow stuff up,’” he said. “But I tell them, ‘You’re not supposed to drive your car and text message. What makes you think you can take an $8 million vehicle and drive it 45 mph, aim a 120-mm cannon to your side and still not run into things?’”

Borglum offers several packages for customers. The “3 Star Lt. General” package is the cheapest starting at $299 and lets guests drive the FV433 Abbot SPG, which is technically not a tank but an armored vehicle. Other packages include, “The Sherman Driver,” starting at $1999 and adds the FV 432 APC and Sherman E8 for guests. If you want even more thrills, you can add the opportunity to crush a car or even a mobile home.

They think it’s going to be wild and crazy, but it’s safe. Just follow the directions and keep the gun pointed where it’s supposed to be

The packages might sound pricey, but it’s also pricey to run the tanks. According to Borglum, most of his tanks can only run about four hours at a time. The Chieftain costs $1,000 an hour to operate, and Abbots burn four gallons of fuel per mile. It’s also difficult and expensive to find replacement parts, since he usually has to go through collectors who don’t want to part with their treasures.

Borglum said his business is especially popular with bachelor parties and corporate outings.
“There’s no more extreme team building experience than military equipment, and tanks are one of the top ones,” he explained. “Just being together in an unfamiliar place is team building. I don’t care who you are; you can work with someone for 10 years and then, all of a sudden, when you’re in a desperate situation with them, you get to know each other very well very quickly.”

Customers also have the chance to shoot a variety of guns as part of their packages, including sub machine guns, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-material rifles—including the WWII Browning M1919 machine gun.

Just Follow Directions!

“It’s something different that puts people somewhere where they’ve never been,” he said. “They think it’s going to be wild and crazy, but it’s safe. Just follow the directions and keep the gun pointed where it’s supposed to be.”

In fact, Borglum said following directions is the key in every part of the experience.
“The shooting’s easy, and the driving’s easy,” he explained. “The most dangerous driver I ever had was someone who wasn’t paying attention. He said, ‘I can’t learn anything from a dumb kid like you. I’ve been driving tractors longer than you’ve been alive!’ We got him in the vehicle, and it revved off, and it went in a straight line and hit the first tree.

People come with this expectation, ‘I don’t know if I can drive a tank.’ Just shut up and listen, and you’ll be fine.”

This article first appeared in Southern Minn Scene Magazine.

If You Go: Drive-a-Tank

Grace Brandt
Grace Brandt is a wandering reporter whose home base is in Mankato. Throughout her career, she has written for more than two dozen publications.