• Confessions of a Collector’s Wife

    June 24, 2019 | News
  • I am no stranger to WWII collections and memorabilia, but I won’t pull your leg. I’ve had to adjust. 

    “Cause for divorce,” was one woman’s candid opinion when she shook her head in disbelief at the sight of a World War II Dodge half-ton truck and a bunch of spare parts that fully occupied our two-car garage. It was more than a quarter-century ago when it first arrived; small children circled our feet.

    I replied, “I’ve divorced the garage.” 

    Readers of Brides of 1941 know this about my youth… “With tribulation I slept in [my father] Buz’s down-filled WWII olive drab mummy bag at Girl Scout camp. His army helmet, a Japanese flag, and a short-wave radio were among the memorabilia scattered from basement to bedroom in our house on Crane Road.”

    I also slept in a pungently musty canvas pup tent; a smell memory sharply awakened at the 42nd Annual Swap Meet and Military Vehicle Display held at Camp Plymouth, California, April 2019. During the event, I wasn’t asked to set up housekeeping in one of those “shelter halves” but they were fully present. Big military issue “command post” tents, too.

    The event, sponsored by The Military Vehicle Collectors of California furthers their mission: 

    “Dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, restoration, safe operation and public education of historical military transport and related equipment.”

    The author rests her hand on a “mule”–efficient all-wheel transport, Army-style, around the camp.

    I accompanied my husband, Pete, as a sidekick. He attended with the intention to sell spare Dodge parts; cast-offs from his restoration projects. 

    And he did!

    I brightened up the booth space with a display to sell and sign books.

    These are the likes of my people! 

    Compared to how soldiers “made do” through history, our accommodations in a weather-worthy REI Half Dome with generous head room ranked 5-star.

    Owners of a 1918 Harley Davidson; the side car rode like a baby carriage. History lovers top to toe!

    The orange backpacking tent Pete and I occupied stood out like an oversized California poppy in a sea of Army green. It was pitched on the outskirts of the “SWAMP.” Why? The “SWAMP” was authentic; right down to the cookery and campfire tinder.

    Look at the tipsiest tent to the right, propped with a stick! A rudimentary shelter when first used during the Civil War. No end flaps for several iterations in design. Condensation collecting on the inside was unheard of; the wind whistled through.  

    Pup tents: Haven for troops on the move since the 1860s.

    The MVCC Swap Meet has moved a few times in recent years; Plymouth proved a first-rate host venue with rave reviews.

    One of my favorite things about this show was the variety of vehicles. I’ll flavor it for you with a few of my photos: 

    Eligible contestants round up for “Jeep Judging.” Reward for excellence in military preservation and restoration.
    Yes, Sir! Authority goes wherever this baby roams.
    Apparatus in the capable hands of “Fire Fighters in Fatigues.” Soldiers who staffed the Army Engineer’s Fire-Fighting platoons.
    Everyone gave this attention- grabbing bomb carrier a wide berth as it made several passes through camp.

    What are my personal takeaways from attendance at my first Military Vehicle Preservation Association swap meet?  

    A Dodge 3/4-ton ambulance built for front line and field action.

    If it makes your heart sing to watch authentic WWII rolling stock in a Memorial Day or Fourth of July parade, these are the people to thank. I’ve witnessed first-hand (in my own garage) the time, effort and expense committed to a labor of love. Countless hours researching and seeking out “correct” parts; some “parted out” from a too-far-gone metal heap found on a farm. It’s a messy business, pounding, grinding, welding, painting, polishing; they operate in a no-excuse zone to get it right. 

    What eyebrow-raising whispers did I hear about the Spring 2018 MVCC gathering and swap meet held in Petaluma last year? The military vehicle convoy that rolled through town was thought to be militia activity; a threat. A police escort saw them out. No way! Owners of restored historic military vehicles on an adventure with other enthusiastic hobbyists?

    I am a Boomer. I learned something of WWII service listening to my father’s stories. I’ve learned lots more researching and writing about him as a character in that time period. I’ve also met and respected tight-lipped veterans who refused to speak of their experience. Not so with the show-and-tell collectors at Camp Plymouth. A sea of parts, pins, pictures, posters for sale, table after table, provide spectacular conversation starters, often ending with a keepsake to take home.

    Without events like this, and the clubs and communities that step up and work hard to make them happen, we would be without reminders of what the Greatest Generation fought for. It’s impossible to appreciate their service and sacrifice unless stories are shared. So patriotic. So committed.  

    In 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt summed it up the way I like to think about it.   

    “We have faith that future generations will know that here, in the middle of the twentieth century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war.” 

    Maybe young and old need a time-out in a pup tent and a ride in a military vehicle to reflect on the years when nearly the whole world was at war. It took strategic and relentless military might across Europe and nuclear weapons bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end it.  

    I make this point in Brides of 1941“history, independent thought and the dignity of free will could be usefully applied to level up our collective ethical awareness and common future.”

    For me, those are the thoughts and feelings that rub off walking through a Military Vehicle Collectors Club swap meet. Peace.