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Military Vehicle Collectors Club gathers near Lodi for meeting

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Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2004 10:00 pm

Charles Ouimette and Steven Parkins rode around in a 1941 command reconnaissance truck with the siren blaring Thursday as they prepared for a trip from Tower Park Marina to Lodi for a Military Vehicle Collectors of California club cruise night.

They smiled and waved from the truck that has a history dating back before World War II. The vehicle was a mobile command post, and it carried an Army general.

Ouimette was wearing WWII soldier attire for the Military Vehicle Collectors club meet at Tower Park. He has been collecting military vehicles since 1976, and he said he's been driving the 1941 truck around Lodi for years. His grandfather was a combat engineer in WWII.

Parkins owns a 1944 version of the 1941 truck. He and Ouimette are two of the hundreds of people who assembled in RVs and tents at Tower Park campground with their vintage military vehicles. The club is having its first meet of the year there, and members are showing off their vehicles, sharing history and selling vehicles and parts.

"We're just another car club," said Kurt Lesser, of San Jose, president of the Northern California chapter.

But a different kind of car club.

About 125 vintage vehicles from World War II through the

Persian Gulf war will be showcased at the event, including everything from scooters and motorcycles to Jeeps and Hummers. One small recreational tank and some two-and-a-half ton trucks are on display as well. Many of the members previously served in the military and have an interest in and a love for the preservation of military vehicles. The veterans deck out the vehicles the way they remember them from the wars, Lesser said.

Camouflage tents and coverings, sandbags and other military trimmings blend in with the trees at the campground. Several people will be dressed in vintage clothing.

"This week, we step back in time," said member Pat Willis, of Springville, who has been coming to meets with her husband for eight years.

Vintage snowsuits and more

People from all across California and places as far as Canada, Idaho and Texas began trickling in on Monday, and many of them showed up on Wednesday and Thursday.

Daniel Ralston of Paradise talks about the items he's selling and the vehicles he has restored at the Military Vehicle Collectors of California Club on

Thursday. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

Several events have been going on this week. Many of the women dressed in vintage clothing and went antiquing in downtown Lodi. A caravan of about 30 vehicles traveled from Tower Park to the A&W Rootbeer restaurant on Lodi Avenue for "cruise night" on Thursday. Members will participate in trailer races in the slough next to Tower Park on Saturday; they will put their vintage trailers in the water and use oars to race. Members will dress up in vintage clothing from around the world for a dance on Saturday night; former Marine Jerry Mambretti will be dressing as a Vietnam-era machine gunner - with authentic clothing. Members will wear vintage snowsuits, WWII outfits and more. And of course, people are welcome to visit the campground to see the vehicles.

"Don't hesitate to ask questions; if they know the history, they'll tell you," Lesser said.

The club has three meets during the year and began having meets 13 years ago. It is part of an international organization, and in Northern California alone, there are 600 members.

Owning a military vehicle is not a requirement to be in the club - people just need to have an interest in military vehicles.

"My husband is a military vehicle lover," Willis said.

She says for some, seeing all the vehicles displayed is a dream come true.

"There's a lot of history here, and we all love it," she said.

The meets can be a family affair. In fact, Lesser, who has been going to the meets since 1982, said both of his daughters learned to drive while there.

"All the kids get driving lessons here," member Chris Jorgenson said as some teenagers drove by in a Jeep, with some adult instruction.

Club members agreed that they enjoy the meets because of the people.

"There's lots of interaction and less competition," Lesser said. "We're out here to enjoy the vehicles. There's lots of good people - a real cross-section - all united by a like for military vehicles."

'Mules' carried weapons

At a car show, most of the cars of a particular model will be the same, except for a difference in color, Lesser said. At a meet, each Jeep of a particular model will be different. Some will have radios and others will have stretchers. Some Jeeps will be cleaned up, and some will be made to look as though they've been on the battlefield.

The Mules - or half-ton trucks - are basically a platform on wheels with a seat on top. They were equipped with parachutes and were pushed out of the backs of planes during Vietnam. Soldiers would be sent to retrieve the Mules, which were used to carry weapons, supplies and ammunition to the front line.

Charles Ouimette of Paradise talks about a 1941 World War II manned reconnaissance vehicle. Ouimette is wearing a wool WWII uniform. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

The two-and-a-half ton trucks served a variety of purposes. They were communication shelters, mobile command posts, hospitals and more.

Willis and her husband brought a mini tank, which was not in the military, but is used for recreational purposes and is painted in camouflage colors. Even though it wasn't in the military, it looks like a real tank, only much smaller - about four feet high.

Some members even lease their vehicles to the movie industry, and they can tell visitors for what movie and what purpose.

Most of the vehicles at the meet are American, though some members have British and German vehicles.

A passion for gadgets and more

Some people began their collections because they were in the military, and they were interested in the vehicles.

Jorgenson and Mambretti received an MV magazine, which had a listing of upcoming events. They attended a meet at Big Bear park in Waterford, and they were hooked.

"This was our kind of stuff," Mambretti said.

Lesser started collecting after he got out of the Navy. He bought a truck from a friend who was a surplus dealer. From there, he added to his collection and made changes. He says he's always looking for the next thing. He brought a 1986 Hummer ambulance and a trailer to the meet.

"We all like our gadgets," Lesser said. "Some guys just want the big trucks," Lesser said.

Some members own tanks, which are difficult to transport and don't usually make it to meets. Hummers have been popular lately, Lesser said.

People of every different background enjoy collecting the vehicles, and when they are at a meet, everyone is equal, he said.

"These vehicles have made our country free," Mambretti said.

For more information about the club, visit the Web site at www.mvccnews.net.

Contact Panorama Editor Jennifer Snyder at jennifers@lodinews.com.

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