In small towns, it’s not uncommon to see hobby mechanics refurbish old vehicles and show them off in parades. Parades in Hettinger and surrounding area, however, are unique in that spectators are likely to see at least one restored military vehicle chugging down the road, thanks to local military vehicle enthusiast and private collector Tom Springer.
“I have 12 vehicles that run and then I’ve got many more that maybe someday I will restore,” said Springer.
Right now, Springer is working on repairing an old World War II amphibious vehicle that, once it’s finished, can drive on land and in water.
“I’m working on my amphibious DUCK. It doesn’t go in the water yet, but the goal is to someday float it,” he continued.
Springer drives his vehicles in parades all over Southwest North Dakota in Mott, Bowman, Lemmon, and Hettinger.
“You can’t drive them all at once. Sometimes I get one vehicle, run it through the parade, and then I’ll get another one and run it through the end of the parade,” laughed Springer.
At an early age, Springer found old military vehicles fascinating.
“I’ve always liked military vehicles since I was kid,” said Springer, “My dad, when I nine years old, took us on a vacation down to Salt Lake City, Utah.
There, we saw one of these old military vehicles running up and down the road and it was one of those DUCKS. I said to myself that one day I would get me one.I loved the military and I loved the old jeeps. The older the better.”
Springer grew up in a military family and eventually served in the Navy. He served as a Seabee, working as a carpenter in the pacific, repairing and building prisons, schools, and “just about everything.”While working in the pacific, Springer contracted a virus which left him with insulin dependent diabetes, ending his military career.
Over the years, however, both his interest and service in the military eventually developed into a passion for collecting and repairing old military vehicles as a hobby.
“Collecting military equipment is my way of giving back to the veterans and the youth,” he said.“I have taken some of the vehicles to the Sturgis VA hospital and some of the old guys in the hospital down there light up when they see them…”
Springer’s private collection consists of military vehicles from World War II all the way to Vietnam. He owns many refurbished World War II military Jeeps, a vehicle used for infantry travel in the jungles of Vietnam called a Mechanical Mule, aWorld War II M2 half-track car artillery tractor, massive six-wheeled military dump trucks, a M29 Weasel for mobility in snow, and many more.
“You hear from word of mouth from other collectors where to find certain parts. Now, Jeep is reproducing a lot of the older stuff that is harder to find.”
According to Springer, he gets the parts to fix the vehicles from scrap yards and auctions in the surrounding areas. He is even a member of the National Military Collectors.
“It can be expensive. I bought the Weasel for $1,700 in Baker, Montana. Montana Utilities used the Weasels for checking their power lines and eventually wanted to get rid of them.”
According to Springer, World War II vehicles are the most popular right now and therefore the most expensive.
“Mott has a tank that brings people in from all over. Personally, I would have a tank if I could afford one.”
Although it’s a private collection, Springer said he would be open to displaying his vehicles in a secure place, as long as the vehicles stayed safe.
“That’s what [the vehicles] are for, to see. And to educate kids on what our freedoms are about.”
Regardless of whether he will be able to display them in a museum, Springer will continue his passion for collecting old military vehicles. He said that it may take him a couple of years, but eventually he will get his aquatic DUCK to float.