MUKILTEO — As soon as Dave Shultz unloaded his radio-controlled model tanks at Mukilteo’s Lighthouse Park, a crowd of passersby came gawking.
These aren’t toys, as Shultz is fond of saying. The largest of his set of four military tanks is more the size of a VW Bug.
“Hey man,” said one guy in the crowd on Thursday. “This is waaaay past just being a hobby.”
“It’s downright certifiable,” Shultz admitted.
He smiled and shook some hands.
The tanks — Herman, Helmut, Heinrich and Horst — travel packed just so in a 28-foot trailer pulled by his diesel pickup truck. Designed and built by Shultz, the tanks are lovingly referred to as his “kids.”
His credit cards even bear pictures of three of the tanks.
The model tanks have entertained crowds at car shows and state fairs, and been featured on TV news stations in such places as Ankeny, Iowa. Videos of the tanks are on YouTube. And the Texas Bikini Team once posed with the tanks in Indianapolis.
“People have seen photos that make the kids look full size, and then they ask me what museum the tanks are in,” Shultz said. “Well, they’re nowhere else in the world, and I’m not stretching that truth. OK?”
Shultz talks in a booming voice, most likely owing to a hearing loss after decades of machine shop work.
An itinerant engineer and self-described “hired gun,” Shultz currently is doing a contract stint with Boeing in Everett as the second-shift troubleshooter.
Shultz, 61, plans to show off the tanks this week at the Arlington Fly-In, the annual air show at the municipal airport. The show also features vintage military vehicles.
Fly-In director Barbara Tolbert looks forward to seeing Shultz’s display.
“We haven’t seen anything like it before,” she said. “His presentation should be something people really enjoy watching.”
Shultz, whose father was a railroad man who had served as a tank driver during World War II, grew up in Wyoming and Utah. He served two years as a machinist with the Navy during the Vietnam War.
Back in Utah, he worked his way through Weber State College, graduating with a degree in engineering technology.
“It gave me the ability to design the processes to make things,” he said. “The first job out of college was for a helicopter company doing a job for the shah of Iran.”
Over the decades, Shultz has lived in 16 states, working for the Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman and Spirit aircraft companies. It’s the second time he’s been under contract for Boeing in Washington.
He began making the tanks in the 1980s during a lull in one of his jobs.
The idea was to create World War II tanks that would eventually re-enact the 1943 battle between the Russian and German armies in Kursk, Ukraine.
First up was Herman, an all-aluminum, 1/6-scale reproduction of the German Mark VI, E Model Tiger tank.
Helmut is a radio-controlled, scratch-built, steel, aluminum and plywood 1/3-scale reproduction of the German Mark V, JagdPanther tank.
Heinrich, also built from scratch, is a 1/3-scale reproduction of the German Mark V, D Model Panther tank.
Horst, a half-scale model of a German Sturmgeschutz StuG III tank, is the largest of the set and made its debut in 2000.
All the tanks were updated in 2006, first with the help of computer-aided drafting programs.
Shultz doesn’t plan to build any more tanks, but he does have other ideas.
He’s written battle movie scripts that he would like to see produced someday as part of a military theme park that would attract tourists from around the world.
“Jurassic Park would not be possible without dinosaurs,” he said. “You can’t have a military theme park without tanks.”
He would also like to see his tanks in parades all over the country, with Army officers operating the radio-controlled units from a Humvee riding ahead.
“It would be a great way to help with recruitment,” Shultz said.
These ideas might seem farfetched, but the tanks could be big money-makers some day, he said. After all, do people pay to watch monster trucks in stadiums and stock cars driving in circles at the county fair?
“I’m a quantum leap ahead of the market. My kids are just the bridge to a dream, and there’s a whole new universe on the other side,” Shultz said. “Bridging that gap may be impossible, but maybe I just haven’t met the right investors yet.”
Dressed in suspenders holding up khaki shorts, Shultz wiped his hands on a grease rag as he ran the tanks out in front of the Mukilteo lighthouse last week.
“They’re all so different. Helmut is touchy and Heinrich can’t stand to have anyone else be called your favorite,” he said. “Herman, well there’s no way to retell all the stories.”
“Then there’s Horst, and this one you can’t mess around with. He can really scoot, and can run at about three miles an hour. You get in his road and you’ll get your toes stepped on. OK?”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.
See the tanks
Dave Shultz’s model German tanks can be seen this week at the Arlington Fly-In, Wednesday through Sunday at Arlington Airport. He plans to demonstrate the tanks Saturday and Sunday. More info: www.nweaa.org.
To watch videos of the tanks in action, see the online version of this story at www.heraldnet.com.