EVERETT — Tankfest has grown from a handful of armored vehicles chugging around a patch of tarmac at Paine Field into a full-day festivity with tug of war, a water balloon toss, a pinata (dangled from a military tractor) — and tanks. Lots and lots of tanks.
The dozen or so tanks tearing around Saturday gave the Flying Heritage &Combat Armor Museum a bigger tank force than Luxembourg, one of NATO’s smallest members. There were also artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers, jeeps and other restored military vehicles. Thousands of spectators came out to see the powerful machines rumble and roar.
Gripping the steering bar of the museum’s biggest tank, an M60 main battle tank, Dusty Smiley took it out for a few laps for the crowd. He showed off the roughly 50-ton beast’s nimbleness, chugging left and right. The turret spun around, swinging the tank’s cannon past spectators in grandstands and lining the metal barricades ringing the driving range. The tank’s gun does not fire.
After the display, Smiley, who works for the museum, pulled back into the M60’s parking spot among the stable of military vehicles.
“You need to tighten the tension on the left,” called one man standing on the other side of the temporary fence.
“You probably got two cylinders not firing properly,” said another man to Smiley, as he lifted himself out of the driver’s hatch on the M60.
The men all know the M60.
“I used to sleep in one,” said Bud Gleim, a U.S. Army tanker from 1976 to 1978. He served in A Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, in Friedberg, which was then in West Germany.
Seeing and hearing the M60 move “was awesome,” said Gleim, who lives in Tacoma. “It was just like old times.”
Serving in the armored forces was challenging and rewarding, he said. “We worked hard together, we played hard together, we trained hard together — and if need be, we were ready to all die together.”
Smiley was glad to have the former Army tankers on hand, even if they did tease him for his time in the Marine Corps.
Driving the M60 “is a lot of fun,” he said. “It handles really well, actually.”
The tank came to the museum in 2016, a gift from the Jordanian army. It is part of its growing collection of military vehicles and planes. It unveiled two additions Saturday: a British Churchill tank from World War II and a massive 155 mm field gun from the Cold War.
The museum, which is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, plans to add several more items over the next few months, said Adrian Hunt, its executive director.
Tankfest is Flying Heritage’s biggest event of the year. Crowds likely exceeded the 6,000 spectators expected, Hunt said.
“Our goal is to have operating planes and tanks, and to share them with the public,” he said. “There’s no better opportunity for that than Tankfest.”
His goal is to make it Snohomish County’s must-do event for Memorial Day weekend, he said.
The event started in 2010, and has been especially popular with families. The museum is working to expand its audience.
“We want to get more people and get more young people and school groups here,” Hunt said.
Flying Heritage’s goal this year is to increase the number of visitors from about 35,000 in recent years to 41,000 this year.
“We’re ahead of schedule through first four months of the year to reach that,” he said.