First off let me say that Bret Golihew is one the most interesting and creative members of the paintball community today. He ran Simulated Reality Products, which used to turn out really nifty paintball LAWs and grenade launchers. He finds time now to build PAVs. This then is the story of Jumbo, and how he came to be. It will also help give you some pointers, should you wish to make your own PAV. If you would like to contact Bret his email can be found at the bottom of the article. Enjoy!
Vehicles used in paintball games are nothing new. There are fields that use trucks, half-tracks, helicopters, RC aircraft and a variety of RVs to add a special attraction to their games. On some fields, the RVs have been modified to resemble armored vehicles. This is the story of the next step in field vehicles, the practical paintball tank.
This vehicle is a 1/2 half scale model Sherman M4A3E2 "Jumbo" tank. Fully functional, it is self-propelled, has an elevating main gun in a moving turret, a flexible bow gun mounting on the front of the hull, and a turret mount for twin external crank operated guns. It uses a crew of two consisting of a driver, who also operates the main gun, and the top gunner who operates the twin crank guns and the internal bow gun.
Right about now, you are probably wondering why anybody would make such a thing. Well, I am the most qualified to answer that. In June 1995, I met with Dennis Innerst, the owner of Action Creek Paintball in Spring Grove PA, to discuss possible projects that I could provide for his field. He asked if I could make a tank for his "Splat-A-Spook" operation that runs through the month of October. In '94, Dennis used a clown on a golf cart as a moving target for the customers. This year he wanted something different but usable in the normal paintball season.
With a background in military history and model building, I saw this as the ultimate modeling project. It helped that this would be my second tank, as several years ago, Randy Abenshoen, another paintball player with an interest in military history and I, built a two man armored car with a moving turret. Unfortunately, it never saw action due to difficulties with the drive train. However, it was converted to a novelty RV and it can be seen roving the low hills in Manchester PA. Randy tells me that it has won awards in two Halloween parades for the most unusual vehicle.
Another thing that convinced me this project would work was the golf cart. It is an EZGO two place with four wheels and powered by a two-cycle engine. Capable of carrying 800lbs, it is a stable and strong chassis vehicle and I estimated a body weight of 400lbs so this left an equal amount for a two-man crew.
Design and construction
I needed a tank design with a high profile and a relatively forward turret to take advantage of the seating in the EZGO. With my interest in military history, there was really only one tank that fit my requirements- the Sherman tank of WW2. The question became which version, as there were many variants. I picked the M4A3E2, or as it was called, the "Jumbo". It got its name due to the extra armor that was added to the sides and front for protection from the more powerful German tanks. It also had a longer and more square turret, which would be easier to replicate. A major problem to solve was how to make tank tracks. The Sherman is slab-sided, and if equipped with sand shields, which cover most of the sides, tracks and bogey wheels could be simulated on a flat panel.
With 'three view' plans of the tank and scale profile drawings of the golf cart, I designed the vehicle's shell to fit over a metal frame bolted to the golf cart. The scale of the tank came out to be about 1/2 full size. The proportions had to be modified a little bit, making the overall length one foot short to prevent too much overhang on the rear of the golf cart. This also helped to save some weight. Construction began on Aug. 20th 1995, with a completion date expected to be Sept 30th as it would enter service in the first week of Oct. The punched angle metal frame was attached to the EZGO at five main cross beams, each extending out from the sides of the golf cart 8 inches. This was to give the correct scale width to the tank shell and also to provide clearance for turning the front wheels inside the shell. Using strings to layout the profile, I connected the attachment points with pierced angle to form the metal frame, except for the rear support frame, which was made from wood. This was done to save weight, as this was an overhang area.
Next the frame was covered. 1/2" thick plywood was used for most of the 'skin' and 3/4" plywood for the load bearing top plate, which supported the turret bearing. It worked out in scale to have the interior of the turret ring to be 42 inches. This allowed enough room for two crewmen to sit side-by-side. A section of a plastic barrel was attached to the front of the body to mimic the Sherman transmission housing. It also serves as a flexible bumper between the front track cover fenders. The side panels were cut to simulate the profile of the tracks and bolted on to the frame. The most difficult phase was turret construction. The top plate of the turret was cut out and used as a template for the bottom plate, which then had a 42 inch hole cut in it. The turret side panels were soaked with water and heated over fire to bend them to shape. Using interior fillets, the turret pieces were then assembled with wood screws.
The turret was made to ride on wooden roller bearings mounted in a ring on the tank hull top plate. I wanted to make a powered turret, but found that a simpler solution worked better. It turned easily enough to be moved by hand, so two handles were placed inside the turret walls.
I made two tank periscopes with mirrors from the local craft store. These were mounted to stick up out of the top plate of the front of the turret. Openings were cut into the turret sides and back panel to increase visibility. These were then covered with polycarbonate windows and sealed with RTV.
The main gun was the last big problem to solve. A SRP PM-95 was used to simulate the cannon. This became the PM-95T (T for tank) This is a paintball shotgun developed from the family of 1.56 cal. paintball guns that Simulated Reality Products made. It is a single shot, bolt action paintball sabot shotgun. It fires 9 .68 cal. paintballs at velocities below 250fps. This gun was mounted inside a dummy outer barrel of an approximate scale diameter and length and mated to a elevating mechanism in the front of the turret. The mantlet was then mounted on the turret front around the barrel base.
The main door was mounted on the right side of the hull and a cupola ring and hatch finished the turret. The bow gun flexible mount was installed for the front right side of the hull. Any paintball gun will fit into the mounted barrel of the bow gun. Just put it in and start firing. The turret windows and periscopes allow the bow gunner to see where the shots go.
The entire tank was sealed with RTV at all the panel seams. It was then painted with a primer and then a couple coats of green were applied. The track bogey wheels were painted on in shades of black. When the tank sits in the grass at 50 feet away, the effect looks quite real. Painting on the US white stars finished the paint.
Construction of the vehicle used 9 sheets of plywood, 100lbs of metal angle and a lot of hardware. There were far too many details of design and construction than I can mention here. Overall the project consumed about 200 hours of my time to complete, but the cost of the project can't be measured in just money or time. I'm rewarded just seeing the reaction of people to it. It wasn't made just to be a box on wheels, how many chances do you get to build and operate a working 1/2 scale Sherman M4A3E2 "Jumbo"? The tank was delivered September 24th to Dennis Innerst at Action Creek. I was sad to see it go, knowing that thousands of paintballs would soon be pounding it. I knew it would do good. And at this writing, I can report only a few minor mechanical problems. What can you expect? It is built like a tank. It is exciting and educational to crew in it. You can get a tiny feel for what tankers live with. Here are some things I learned, tanks are loud inside, have limited visibility, require outside infantry support, and need good ventilation! So that was how Action Creek got a 1/2 scale Sherman tank. What's next? Tank vs. tank?
Update August 1998
Paintball Sports International published a version of the above article that I wrote about the tank in the June 1996 issue. Paintball Player's Bible published an updated version in the August 1997 issue that included the changes that were made to improve the vehicle. The Sherman has had quite a good deal of success in the past few years. It has been used in many Paintball Scenario Games, and was taken on the road to two 24hour PSGs in 1996. In July, it was used at SGT York's at a game that I produced for them, 'Splat Trek- Deep Woods 9', and in August it was taken to EMR Paintball Park in New Milford Pa, for the Wayne Dollack scenario game- the 'Bavarian Conspiracy'.
The '97 season saw the Sherman and a new Action Creek tank- the Turtle, an ATV based tank, in action at several big events. In July, the Wayne Dollack game at Skirmish, in Jim Thorpe, PA, 'Mission MIA', saw the Sherman in action against the Turtle. August saw the return of the Sherman to EMR for the scenario game 'Masquerade', at which the Sherman did battle with 'Bertha' a trailered artillery piece and an automobile 'tank'.
The 98 season has seen the Sherman and the Turtle at the 'Assault on Firebase Gloria' scenario game at Supersports Paintball, in Eldersburg, MD. Both vehicles performed very well at this game, both working together and in opposition. In Action Creek's greatest logistical feat, the Sherman was taken to Hell Survivors in Pinckney, Michigan, a 10 hour drive across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, in July. The Michigan Monster Game was a great event for the Sherman. The areas used were very good for tank deployment and the people at the game were excellent to work with. Hell Survivors owner, Dave Massey, also has a PAV, the GAT, an armored Jeep, and he appreciated the special features that the Sherman has, and the enhancement that it gave to the Monster Game. The value of the Sherman was that it could run the whole right side of the field and would allow the rapid assault of all the bases on that side. By the second morning of the two-day game, a bidding war took place for control of the Sherman, as it was used in a mercenary role. The Yellow team won the game, and they also were the highest bidders for tank services. Coincidence? I don't think so. In all of the game deployments, the Sherman and the Turtle have performed their missions very well, providing an interesting addition to the overall games. The crews that operate the Sherman and the Turtle are very good at what they do and use the tanks to make the game as exciting as possible for the players, without trying to dominate the play. A big part of this philosophy is that tanks exist for the entertainment of the field's customers and it is very important for the tanks to be 'destroyed' by them. If the tank is always unstoppable, the players just avoid it. We have found that nothing raises morale better than when a player takes out a tank. In March 1997, the Sherman had its first major overhaul. I had brought it back a few times before for minor repairs and new paint, but this last overhaul was designed to increase the effectiveness of the tank as a fighting vehicle. There was a very good reason for this. The competition had arrived! The Turtle, and several other ATV based vehicles under construction by Paul and Art Aubel, also with Action Creek Paintball, made it time to consider the usefulness of the tank as an anti-tank vehicle instead of just an infantry attacker.
The improvements were mostly related to the turret and began with a complete rebuild of it. The most important thing was to improve the turret bearing so that turning it would be easier, allowing for faster target acquisition. This was done by removing the old wooden roller bearings and replacing them with 12 nylon caster wheels mounted to the hull top bearing plate. Lawn edging was used very effectively to provide a seal ring for the inside of the turret opening.
Next came the increasing the forward visibility by enlarging the front turret windows by 25%. Replacing the flat hatch lid with a section of plastic barrel bottom raised the main turret top hatch several inches. Cutting out several small windows in the cupola ring now allows the gunner to see out around the tank without raising the hatch. An additional small hatch was added above the driver to allow emergency egress, ventilation and visibility improvements. Two small firing ports were cut into the rear turret sides, and the turret profile was altered by removing 8 inches from the rear section to reduce weight and balance the turret. A new large window was added in rear of the turret, which allows for driving the tank with the turret reversed. The last major improvement is the ability to switch out the main gun and replace it with a conventional .68 caliber semi. This was done because the original cannon was mostly ineffective as an anti-tank weapon. The effect of the old gun was largely dramatic, most of the real work was done by the top guns and the bow gun. With the need to fight against ATV tanks, turret mobility and effective gunnery are the only advantage to counter the high mobility of ATVs.
The Future of PAVs
New Paintball Armored Vehicles are now showing up. It would an overstatement to say that they are appearing everywhere, but it is getting very common to see them pictured in all the Paintball publications. Since publication of the articles, I have been in contact with, or have knowledge of, many people building and using PAVs all over the country. I hope that I have contributed to this effort in some way. They seem to fall into three main variants, ATV (six wheelers), automobiles, and golf cart based. As to which is best, time will tell. All have their advantages and disadvantages. The ATV is very good for rough terrain, but has a smaller crew compartment and a constantly running engine. Automobiles are big and heavy and don't look very much like tanks. The golf cart type has more room than an ATV and an engine that only runs when it moves, but it must be used in a controlled manner on prepared fields free of logs, stones, hills or ditches. Sometimes I think this may be an advantage, as it promotes more responsible use and less risk to players on foot.
Another important consideration in PAV design is aesthetics, or the look of the vehicle. The single greatest feature of the Sherman, is its appearance. It really looks great when moving around, turning the turret and firing the guns. So many people have told me that it is the coolest looking thing they have every seen on a paintball field, because it really looks like a miniature tank. Safety in construction and operation are also very important. PAVs should be designed to provide the maximum level of crew and player safety that is possible. Easy escape from the vehicle is important and as many doors as possible should be included. Fire extinguishers, radios, and crew safety gear- like helmets, are very important to include, as is operating only in prepared areas, with strict rules of engagement and outside safety refs to control tank and player interaction.
Maybe someday there will be many PAVs out there and a new sport will be created- Tank Paintball. Who knows? One thing is certain however, what is done today with PAVs will determine how they are received in the future. Safety in design and operations will keep PAVs an entertaining and exciting part of paintball. Action Creek Paintball Tanks have pioneered many of these concepts and will continue with the hope of bringing vehicles like the Sherman to every big event they can get to.
Bret Golihew email firstname.lastname@example.org
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