George Adler has spent his summer driving roughly 200 miles every Wednesday up to the 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe from his home in Marietta. Since May, Adler has been restoring an M47 Patton tank on loan from the U.S. Army which is in the museum's possession. Tirelessly, he's handwashed the rust from the World War II-era battle vehicle, pulled open hatches and crafted replacement pieces.
In April, Adler and his wife visited the museum for the first time for an event. He met Joe Barkley, one of the museum's board members, who took him out back to see the decaying tank in the shed. Adler, who served in the Army from 1975 to 1978 as a loader, gunner and tank commander, was in awe.
Then, he saw kids running around and jumping on top of the tank.
"It was a lawsuit waiting to happen," said Adler, 62.
But inspiration struck. Adler went to the museum's executive director, Chris McKeever, that day and offered to restore the massive tank. While McKeever was receptive, she said people often come through the museum and enthusiastically offer to restore items, and that's the last she sees of them.
"But George was different," she said.
Adler went home and, about a week later, submitted a seven-page project outline to the museum. He suggested a timeline, how to raise money for the project, and task priorities like removing welds from internal compartments, replacing springs in the driver's hatch to make it operational, cleaning the paint and lights and replacing non-functional replicas.
Before Adler got started, the tank was filled with sand and covered in dark orange rust from top to bottom. It had hatches welded shut, and it wore a worn-out canvas cover.
"It looked terrible," he said.
This isn't his first restoration. For years Adler's been fixing up Mustangs, and he recently helped with the restoration of a B-17 bomber at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins Air Force Base near Atlanta.
For nearly two decades, he worked in the world of computers, but he said working with physical projects is different.
"When you do something like this, or working with stained glass windows or wood carvings, you actually see the final project taking shape as you're working on it," he said. "That's so satisfying."
The museum doesn't have a full history of the tank, but Adler has made some guesses. M47s were built in the 1950s, and there are only 8,576 in existence, he said. "It's one of the last of World War II technology."
The tanks weren't used for very long in the U.S., and the Army began selling the tanks to other countries. There's evidence to suggest the one in the museum's possession spent some time in Spain and in the desert, said Adler. That's evident by damage consistent with scratches from sand exposure, and instructions on the inside written in Spanish.
As Adler restores the tank in the Georgia heat, he's only shielded by the shade the back shed provides. One Wednesday, he spent seven and a half hours handwashing the tank. "That's when you feel your age," he said with a laugh.
There's still more work to do. The museum is looking to raise around $4,700 to bring the tank back to its full glory by purchasing one 0.50-caliber gun replica and mounting cradle; service and infrared headlights; 0.30-caliber gun replicas and dummy ammo belts; and historically accurate paint.
Adler estimates he's already put in about 70 hours of work, only missing two Wednesdays this summer. Standing back, he looks at the tank with admiration.
"She looks so much better," he said.
Email Sabrina Bodon at firstname.lastname@example.org.