STEINBACH -- In the late 1940s to early 1950s, instead of rusted-out old cars and tractors in the bush on Manitoba farms, you used to see old military vehicles.
Farms were like retirement homes for used Second World War equipment. The Canadian Armed Forces held fire sales on its old vehicles, and farmers were buying them up and converting them into things such as farm trucks, manure spreaders, hay wagons, crawler tractors from the tracked vehicles, and even loggers and skidders for working in the bush.
Or else they were stripped down for parts. It was swords being turned into plowshares. (What are plowshares? It's just the main blade on a plow. The full quote from the Old Testament, Micah 4:3, is: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.")
'It's to retain and keep our history alive. To remind people don't do this again'
That was where Harold Kihn, growing up on a farm south of Steinbach, began his fascination with military vehicles.
Stuff was still kicking around when Kihn turned 23. He bought a Korean War M38 jeep, not from a military sale but through a private owner, for $600 and a two-four of beer. It didn't have much speed -- a trait among farm vehicles that are built more for endurance and off-road travel -- so he put on extra-wide tires so it could travel over farm fields.
Kihn became a collector. His collection grew to half a dozen military vehicles that all ran. "We brought things back from the dead," he said.
Some of his restorations have been sold off but he still has a 1941 Bren gun armoured personnel carrier, on tracks, that weighs 15,000 kilograms. He also still has his old jeep now restored to mint condition. But the big enchilada in his collection has always been his 1944 Sherman tank.
Kihn found the Sherman tank sunk in mud in a storage yard owned by Litz Crane in Winnipeg. It was just the hull but Kihn is good at fixing things. He has owned Steinbach Precision Enterprises, a metalworking shop, for 43 years.
He and his brother-in-law devoted the next two years working nights and weekends to restore the tank. They got most of their parts from legions. Some legions had old tanks but only wanted them for monuments displayed on their front lawns. So Kihn would go in, remove what he needed, and weld them shut again.
So if you see or have seen a Sherman tank in a parade, or at a Remembrance Day ceremony, anywhere in Manitoba, that's Kihn. His is only one of three Sherman tanks known to be still running in Canada.
Kihn will be front and centre again next month at what is expected to one of the biggest displays of vintage military equipment in recent memory, at the 60th Manitoba Threshermen's Reunion & Stampede in Austin, just west of Portage la Prairie, on July 24-27. At least 20 military vehicles will be on display, including towed equipment like a Second World War howitzer and a standard anti-aircraft gun.
The threshermen's reunion is one of the largest show of its kind in Canada, and has the largest array of vintage farm machinery demonstrations. I
t's 100- acre grounds will include a pioneer fashion show, the pioneer village including blacksmith shop and a mill for grinding wheat available for purchase, and the Manitoba Clydesdale Classic, the largest single-breed heavy horse show in Western Canada. It also has a petting zoo, live music and rodeo.
Kihn's Sherman tank weighs 33,000 kg. It gets about one kilometre per five litres (three-quarters of a mile per gallon). It's propelled by two large diesel engines. "It's supposed to go 30 miles per hour but I haven't gotten it over 25," he said. But it's a very smooth ride because of its weight and incredible suspension.
The top of the tank, called the "rotating turret," still swivels 360 degrees. It houses the main gun, whose barrel is over four metres long. "It would recoil as much as 12 inches. The whole tank would rock backwards," Kihn said.
It's 76.2-millimetre calibre, i.e., the diameter of the bore hole, but the German tanks were superior with 88mm guns. "They were outgunned by the Germans," Kihn said.
Kihn, who is pushing 70, has taken his Sherman to up to eight parades in a year but has just a handful of events scheduled this year, plus Steinbach Remembrance Day that he attends annually.
Why does Kihn think it's important to maintain the vintage military vehicles? "It's to retain and keep our history alive. To remind people don't do this again.'"