People collect all kinds of odd things. Troll dolls, bottle caps, tanks. Tanks? Yes, there are people who collect tanks. One such collector, Nick Mead of the UK, made the trade of a lifetime and catapulted himself into the international spotlight in the process. Mead, who operates Tanks-Alot, a company that maintains a fleet of tanks for recreational and corporate use, acquired the tank in question through Ebay. Even more surprising than the fact you can buy a tank on Ebay is what Mead found inside his.
The tank was a Russian T-54, which Mead snagged by trading a British army truck and a self-propelled howitzer. It turned out to be the most fortuitous trade of his life. Mead, and the tank collecting world in general, was in for a big surprise.
The T-54 is a Russian tank, originally manufactured by the Soviet Union in the wake of WWII. It became a popular tank, that saw use in many wars. T-54s were used in the Middle East, the Vietnam War and Angola. Before they became obsolete in 1979, there were about 100,000 of them made.
The tank was listed on Ebay by a man named Joe Hewes. He originally intended to sell the tank, but wound up trading with Mead for it. The combined value of the vehicles Mead traded was around $42,000. Hewes thought it was a fair deal, but had he known what was hiding inside the tank, he never would have put it up for sale in the first place.
Tanks are not just used for combat. They are also used to transport people and goods, illicit and otherwise. Mead knew this, and wanted to give his new tank a thorough searching-over in order to avoid possible legal infractions, had something dangerous or illegal been hiding in a compartment somewhere. His circumspection paid off, literally.
The tank is thought to have been used by the Iraqi army during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The invasion saw Iraqi troops plunder a huge amount of artifacts and other treasures from Kuwait, much of which was stashed in tanks to be brought back to Iraq. This is likely what happened with the tank acquired by Nick Mead.
Mead, with the help of the Tanks-Alot staff, gave the tank a thorough examination when they received it. They did some maintenance on it, replacing worn parts and giving it a general face lift so it would be ready to join the Tanks-Alot fleet. They also knew that they had to open every compartment where illegal goods could have been stored. They decided to film the process for legal reasons.
Over the course of restoring the tank, the team found something odd - one of the fuel canisters was not functioning properly. It looked to them like someone had deliberately rendered it inoperative. The canister was also extremely heavy. They were about to find out why.
Inside the fuel canister was a whole bunch of ammo. The ammunition was set aside to be turned into the authorities. It was an interesting, if not profitable, find. It did indicate that there might be more surprises in store, if the soldiers that manned the tank had stored other goods in it. They had.
After a bit of poking and prodding, the team discovered that there was another fuel canister that appeared suspicious. While the first tank had been heavy, this one was much, much heavier. This time, when they pried it open, they were in for a significantly more pleasant surprise.
They assumed that the tank held guns, which would account for the increased weight. They continued filming, so they would be legally protected if they found illegal firearms. But when they removed the canister from its housing, it was so heavy that they were stumped for guesses. Turned out it was basically the best case scenario imaginable.
The heavy fuel canister was finally opened, and Mead's friend Todd Chamberlain reached inside. He pulled out a brick of metal that, when it was rubbed on his clothes, turned out to be a bar of solid gold. Can you imagine the thrill that must have been in the air?
All That's Interesting
Chamberlain reached his hand back in the tank and pulled it back holding another gold bar. As the air electrified with excitement, he pulled bar after bar out of the canister. In total, he pulled out five bouillon bars.
Obviously, the first conclusion jumped to by everyone in the room was that they had all just become significantly richer. But if they were turning in all the ammo they found, wouldn't they have to turn in the gold as well? Mead said yes, insisting that they do everything in accordance with the law.
Mead called the police, to report the discovery immediately. When they arrived, they took the gold with them and handed Mead a receipt for them. The gold is currently sitting in a UK police station, behind lock and key, as the police attempt to find the gold's original owners.
Mead keeps the receipt in a safe deposit box. Some day, it may be his ticket to life as a millionaire. For now, he continues to operate Tanks-Alot. The flurry of publicity over the gold bouillon find must have been a big shot in the arm for the business.
Bravery Of Troops
Nick Mead is not the only tank collector in the world, but right now, he's probably the most famous. The T-54 was certainly not the first tank he had purchased. He commands quite a sizable collection, which he maintains both for personal enjoyment and for profit.
Tanks-Alot deals primarily in tanks, but also has a fleet of other armored vehicles. They are maintained mostly to rent out for films and television programs. The tanks are also available for day rentals. If you're willing to pay the price of admission, you can drive and even shoot a tank for a full day on the Tanks-Alot premises.
The tanks are housed and driven on Mead's farm in Helmdon, England. If just driving a tank and shooting its cannon is insufficient action for you, you also have the option of driving over a car. Tanks-Alot also offers tank driving licensing, and sells tanks to the licensed.
Tanks-Alot is not the only tank rental business. He has competitors both in the UK and in the States. Tanks may be expensive, but they are within your grasp if you actually want to purchase your own. Most of the time, the main gun does have to be decommissioned. But buying a tank is an actual option available to many people.
Tanks-Alot commands about 150 tanks, which is larger than the armies of many small countries. Mead collected his fleet from all around the world. Many of them have interesting stories behind them, but the Russian T-54 bearing a $2.4 million payload of gold obviously takes the cake.
Controversially, Nick Mead is the only private citizen in the entire world who is permitted to own a Challenger 1 tank. The Challenger 1 is currently in active use by the British military, leading many to question how Mead came to acquire one. Nobody knows.
Mead is not shy about his tanks. He drives them around regularly, and is both a local character and an internationally known collector. He was already a known person in the tank world before his windfall find in the T-54.
Caters News Agency
What's the point of owning 150 tanks if everyone doesn't know about it? Before the gold story, Mead had already been in the headlines once, for dropping his kids off at school in a tank. According to Mead, the kids are so used to tanks that they don't even find them impressive anymore.
Bravery Of Troops
In the UK, it is apparently legal to drive a tank on public roads. Mead does this regularly. "People often do a double take," he reports. "They can't believe it, and when they see the tax disc which verifies it's road legal, they're even more gobsmacked."
Mead says that when he drives his tanks, people wave "as if their hands are going to drop off." He also says the police find it very confusing. "The police often grin or look the other way and most of them don't know what to do. It's not every day you see a tank rolling into town," he said in an interview with The Telegraph.
Driving huge tanks down public streets is inherently risky. "But in my 20 years driving tanks I've never had one crash. I'm always extremely careful, especially with the kids," he says. He does report that he once took the fuel cap off of a bus, though.
The gold Mead found in the T-54 was most likely looted by Iraqi soldiers during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Only a portion of the plundered riches have since been returned. Another possibility is that the gold was lifted from Saddam Hussein's cache.
Caters News Agency
Mead would have had to have been a robot not to consider keeping the gold under the table. However, it's a good thing he didn't. Mead's staff was present for the reveal, and there was no way he could have kept the story secret. When word got out, he, his family and his staff would have been targets for armed theft.
Curious Mind Magazine
The gold story was an instant viral sensation. People were as amazed by the gold as they were by the fact you could buy a tank on the internet. Joe Hewes, the man who sold Mead the tank, claims that he isn't bitter. He does expect, however, to be taken out for a beer, should the gold be returned to Mead.
Most likely, no. If the police cannot track down the gold's rightful owner, there is a slim chance that all five bars will be returned to Mead. However, more likely, he will be awarded a finder's fee. Considering that the gold is worth $2.4 million, that fee might be hefty.
Many armchair masterminds came out of the woodwork to criticize Mead's decision on social media. Either they have firsthand experience doing multi-million-dollar deals with organized crime, or they've just watched a lot of movies.
Some people also thought that Mead was entitled to keep the gold, since he had purchased the tank. Obviously, the law does not consider the case so cut and dry. The gold was probably stolen from Kuwait, and if that speculation is verified, should be returned.
Not everyone is beating their chests in outrage over Mead's decision. Some people think that he did the right thing, as difficult as it must have been. Hopefully, he is rewarded with a sizable finder's fee. Or with the entire stash of gold. Life would get a whole lot more interesting, in that case.