Steve Gorham has spent most of his life renovating homes. Now, he restores World War II tanks.
"It's a one-of-a-kind job," Gorham said yesterday while taking a break from working on a Czech OT-810 halftrack at Northeast Military Vehicle Services in Milford. "I wake up every morning and am excited to go to work."
Gorham, 49, of Upton, was an unemployed carpenter three years ago when he discovered Northeast, a new company founded by Shrewsbury resident Andrew Sanclemente. The company started in Hopkinton but moved to Milford, near Interstate 495, about a year and a half ago.
Sanclemente, 41, a software engineer, has been collecting World War II vehicles since the mid-1990s. As he became immersed in his hobby, he realized there was a need for a business that restores the historic combat machinery.
"I was fascinated with the equipment," Sanclemente said as the buzz of a saw reverberated throughout the company's warehouse. "When you're driving these, you really understand what it was like for soldiers."
Sanclemente's father, Alphonse, grew up in the Plains section of Milford and was a mechanic in the Army Air Corps in World War II.
Repairs vary significantly in cost and can take a few days for quick fixes or several months for major jobs such as the Czech halftrack, which Sanclemente and his crew of four full-time employees and several part-time workers are turning into a German tank.
Most people collect tanks to display at parades, shows and other events. But the Texas man who owns the halftrack has a more unusual use: wild hog hunting.
Although the halftrack - an armored vehicle with wheels and tracks - is getting extensive renovation, tiny indentations made when the machine was peppered with enemy bullets will not be restored.
"They add character," Sanclemente said. "You remember what the soldiers went through."
His company repairs vehicles from throughout the world. The biggest challenge is finding parts for the equipment - any part that cannot be found is made from scratch, a process that often begins with making a wooden template.
Although rewarding, Sanclemente said collecting military vehicles is an expensive hobby. A World War II tank can cost between $150,000 and $500,000. German tanks, which are very rare, can cost more than $1 million.
The machines were among the first items some collectors sold during the recession, which hit as Sanclemente was trying to establish his new business.
"The economy has not helped at all," he said, noting the price of tanks has dropped 25 percent in recent years. "You've got to find that niche."
Joe DiAntonio, a Milford resident and World War II Navy veteran, praised the company for keeping history alive. Seeing the tanks at shows and parades should get people thinking about the sacrifices soldiers are making right now in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
"By at least having these vehicles around, it makes people aware of what they are going through," DiAntonio said. "When you see the size of the tank and the gun coming out, think, 'This is what our boys are going through every day.' "
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