The General Patton Museum – Tanks, But No Tanks (Part II)

by Bob Sparrow

The Museum

     I turned off the freeway and headed for the museum and see a statue of General Patton and his trusty dog, William the Conqueror, atop the museum as well as an assortment of tanks off to the left side of the single story building. I learned that this is not the ‘official’ Patton Museum; that is in Fort Knox, Kentucky, but since I wasn’t headed in that direction anytime soon, I figured I’d check out this ‘memorial’ museum, which is built on the site of the former Desert Training Center, in beautiful Chirico Summit, CA.  The surrounding environment is very hostile, which is why this area was selected as a place to train our armored division for battles in Northern Africa during WWII.  At the time Patton said,

 “If you can work successfully here, in this country, it will be no difficulty at all to kill the assorted sons of bitches you meet in any other country.”

     Back in the day, the Desert Training Center was 18,000 square miles, making it the largest military installation in the world; it opened in 1942 and at any one time there were upwards of 190 thousand men and 27,000 tanks/halftracks training at this facility, which was lovingly referred to as, ‘the place God forgot’.

     The website says that there is a ‘suggested donation’ of $5.00, but the lady at the door requires that you ‘ pay your donation’ or you ain’t gettin’ in.  To me, the museum was singularly unspectacular.  It’s got Patton t-shirts, miniature plastic tanks and ball caps with Army stuff on them all for sale; you can see some old uniforms, shell casings, pictures and stories about Patton’s war heroics, as well as the story of the infamous ‘slapping incident’ and the details of his freakish accidental death as a result of a car accident.  But some of the items, like a room with Holocaust photos and the story of Desert Storm and other artifacts, seem unrelated and appear to be just filler.  Even the pictures of Patton were disappointing.  Of course my image of Patton is really the image of George C. Scott – well, check out the pictures of each, who would you more likely follow into battle?

     So the real draw to the museum, I thought, must be the tanks.  I went outside into the oppressive heat and was first greeted by a friendly sign warning me of other ‘visitors’ who may be in the area – hope they paid their donation.

     There are 15 or so assorted tanks and halftracks sitting in the sand, mostly in disrepair, and looking like petrified dinosaurs stuck in the desert.  I thought it might be interesting to see the insides of a tank and perhaps sit in the driver’s seat – but the sign said ‘Do Not Climb On The Tanks!’  They were hot to the touch anyway and if it was 108 degrees in the shade, you could probably bake a turkey on the driver’s seat.


      There were also several ‘frames’ of tanks (see above right) which at first I thought were sort of like Jungle Jims that kids could play on, but there was a sign on them that said ‘Keep Off’ – so I guess they were just there to reserve a place for future tanks, not sure.

     Off in a fenced-in area there were more relics in severe disrepair, and I wasn’t sure if it was fenced off so they could charge extra to see these beauties or whether these would be on display at a later time, but as you can tell by the picture (right) it may not be worth another $5 to see them.

     So those of you who have seen the signs, wanted to turn off, but just kept driving, you and God were right, it is place that should be forgotten. Rent the Patton DVD and sit in your nice air-conditioned home and watch it. Great general, great movie, not-so-great museum.



The General Patton Museum – Tanks, But No Tanks (Part 1)

by Bob Sparrow

Interstate 10

   I was recently just leaving Arizona, where I had just learned that it is legal to carry a concealed or unconcealed weapon into a bar in that state – an experiment, I suppose, to see what happens when you mix fire arms and fire water.  That can’t have a good ending, but I digress.  Like many who have traveled Interstate 10 from Arizona to California, I have seen signs posted along the freeway for the General George S. Patton Museum, but never stopped.  Everyone I talked with who had driven that route said the same thing, saw the signs, never stopped.  So this time I decided to stop, but not before discovering some of the ‘treasures’ of the Mojave Desert along the way.

     Those who have driven Interstate 10 through this unpainted desert know that there is a lot of sand out there and not much else, but I discovered that if you’re really observant, you will see things that you won’t see anywhere else in the world.  For example, I noticed a sign along the freeway that read:  ‘Prison Near By – Do Not Pick Up Hitch Hikers’.  To me it really said: ‘Hey, we can’t be expected to keep our eyes on these crooks every second, so if one or two happen to escape and are looking for a ride out of here, don’t pick them up’.  Another amusing sign along the freeway asked me to turn off my air conditioning for the next ten miles to keep my car from overheating.  Are they kidding?!  It’s 108 degrees out there, what’s going to keep me from overheating?  Why don’t they just ask me to take off my dark glasses and stare into the sun?    Or maybe suggest that I stand out in the sun on the shoulder and help direct Armadillo across the freeway?

    The sights along the way, while they may be few and far between, are usually interesting and sometimes bazaar.  Pictured above, for example, is something you don’t see every day – a trunk hauling a ’54 Merc and . . . an airplane without any wings.  Where could they possibly be going?

     As I approached the ‘Agricultural Check Point’ coming into California – it’s where they check to make sure no fruits or nuts get into the state . . . Oops, I realized that I was eating grapes that I had purchased in Arizona and was now about to transport them illegally over state lines – a federal offense!  I couldn’t throw them out the window, that’s also illegal.  I approached to check point nervously.  When asked if I was carrying any agricultural items, I shifted the grapes to the side of my mouth and lied,”No sir”.  He waved me through.  I felt guilty, but I blame it on that hot desert sun – they say it makes you do crazy things, I believe them now.

     As I quickly drove away, constantly checking my rearview mirror, I saw a sign for the city of Desert Center, and thought I’d stop there, get gas, have something cold to drink, and get rid of the evidence.

     I pulled into the gas station (pictured at right), but found it a little short on gas,  and everything else for that matter.  I started to go next door to the ‘Desert Center Cafe’ to get something to eat or drink, but found it closed – since 1987!  I drove over to one of the only other building ‘in town’ – it was an old school with an old tractor parked in the ‘Principal’s Parking Place’ (Below).

      It soon became abundantly clear to me that the best place to be in Desert Center was the center, because no matter which way you dove, you were leaving.

     Back on the freeway I did find one more interesting item on Interstate 10 before I finally got to the museum, it was a truckload of BIMBOS – headed for California.  

Thursday: The General Patton Museum – Tanks, But No Tanks (Part II)  I finally get there.