By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs
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FORT LEE, Va. – “It’s available and it’s free. All you have to do is drive out here, put a nickel in my slot and away I go.”
The invitation, courtesy of Army Logistics University administrator Lee Holland, almost dares prospective visitors to venture into The Motor Pool, his vision-come-to-fruition historical tribute to World War II-era tactical wheeled vehicles that also is a passionate statement of personal pursuit. Holland is clear on why his life’s work is critical from a historical perspective.
“It’s important to me because there’s no other effort in the Army itself or anywhere else that is doing this type of work,” said the 63-year-old. “They don’t have the time, the money or desire” to showcase vehicles being restored to working order that could generate a greater sense of appreciation for their development, design and operation.
The Motor Pool is located about eight miles north of Fort Lee in the Enon area of Chesterfield County. Roughly 2,100 square-feet in size, it is both a working garage and museum that sits on a patch of former farmland situated on the edges of a quiet residential neighborhood. The building’s design, which features four maintenance bays, is based on WWII-era motor pools built at installations all over the country, including Fort Lee. Within the facility, there are 14 U.S. Army wheeled vehicles in various stages of restoration, including a first-production Willys-Overland Jeep and Dodge command car and ambulance. There also is a GMC two and one-half ton truck.
If the inventory is not sufficiently enticing, there are period fans and real issues of Stars and Stripes newspapers lining the walls. There are plenty of vehicle photographs to study as well as a display featuring rare images of women in dresses working on the Jeep production lines.
Lastly, coverall-clad mannequins frozen in action poses dot the garage floor, including a parts clerk sitting at a desk lit by an industrial light fixture holding a carbon-filament light bulb. Even the tools that lie about the work areas are from the era, contributing to a visual exactness that is both mind-boggling and freakish.
“When you walk through that door, I want you to think that it’s 1943 – World War II is raging on two fronts and you’re now in a motor pool on any installation in the U.S.,” said Holland.
The 2007-built motor pool also includes a parts storage and library boasting hundreds of books and technical manuals, especially those pertaining to the vehicles garaged in The Motor Pool.
Retired Army Maj. Roy Ray, an expert logistician who also is employed at ALU, said his first visit to The Motor Pool struck him like a hammer on thoughts of what it took to create such a facility.
“It’s hard to imagine an individual, who, with his own resources, could build this motor pool and restore all of those vehicles,” said Ray. “I was just a bit overwhelmed an individual could do that.”
The fact Holland and three others built The Motor Pool using blueprints of actual WWII-era Army motor pools; that it is home to several rare vehicles that are fully restored; and that it is a place where thoughtful consideration was given to almost every detail suggests a painstaking effort to get it right … to honor a time when the Army fielded the first vehicles manufactured to military specifications.
They also suggest an undeniable passion in Holland, a man not only driven to find and restore period military vehicles but one who expends a comparable amount of energy sharing their histories. It all began during his childhood growing up in Baltimore. One of three children of a father who served during WWII as an ordnance officer (the armament side) and a homemaker, Holland said he was always interested in how things worked.
“I’ve always liked the mechanical aspects of things,” he said. “I like trying to figure out how things are put together.” The things he dissembled and assembled included everything from model trucks and cars to working bicycles and lawn mowers. His interest really piqued when he ordered a working tractor kit from Popular Mechanics magazine. “I was so proud of it in a no-one-believed-I-could-do-it kind of way,” he recalled.
By the time he joined the Army in 1975, Holland was as comfortable about mechanics as he was in his own skin. He became an ordnance officer and spent 28 years in uniform, retiring as a Reserve lieutenant colonel. During the time he served, specifically the 1980s, he became interested in collecting militaria when many of the foreign armies equipped by the U.S. following WWII began to reduce their inventories.
“I saw an opportunity to have the real thing versus having the plastic models I had built,” said Holland, who was by then a member of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, an enthusiast group with hundreds of members located around the world. As a collector, he focused on the acquisition of vehicles made between 1940-45 “because they were the first truly designed – from the ground up – tactical vehicles,” he said, pointing out the Quartermaster Corps – not the Ord. Corps – was responsible for developing Army vehicle specifications from 1938-1942. All of The Motor Pool vehicles were built to QM Corps specifications, Holland added.
Since becoming a serious collector of vintage vehicles, Holland estimates 25-30 have passed through his hands. He acquired them from dealers, old barns and individuals at various locations. Each are methodically disassembled and reassembled to assess parts and working condition. The entire process of renewing the life of his precious finds is time consuming.
“The average per vehicle is about five years,” he said, noting it recently took him more than a week to disassemble an axle.
One could only contemplate the amount of focus required to work on something for what amounts to a fraction of a lifetime, but Holland’s goal-oriented work ethic isn’t his only attribute. He is a student of military logistics history and can rattle off facts and figures like an Internet search engine. He pointed out more than once how many of the innovations used in modern auto manufacturing are based on military vehicle specifications developed during The Great War.
“A lot of technology with us today is enhanced technology that originated in these vehicles during the 1940s,” he said. He cited central tire inflation and combat rims as examples.
Needless to say, the man knows his history, but he also is familiar with the process of acquisition, knows his way around engines and is nearly obsessive with curating duties – a veritable one-man museum wrecking-crew.
Ray, who has made return visits to The Motor Pool on several occasions, can attest to his skills. “I would describe him as an expert in World War II vehicles with an ability to teach and educate others about the era,” he said. “I also would consider him an internationally-renown expert in his field.”
Holland has done consulting work for companies making military vehicle models, assisted in making military documentaries and supported museums with military vehicle displays.
And he’s never accepted a dime. Needless to say, The Motor Pool is free of charge and has over the years welcomed to its confines hundreds of military personnel, Scouts, elementary school students, and church and corporate groups.
Those who have never visited the community resource can “expect the history and background behind the design and development of the American tactical wheeled vehicles,” reiterated Holland. “That’s my mission – to make sure it is understood by future generations – how it all came about …”
Like he said, just “put a nickel” in his slot and brace oneself for a one-of-a-kind history lesson.
For more information about The Motor Pool, call (804) 530-2400.