By James Raia
RV travelers on Interstate 80 in Fairfield, California, can visit the American Armory Museum. It’s just off the freeway near the halfway point between Sacramento and San Francisco, and it’s where vintage tanks, uniforms, weapons, flags from several countries, and all things military reign.
The indoor-outdoor homage to military transportation and artifacts also has an unusual connection to the Jelly Belly Candy Company. The globally known confectionery company that manufactures jelly beans and other candies is located across the freeway about a mile away.
The museum’s short history began in 2014 when Herman Rowland, Sr., Chairman of Jelly Belly, bought seven vehicles from the estate of armored vehicle collector Jacques Littlefield. The initial collection included an Israeli M-3 half-track, a self-propelled artillery vehicle and an M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier.
American Armory Museum was a surprise
“We never planned on having a museum,” said museum general manager Geoff Lippman. “It just started out as an old private collection.”
Lippman wasn’t in the military. But the former land developer and auto restoration company owner in Florida knows machinery and engines. He was hired by Rowland to repair the original collection and became a full-time employee within two weeks. The relationship quickly expanded.
Positioned on eight acres and in a nearly 5,000-square-foot warehouse, the museum now showcases about 60 vehicles and vast collections – uniforms to flags, weapons to mannequins in full uniform.
Open to the public two years ago, the facility has guests ranging from primary grade school children on field trips to residents of retired living communities. World War II veterans in their mid-90s will occasionally find their way to the museum and share memories.
On one occasion, a Pearl Harbor survivor named Don visited. He shared the story of his ship being hit by two kamikaze pilots and surviving by hanging on to a buoy for 13 hours.
Many visitors find the location by happenstance while driving along the Interstate. When leaving the freeway westbound on exit 43, several large military vehicles appear suddenly on the nearby mowed open fields.
“I get people every day who literally just drive by who didn’t know we were here,” Lippman said. “They drive by, they see us and they come in the gate. World War II vets are always a blessing. It’s an honor to be amongst them.”
The vehicle collection, 90 percent of which is drivable, includes an Army Harley-Davidson from 1942, and one of the jeeps Gen. George Patton used in WWII. A British Scorpion and an M-60 Patton tank are also on display. Some pieces have been donated, others purchased or are on loan. The museum also takes vehicles into the community.
Lippman knows every museum piece intimately, and he works with numerous volunteers to get vehicles working. He also curates the facility, and his employer built the house next to the warehouse for Lippman and his wife.
“A tank is similar to a bulldozer,” Lippman said. “It just has armor on it. But it’s been learning as I go. I never had a clue; I never paid attention in school. I didn’t know anything about American history or war history. It was all new to me.”
Patton’s 1942 Command Jeep is the museum’s centerpiece. It’s accompanied by a display of the general’s history. A video featuring Francis J. “Jeep” Sanza, Patton’s driver who died two years ago in Napa, is on loop.
“We have stuff from American, Japanese and German forces, anything military-related,” said Lippman. “Everything from World War I to modern, and from motorcycles to tanks.”
In addition to weekly outdoor church services, the museum hosts special events, including the Military Vehicle Demonstration Weekend, scheduled Oct. 10-11. Alternates dates are Oct. 17-18.
The American Armory Museum is located at 4144 Abernathy Rd., Fairfield, CA 94534. Admission prices vary. Donations are accepted. Tel. (707) 389-6846. Website is here.
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.