Real life Girl und Panzer

Hello everyone,

now this is an interesting story I ran into on US forums. You know, some girls like shoes. Others like fast cars. Lee Cato (playing under the nicknamename Yorktown on EU and US servers) likes tanks.

And what do you do when you like tanks? Of course: you buy one. Well, it’s not REALLY a tank, it’s a Czech-made OT-90, but still, seeing this rolling around your hometown is probably a damn impressive sight.

A short video first:

Now, seeing she was actually answering some questions in that respective thread, I decided to ask her a couple of questions and publish them with her permission. Here goes:

Hey there! Tell the readers a bit about yourself, please

My name is Lee Cato and I’m a 19 year old girl from South Carolina. I’m a digital artist and published author. I wrote my first book about the concept of living or alive vehicles and machines at age fifteen and never stopped writing from there. All eight of my books so far are about living machines. From doing this I have gotten recognized by a few local military bases, the Blue Angels and have gotten some of my artwork featured in Space Shuttle Discovery’s hangar. I really support the United States Armed Forces and currently have over 500 volunteer hours with the DoD STARBASE program. I hope to restore vehicles, specializing in military armor for my career. I would love to work designing / creating and operating vehicles for movies and TV shows and hope to get into that in the future.

When did you start liking tanks? Is there a story behind that?

When I was a kid I always preferred playing with Hot Wheels as opposed to Barbie dolls. My interest started with cars, then planes and ships. My love for tanks started in early 2011 when my best friend started to create some tanks as living machines. I loved the way she designed then and it sparked the interest. I started to notice more and more army vehicles and hardware. On the 4th of July in 2011 I met a local group that was in the neighboring town’s annual 4th parade. The group collected military vehicles. Their mission was to preserve living history through their mobile museum. The major aspect of their group was trying to get students excited about the military, math and science to encourage them to stay in school. Because of them, I started collected military vehicles.

What exactly is it that draws you to tanks? The mechanical aspect, history, warfare in general…?

Being an artist I like vehicles based off their design and function. The automobiles I liked as a kid and still like to this day have always been semis and large heavy duty pickup trucks. Something about the large boxy and clunky appearance of these vehicles has always appealed to me more than the smooth streamlined look of sports cars. As soon as I started to look into tanks what caught my attention most was that they were tracked. I always like things that are a little different from the mainstream and that was certainly a noticeably different feature that added to the “chunkiness” of the vehicle. Normally once I see an interesting tank that I like I will look up the history on it and watch any documentaries that I can find. I’ve noticed a lot of people like certain tanks based on the armament. I like them based on how they look and function. Sure, a tank firing is cool (and being at the gunners seat and firing a blank is just AWESOME!) but I prefer seeing the technical aspects of the vehicle, what it looks like inside, how it operates and the performance of the vehicle before seeing a documentary of one rolling around on the battlefield.

When and how did you actually get the idea to GET a tracked vehicle?

I have always been interested in owning my own business as a kid. When I get a new interest the first thing I normally think about is what can I do with that interest. I try to put all my interest toward accomplishing something. When my interest with aircraft was in full swing I noticed there were a few F-16 parts for sale on Ebay, that got me wondering if such aircraft were for sale. I looked and just as I thought they weren’t but a few older planes were. The thought of owning a vehicle I was interested in stuck around in my mind when I started to get interested in tanks. I instantly found out about private tank owners in early 2011 and knew I wanted to get one someday. After I got the chance to sit at the controls of a British Abbot I was hooked. I knew I had to own one then!

What is it like, purchasing a tracked vehicle in the USA? Need a lot of permits?

Surprisingly there are no permits or special requirements other than having the space to operate and work on the vehicle. I’m sure if you wanted to store one in your garage at a city home you’d have to check with the local authorities to make sure it’s legal to own a large vehicle within city limits. However, there is nothing illegal about owning a tank. That being said there are some minor requirements such as having it de-miled to US requirements. If you wanted a vehicle with a functional cannon (Good luck finding one.) As far as I know it is legal after numerous forms, checks and requirements. However, being my OT-90 is de-miled I didn’t have to deal with that nor did I want to. The only other document in the US that could be required is registration if my OT-90 were road legal …which mine isn’t. Overall I think the OT-90 is too wide to make road legal. A smaller tracked vehicle, as long as you have rubber treads, mirrors and signals I’m pretty sure you can make it road legal. There is no special license as far as I know. In the UK when private tank ownership is a lot more common you’d need a H license to drive tracked vehicles on the roads.

You chose a foreign vehicle, why? What is the story behind the Czech republic thing? Why not something from the US mainland?

I happened to get lucky in finding a OT-90 for a reasonable price in the USA. I originally started looking overseas because since there are so much more vehicles over there the price of course is a lot more affordable. What you can buy here is the price of a high-end luxury car, there you can get the same thing or better for the price of an old used car. If I hadn’t found a great deal on one here I would have been buying from either the UK or the Czech Republic. On an interesting side note is in addition to Cold War vehicles being available over there on a much lower price range so are WWII US vehicles. I had my mind set on my favourite tank, the M3 Lee for a long time. However, because of treaties signed (basically saying the US didn’t want any of their vehicles back after the war to my knowledge) it is illegal to import US vehicles. Buying a M3 Lee in the US was impossible for me because of the cost.

How hard was it to actually import the OT-90?

Despite looking in numerous countries in Europe I got in touch with an owner in Minnesota that was selling his OT-90’s. I went up to look at his vehicles and seeing that they were in such good condition I decided to choose the OT-90 he had verses a BMP-1 that we saw in the UK. There were many other pluses to buying a vehicle located in the US. The major one is that importing was already taken care of.

To import a tank the first thing that needs to be done is to have the vehicle de-miled to US standards. In other words the vehicle needs to be de-activated to make it un-useable as a weapon. You then need to fill out numerous long forms with the ATF department about what you’re wanting to import. After that you’re not done yet. You need to have the vehicle arranged to be transported to a port, put in a shipping container (assuming it’ll fit) and shipped over to America. Luckily shipping overseas is the cheapest part, it’s the ground transportation that’ll get you on the cost. This is because the vehicle is heavy and is an oversized load. There are special requirements for shipping it via tractor trailer because of this. In addition to the special requirements you have to be sure that the shipping company has the right kind of trailer to hull it. You need a lowboy trailer in my case to hull the OT-90 around.

Once the tank is in the US you have to deal with customs and every other department that wants to inspect it. If you have a speck of dirt on it, it’ll get held up until you have it professional cleaned …don’t forget that every day it sets in the port you have to pay for it to take up space! Then after that there is the final step of getting it to your location.

I only had to deal with that one final step, you can probably easily see why I went for purchasing the OT-90 over anything I found in Europe.

How are your neighbors, friends and family members reacting on this?

My OT-90 is stored with a group I belong to so the neighbors haven’t taken notice. We had the M29 Weasel in our yard for a bit and being we live in the woods no one knew about it. One neighbor did come over with his two young boys when we were unloading the Weasel when it first arrived. That’s the most attention we’ve gotten from neighbors. I have a small family and only a few local friends, most of them knew of me collecting vehicles and my interest in them. When they heard I now had an OT-90 it was no shock to them. I’ve found that everyone has been really supportive and a lot of people have stepped forward to help me with the vehicle.

The most dynamic reactions I’ve gotten have been comments from my first news interview. I have found there are pretty much four different main reactions I’ve gotten.

First is the people that only focus on the word “tank” being used over “IFV” which is the category the OT-90 falls under. I too use the correct wording around other people that know about military armor. However, when speaking to the general public I’ll often refer to my OT-90 as a “tank” or “BMP”.

The second group consist of the people that support me and think what I do is pretty neat. I’ve had people step up to offer me help and donate items to me such as an English manual. This and the first group are the majority of the types of responses I get.
The third group is the ones that often have the misconceptions. Most people in this range think I simply asked for the vehicle and received it. Probably most of them don’t know I spent years researching, saving my own money for travel, more researching, working to earn money and finally three years later I had the vehicle. I have the OT-90 as an investment and to help me with my hopefully future career of military vehicle restoration. I fully intend to pay my parents back for the vehicle.

The final group is simply the people that just don’t get it. Owning something like this, especially at my age is a big step out of the traditional and main stream ways of society. Most people think it’s best to graduate and best a four year degree. My path is a little different, investing in vehicles to use for a future career, writing and publishing books and going to an intensive trade school in the fall.

Alright, thank you for your time!

18 thoughts on “Real life Girl und Panzer

  1. Hey isn’t that one of the BMP’s with BTR Turret SS mentioned about a few months back?

    Cool that she has a passion that she can fulfill, not many could get the money (or space) to but their own tank! I like the little tracked carrier, would could make a cute 1/2 scale tank from that with a top on it.

    • When I have enough money for a tank it will be a rusted out ww1 tank that cant move at all and when you touch it it falls apart

    • Given the price tag I would rather go for a T-72 and scare the hell out of those silly tractors that invade my town when it snows.

      • if you are doing that, attach a plow on your T-72 and plow the roads all day.

  2. Probably nothing against what I am planning, but I´m not telling anything.