My Father-in-Law (Bob) celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year and since we see it as a milestone birthday, so we wanted to do something special for him. We thought about a lot of different things we could get him, but he has pretty much anything that he needs or wants. So then we thought about some experiences we could look into for him. He has had some back and neck issues the last few years, so even those adventures would be limited for what we could do. Then, Mrs. SSC came across a website that we thought would not only offer a great present but also an excellent place to make memories. (not an affiliate link by the way, I wish, lol)
Bob has been a pretty big WWII history buff and has read a lot about that time period so we thought this could incorporate that passion of his as well. What did we stumble across that would fulfill this passion, while providing a great gift and awesome memories? Ox Ranch, a place where you can literally drive a tank on one of their designed tank courses. They have over 18,000 acres, most dedicated to exotic animal hunting, but a large part is also dedicated to tanks and machine guns, because, Texas. They also offer you the chance to shoot the tank if you want to spend that kind of coin, we didn’t. Plus, there are options to shoot almost any type of WWII machine gun if you choose. We offered if he was interested, but Bob didn’t take us up on any of those options, whew… We had an excellent time and even got an upgrade on the tank we got to experience due to a delay caused by the History Channel shooting on location that day. Woohoo for little wins!! Even though we try to be frugal in a lot of areas in our life, this was one thing that we could justify paying for a memory making experience.
Keeping Costs “Low”
If you go to the website, which I recommend if you’re a tank/machine gun buff, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that this is not a cheap endeavor. We found it to be fairly expensive and grappled over whether it would be worth the cost. The price range of options we put together was under $1k which meant we were looking at only 1 true tank option, with the other vehicles in that price range being “tracked guns”, armored infantry vehicles, and that sort of thing. Even wanting to do something special we didn’t think that the 50% cost increase to a German Leopard was worth it, so we tried to keep costs lower in that regard. Because of that, we also gave Bob the choice of shooting a machine gun or so if he wanted. I drew up a nice powerpoint highlighting the options that he had available and we let him pick and choose his own adventure. Yes, I really did make a powerpoint for someone’s birthday.
Bob didn’t want to cash this present in during the heat of summer, and since we traveled for a lot of it anyway, that was out. We waited to make the schedule for when I had a Friday off and could travel out there with him, and when the weather was cooler. That happened to be last weekend for us. We actually got snow in Houston on Friday – snow!!
Back to affording the present. We had asked around the family if anyone wanted to split it with us or contribute towards it and while we got a lot of enthusiastic replies, to date we’ve seen no money. That’s okay, it was worth it to us and here’s why.
First, you get to bring 5-6 people with you to the Ranch, which is also an exotic animal ranch that lets you pay to come shoot whatever exotic animal you want to shoot. Not my thing, but to each their own. Driving into the Ranch, we got to see Zebra, Elk, White Elk, Axis deer, Barasingha, Fallow Deer, Antelope (multiple varieties), Kangaroos, Camels (I don’t think they shoot those, but you never know), and well, you get the idea. It was cool in the sense that the animals were just roaming free, so hanging out at the lodge for check-in we saw the kangaroos hopping around, some desert star tortoises, and some deer, elk, and turkeys walking close by. You could even pet them if you were careful enough and didn’t startle them. Hunting at its finest – eyeroll… Once checked in we went up to the Tank area of the Ranch and this is where the fun started.
You Get to Experience Tanks, and Guns!
There was a 152mm artillery gun out front being worked on, evidently a “tank killer” that was cool to see. Then we walked into the warehouse and my mind was blown. I’ve always been a big tank fan, and besides spending countless hours playing World of Tanks Blitz, they’ve always fascinated me. Inside the warehouse I saw a real M4 Sherman, like the one in the movie Fury – excellent movie even if you don’t like anything tank related – a German Leopard, a Russian T34-85, a tracked motorcycle, a German Halftrack, an armored Russian infantry carrier, multiple anti-tank artillery pieces, and a whole wall of WWII era machine guns. They even let you handle the machine guns as long as you only held one at a time.
We asked a lot of questions with our guide, who would show Bob how to drive the tank, and he answered every question we had very well. He was pretty patient with us too because we had loads of questions! Midway through this part I asked about getting a picture of the Sherman and he said, “Well, you can get in it if you want.” I couldn’t believe it! As long as we didn’t click any switches or hit any buttons we were free to climb on, in, and around all those vehicles I mentioned above. I felt like a kid in a candy store!
I climbed in the Sherman and helped my son get in, and Bob climbed in the drivers seat for the Sherman. It was pretty tight in there, let me tell you. I didn’t mind because it was SO cool. Plus, getting to share that experience with my son and Bob was amazing. Mrs. SSC wasn’t too keen on checking anything out, to that level of detail, but she did accompany us on the tank ride later. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to climb in each of those tanks and ask our guide all kinds of questions, and Bob and I kept marveling how compact and tight fitting each one was. The Russian T34-85 was the roomiest of all with one big open chamber for the commander, gunner, and driver.
Then we went outside and got set up on a Leopard to drive the tank course with. It was a free upgrade due to waiting on the History Channel who was there filming for a new series they may shoot. It was amazing getting to ride around in that. That tank let 4 extra people ride, so Mrs. SSC, myself, and Bob’s friend that came along all rode, with Mrs. SSC, our son, and myself riding in the turret part. Excellent!!!
All in all, it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my life, and it wasn’t even my birthday present. At the end, I had no qualms about paying for it, whether we get money from other family members or not. We had a great bonding time with the family, Bob, his friend, and we made a LOT of memories. After the Tank time was over, we were free to hang out at the lodge and they had a fire going in the fire pit, so we ate our picnic lunch we packed and then hung out beside the fire for a few hours before heading back home.
Worth It? Hell Yes!
Was this something that we would do yearly? No way. It was worth it, but too spendy to do often. If I end up with some good stock picks with my allowance money, I may come back and drive a tank instead of riding, but that’s not too likely. It would also be fun to shoot a round out of the tank but at ~$400 a shot, again, it’s not too likely. I had an awesome time with the experience that we all had together and most likely will leave it at that. While it was one of the better experiences I’ve had in life, it’s not something that would probably be as magical or amazing on a repeat visit. But then again who knows?
What about you? Have you had an experience that was spendy, but worth it for the experience and memories that came from it? I’d love to hear about it!