SINCE 1986

Tank and the Springfield

By Doc Barranti

It was a strange, almost cryptic message I had received from my friend Tank Hoover. “Doc! Got me a once in a lifetime chance here! Need your help identifying a rifle, but the guy says he has another buyer on the way! Get to the hockshop outside of Hancock quick!” The only problem with 'quick' was, that I live two and a half hours from where Tank needed me to be, but I jumped in my truck and pointed it towards the southeast and stepped on the accelerator.

I was on the road for nearly an hour when my cell phone rang. “Doc! I bought it”, said my extremely excited friend. “What exactly did you buy?” came my response. “Don’t want to talk about it on the phone! You never know who’s listening!” said Tank. He added “Meet me at the usual place!” and then the line went dead. I chuckled at my old friend’s caution, and changed course for our new rendezvous location.

Tank called twice more to inquire of my whereabouts prior to my arrival at a nice shop just outside Breezewood. Apparently this new acquisition must be something extra special, as I had never heard him so excited in the years that I have known him. As I pulled off the roadway into the parking lot, I didn’t notice Tanks Suburban anywhere. I began to wonder if ‘the usual place’ was somewhere else. I stepped down from my truck to get a better look and I heard a voice from far off yelling “YO, DOC!” I turned and looked about 200 yards away in the empty lot of the next door establishment and saw Tank standing next to his truck waving wildly at me. “OVER HERE!” he hollered. Exasperated, I climbed back into my truck and drove over to where Tank had hidden himself.

“What on earth is going on, Tank?” I asked. “Can’t be too careful, Doc! I think I was being followed, so I drove past and made a bunch of rights and lefts, hoping to lose them, then figgered I better not park out in the open!” That was the result of watching too many cop shows. Tank was obviously trying to be inconspicuous, as he wore a cap pulled low over his sunglasses, and a hoodie with the hood up over his cap. Never mind the fact that it was the middle of July, and on top of that, his Suburban was painted neon green…Tank was anything but inconspicuous.

Tank hurried around to the back of his Suburban and called me over. Looking all around to be sure no one was watching, he opened the rear doors and dug under several layers of blankets, revealing a zipped rifle case. Tank’s head jerked up and he looked left and right again to be sure he wasn’t being watched. I just stood back and shook my head quietly. Tank turned to me, removed his sunglasses and grinned. “You ain’t gonna believe what I bought! And I practically stole it! Collectors would kill for this thing, and now I’ve got it!” At this point, he actually had my curiosity but I resisted letting him know that.

Rather than open the case, Tank told me how he had been making a day of visiting his favorite gunshops. While at one of the shops, he overheard a customer talking in hushed tones to the man behind the counter that he had a very special rifle that he wanted to sell. The man behind the counter was shaking his head indicating that he was not interested. Before leaving, the man said that it was his last chance, as he had someone else on the way to buy the rifle, but the clerk declined. Tank stopped the man in the parking lot and a deal was made but he wanted me to check out the rifle before he paid a handsome sum of money for it. Tank explained that the man told him he had a sick relative in the hospital that he needed to go visit, and that if he didn’t want the rifle, another fella was on his way with cash. “So I had to make a decision without you, Doc! Once the guy showed me the gun, I knew I had to have it!”

Unable to contain myself any longer, I said “Well, show me the darn thing then!” With that, Tank withdrew the rifle from the case. He proudly handed me what appeared to be a sporterized Springfield rifle, with an aftermarket stock and a very nice Lyman target peep sight mounted on the rear receiver ring. It had been obviously reblued, with a few of the sharp corners buffed off from over polishing. Chambered in the venerable 30-06, this would be a classic working gun, suitable for the ‘retro’ elk hunt that Tank and I frequently talked about. The bolt cycled smoothly, the safety functioned properly, and overall, was a very decent shooter grade sporter.

Thinking that he must have stolen the gun from the way he was acting, I handed the rifle back to him. He promptly wiped it from muzzle to buttplate with an oily rag and carefully slid the rifle back into the case. “So,” I asked, “what did you give for it?” Tank’s face shined, a toothy grin spread across his face from ear to ear. “You ain’t gonna believe it!” he said with his chest out. “Try me!” I blurted out in frustration. “What did you give? Three? Four?” Tank shook his head and said “Nah! Five!” once again flashing what was left of his pearly whites. Five? I thought…not exactly a bargain for a shooter grade sporter in this condition. “Five hundred?” I asked. Tank laughed out loud, “Five hundred?! That’s a good one, Doc! Try five THOUSAND!” The look of shock on my face must have been obvious. “I knew you would think I stole it at that price! I did good, didn’t I?!”

I was totally speechless. “Tank, why on earth would you pay that much for a refinished, altered military rifle? Was it owned by Elmer Keith or something??” Tank looked at me like I was an uneducated buffoon. “Doc, I know you are smarter than that! There’s three reasons to pay a premium; Condition, Rarity or Pedigree!” I had to wonder which gun rag or internet site he had stolen that line from. I nodded and said “Well, it isn’t the original finish or configuration, so you can scratch off ‘Condition’. They literally made millions of these things, so there goes ‘Rarity’…that leaves ‘Pedigree’!” With that came the big toothy grin again.

“Doc, the guy says he has a letter that he got with the gun when he first bought it. As soon as he gets home from visiting his relative in the hospital, he’s gonna find the letter and drop it in the mail to me.” I was perplexed! “Well are you going to tell me or not?!” Tank took a step closer, looked around for spies, and said in a low whisper “This is the rifle that killed Hitler!” At the words, my jaw went slack as I stared blankly at Tank. He said “That’s what I did when he told me!” I staggered forward and put a hand on his truck to steady myself. Tank laughed and said “Do you still think I paid too much?” I felt waves of nausea going through my body and my legs wanted to buckle.

Minutes passed as I regained my strength, the whole time wondering how I was going to break the news to my gullible friend. Though he is a big city motor cop, Tank is a hillbilly, born and raised in Pennsylvania, and more at home in the mountains of West-by-God-Virginia than the concrete sidewalks of the city. More than likely he was absent from school deer hunting the day they covered the history of World War II. When I could stand without the aid of the truck, I looked at my good friend, slapped him on the shoulder and said “Let’s go have a few drinks…I’m buying.”