That California Rumble Is No Quake; It's Only the Alegre Family, All Tanked Up and Out for a Drive

updated 01/26/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/26/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Dick Alegre's license plate frame proclaims, "My other car is a Sherman tank." This is no joke. Welcome to friendly Santa Paula, Calif., home to the Alegre family and their 70,000-pound, genuine WWII-surplus adoptee. The "Bastogne Bastard," for such is its name, is a functioning Sherman tank—complete with an eight-cylinder, 450-horsepower engine, twin 158-shoe tire tracks and an inoperable 75-millimeter gun—which Alegre, 57, purchased for his son, Richie, 6.

Alegre anted up more than $40,000 to live down his reputation as merely a big talker. A real estate investor, avocado farmer, retired tractor dealer and former WWII pilot, Alegre overheard Richie bragging to a friend that his dad was going to get him a much larger version of the remote-controlled tank he already owned. The friend was skeptical of such talk, pointing to the unfinished treehouse also promised to Richie.

Well, quicker than you can hum a chorus of Over There, the 35-ton veteran of the Battle of the Bulge was peacefully parked in the Alegre driveway, and Richie was the envy of every paramilitarist tyke in the neighborhood. "I think this is the ultimate in toys," boasts Alegre the elder, who has gone gonzo himself over the tank. He now answers the phone by saying "Patton here" and wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the message "Impervious to all but a Direct Hit."

Richie is equally enthralled with the winsome war machine, claiming that "Bastogne Bastard" is his favorite toy and will be for "more than a long time, maybe infinity." Alegre didn't want his daughter, Debbie, 10, to feel ignored, so he spent another $5,500 for Debbie's choice of mobile military memorabilia: a 2½-ton amphibious truck, known as a DUKW, that is licensed for highway driving. Showing a keen grasp of human psychology, Alegre's wife, Kitty, feels there is little danger that the children will be spoiled by excessive military spending. Says Kitty with a laugh: "The bottom line is how much their father wants the same toy."

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