skip to content

Early Fall HOWA 2011

An out-of-this-world collection

Some people collect sports memorabilia, others coins, and still others figurines, toys or model trains. Then there's Eric Kessler of Harrisburg, Pa. — buyer of the unusual. That's the title listed on one of his many business cards. It's a fitting description for his one-of-a-kind collection.

Eric Kessler uses a CT440 to maintain his properties.

Eric Kessler uses a CT440 to maintain his properties.

Kessler's inventory of collectibles includes antique cars, fire trucks, military equipment and vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, a "jet fighter" and anti-aircraft guns. He even owns a 30-foot, 36,000-pound unused Polaris missile (minus the warhead) from the Cold War.

One of his prized possessions is a gun that was removed from the USS Downes — a destroyer that was heavily damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"It was previously owned by a conservatory, and I'm going to finish the restoration," he says. "There are a lot of people who want to preserve history and military heritage for younger generations to touch."

Once you get past the awe of the diverse equipment sitting in Kessler's storage building, you learn how easy it's been for him to purchase and restore it.

Bobcat CT440 owner Eric Kessler demonstrates his tractor's front-end loader near his Cold War Polaris missile. A Bobcat backhoe implement is attached to the back of the CT440.

Bobcat CT440 owner Eric Kessler demonstrates his tractor's front-end loader near his Cold War Polaris missile. A Bobcat backhoe implement is attached to the back of the CT440.

"This is a worldwide hobby," he explains. "You tell me what you want and I can get it for you. I was offered a Russian submarine last year and the question was, ‘Do you want it with or without a crew, and do you want it battle-ready or not?' I'm not exaggerating.

"If I get stumped on how to restore something, there are many military sources and groups that are happy to help me. I belong to a military vehicle restoration organization. There is a wealth of information available. You learn as you go. It just takes a lot of time."

The former developer is mostly retired from his 30-plus-year career in construction. Although no longer a construction business owner, Kessler keeps himself busy in retirement. He owns and operates a local sports arena. He has more time to spend restoring his distinctive acquisitions, which he makes available for organized groups like the Cub Scouts, to help them learn about history firsthand.

"They want to sit in the 'jet fighter' or in the tank," Kessler says. "I think there is a lot of value to that. People forget, all kidding aside … we're forgetting our history, and if you can touch it, it's a huge value."

1985 British Scorpion light tank, designed for three-man crew.

1985 British Scorpion light tank, designed for three-man crew.

To be clear that Kessler's not stockpiling weapons for an impending attack, he says his collection is not for use, but to be admired. "Everything that I own is inert," he says.

According to Kessler, a lot of people ask him why he buys and restores this equipment. His answer is simple: "I like to tinker."

Retiring at the right time

Kessler's construction company — Highland Development — prepared land for new office buildings, restaurants and housing units. He was responsible for clearing the land, installing the underground utilities and completing some of the commercial construction and homebuilding — up to 120 homes a year. After some unexpected health concerns, Kessler accepted an offer from a buyer in 2004, which turned out to be a good time to sell, ahead of the Great Recession and nationwide housing crisis.

Ford Model T Police Paddy Wagon.

Ford Model T Police Paddy Wagon.

New addition isn't strange

Something that's part of Kessler's collection that isn't strange is his Bobcatฎ CT440 compact tractor with front-end loader and several rear implements. The Bobcat brand was very familiar to Kessler from his days in the construction industry.

"We've previously operated Bobcat skid-steer loaders," he says. "They were great for us, especially the 773 loaders, and every day we had them working on different jobs. I couldn't have been in that business without having compact equipment."

His positive experience helped lead him to his Bobcat dealer — Best Line Equipment — when he was in the market to purchase a new compact tractor.

This is a Cobra, a custom race car that is a replica of a 1966 Shelby Cobra. Kessler bought the car from the baseball legend Reggie Jackson.

This is a Cobra, a custom race car that is a replica of a 1966 Shelby Cobra. Kessler bought the car from the baseball legend Reggie Jackson.

"This is the first compact tractor I've purchased and I love it," Kessler says. "My staff and I use it for general maintenance around my farms; the backhoe is nice for everyday digging needs. And I'm regularly offloading my collectibles and moving trailers.

"The tractor fills a gap between what an employee can do with a shovel and big equipment. It's a critical gap. I have a backhoe, rotary cutter and the auger for use with my tractor. I'm very happy with it; no more gears to shift, and I like the safety mechanisms. I'm on and off the seat all the time, lifting or pushing heavy loads. The tractor hasn't let me down."

Before he purchased the Bobcat tractor, Kessler compared it to other tractor manufacturers. He certainly did his homework before he selected the Bobcat model.

"I was looking for the entire package — a good sales representative, reliable equipment and quality parts and service," Kessler says. "I found that with my local Bobcat dealer."

Snowcat with tracked undercarriage for traveling through snow, particularly for grooming snowmobile and ski trails.

Snowcat with tracked undercarriage for traveling through snow, particularly for grooming snowmobile and ski trails.

Kessler prefers the hydrostatic transmission to minimize changing gears when changing speeds. He says it's much easier for him to operate.

"It operates much smoother than some other compact tractors I've operated," he says. "It's much more comfortable, and the hydraulics seem to work very well. If I'm on the compact tractor, I want it to be productive."

I regularly use the front-end loader and the backhoe at this farm, or we'll load it onto a trailer and take it to jobs to dig footings and trenches for underground pipe. This farm is about 82 acres, and I have a second farm that's 50 acres. It's a good bit to maintain. The Bobcat tractor helps me keep the farms looking good. There is forever something to maintain."

Although Kessler's compact tractor may not have played as significant a role in shaping U.S. history, it's just as meaningful to him.