BERWICK — Not only did Joe Zielinski build the foundry that turned out more than 15,000 Stuart tanks during WW II, he built the tanks too.
The 90-year-old former welder at the American Car and Foundry Co. turned out Sunday to see his work as a 1942 model came to town by way of Oregon, where it’s part of a private collection of military vehicles.
The tank drove in the Columbia County bi-centennial parade in Bloomsburg on Saturday and was on display at the Test Track Riverfront Park in Berwick, where the vehicles were driven before being shipped out for use in battle.
Zielinski, of Nescopeck Township, tapped a wooden walking stick against the track assembly of the drab-green tank with serial number 10103. He used to weld parts of the assembly and pulled a July 18, 1942 ACF pay stub from his pocket.
He made nearly $106.95 for a 40-hour work week back then.
“That’s more money than my two brothers were bringing home at the same time,” Zielinski said.
They were in the service and he was at home working. As the last boy on the farm he wasn’t drafted and the farm was overproducing, as well.
He finished high school and was working construction on the foundry. “I think I was making 28 cents on hour,” he said.
When a welding school started up at night at Nescopeck High School, he attended, and after five or six sessions was ready for work at the foundry.
“The instructor said, ‘Tomorrow you report to the ACF,’ ” Zielinski said.
He spent nearly two years welding axles and wheels and found a mark to show he worked on the tank.
“When you made a wheel you had a stencil,” he said, pointing his stick to a mark on the side of a steel box above one set of tracks.
Zielinski would have been the type of employee Frederick Shepperly could have used. The 91-year-old former Marine Corps captain from Berwick who was in the Pacific Theater during WWII ended up in the service and supply department for the First Division.
“Our object was to salvage tanks after each island invasion. I enlisted almost 100 guys from Berwick, Pennsylvania, who worked at ACF and had talents as spare parts people, as mechanics, electricians and they went overseas with me,” Shepperly said.
Approximately 500 tanks were issued to the divisions and between 200 and 300 were left after the invasions.
“We repaired what we could and the rest went to salvage,” Shepperly said.
The last time he was this close to one of the tanks was 70 years ago.
Like many of the people who came to see a piece of local history, Shepperly longed for having one on display in its hometown.
“My greatest ambition would be if they could get one of these tanks for Berwick,” he said.
Columbia County Commissioner David Kovach said he and others are working on it.
“We’ve been looking since 2004. We’ve found several. They want $200,000 for all the ones that we’ve found,” Kovach said.
He thanked Steve Greenberg, the owner of the tank, for making it available and bringing back so many memories.
The tanks are available, and one sold recently in Ohio for $180,000, said Greenberg, 55, of Wilsonville, Ore.
The collector said he was amazed at the appreciation expressed by the crowds at the parade and the display.
Greenberg said he especially happy for Shepperly.
“It’s just so neat that he had an opportunity to be in this tank 70 years later,” Greenberg said.
Before loading it on a flatbed trailer for a return to the Pacific Northwest, Greenberg drove the tank around the test track and fired three blank rounds from its 37 mm gun. A bugler sounded taps afterward.