Military vehicle collectors gather at Camp Hale near Vail |

Military vehicle collectors gather at Camp Hale near Vail

Special to the DailySpecial to the Daily

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Natalio Banchero might be a little nutty. A lot of his friends might be a little off-center, too “-and they’ll be in Colorado’s Vail Valley this weekend.

Banchero and 80 or so other state residents make up the Military Vehicle Collectors of Colorado, a group that collects, preserves ” and occasionally uses ” old military vehicles at parades, fairs and other events. Through Sunday, a small group of collectors will bring a handful of their vintage military machines to Camp Hale for the group’s annual Operation Blizzard.

It’s mostly a winter camping trip, Banchero acknowledged. Although there are as many as 250 vehicles in the collectors’ garages and sheds, most of these old machines don’t do well on the snow, and it’s hard to dig them out if they fall into a drift or run into an old building foundation.

So a few of the guys will bring up rigs that can climb Resolution Pass ” including several “Weasels,” a Jeep-sized, World War II-era tracked vehicle. Others will honor the memory of the famed 10th Mountain Division, which got its start at Camp Hale.

“We work with the 10th Mountain Division living history group,” Banchero said. “We’re one of the few clubs in the country that’s recognized by the veterans’ organization.”

Human World War II veterans are getting scarce these days, but the vehicles those veterans used remain a link to that era. And while the collectors’ club has vehicles from pre-war days through the 1990s, the bulk of the vehicles saw service in the 1940s.

Banchero’s own rig is a World War II-era Jeep that was built by Ford. Jeeps used to be the best way to get into military vehicle collecting, he said, but even that’s starting to get expensive.

“You’ll pay close to $20,000 for one that’s been restored these days,” Banchero said. “You can find them all beat up, but if you do (the restoration) yourself, it’ll take you a year or two and it’ll cost about $20,000.”

But, he said, once an old Jeep’s been put into good running order, it’s pretty rugged. Better yet, they’re small, so they’re easy to store.

Banchero, who’s in his 40s, isn’t a veteran. His interest in World War II-era gear started when he was a youngster, when the war was still a fresh memory for most of the adults he knew.

He built model airplanes as a kid, but his interest really took hold when he attended an air show in his early 20s. Among the antique warbirds were people, dozens of them, dressed in World War II-era uniforms.

“I thought, ‘Where did you get all that stuff?'” he said. But collecting anything aviation-related starts out expensive and quickly becomes exorbitant, so Banchero found a Jeep and joined a club.

“Our intent is to honor veterans,” he said. “We try to re-enact 10th Mountain Division-type events.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or

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