Mr. Renton drives the vehicles during “armor experiences” staged by the museum on the property it shares with the bucolic Old Bethpage Village Restoration. Re-creations of combat situations are open to anyone willing to pay to dress up as a soldier.
“It’s like Civil War re-enactors but the equipment is more expensive,” said Mr. Renton, pointing out the museum’s largest tank, which saw action in the Middle East and was then left to languish in a desert there for 25 years.
It is a monster that weighs 50 tons and gets one-tenth of a mile to the gallon, said Mr. Renton, who on Tuesday had finished replacing the gas tanks on a troop carrier known as a halftrack, as World War II-era swing music wafted through the building.
Mr. Renton grew up nearby in Freeport, N.Y., next to the family auto repair business that his great-grandfather opened in the early 1920s. He began working there at age 7 and spent years fixing cars and listening to the stories of his father, Larry, a Navy veteran who had served on an aircraft carrier.
“The combination gave me a great niche, to be able to keep historic military vehicles going,” he said. “I can pass them on to the next generation. So through this, I get a little immortality.”
Mr. Renton can rattle off details about the tanks, many of which have motors made by auto manufacturers. There are twin Cadillac V8s in a Stuart tank, and a Jaguar engine in the Fox, a 1958 British armored vehicle resembling a tank. The Ferret, another British armored vehicle, from 1955, has a Rolls-Royce engine.
Some of the vehicles are owned by Mr. Renton, including a 1942 military fire truck that still runs and pumps water, while others have been donated or are on extended loan.
Mr. Renton, a volunteer firefighter, drives the truck to firefighter funerals. He used it to convey the coffins of seven firefighters who died during the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he said.
He also drove it to his wedding, while his wife, Elaine, showed up in a 1954 fire truck that Mr. Renton had restored for her.
For years, Mr. Renton was known for a 1940 Plymouth he drove, and for parking some of his military vehicles at his house.
He pointed to a cute little armored scout car, a type used by the British Army in the Battle of Dunkirk, explaining that the engine leaks so much oil that “I wish it was left at Dunkirk.”
When a group of visitors wandered in, Mr. Renton offered to answer their questions. “I promise I can come up with an answer, or lie to you convincingly,” he said.
Mr. Renton said he can tell his restorations are up to snuff by the emotional reaction of veterans who inspect them. There was the former World War II ambulance driver who rolled his wheelchair up to the museum’s Army ambulance, put his hand on the fender and began to weep, he said.
Veterans who have served on tank crews are given a ride in the tanks, said Mr. Renton, climbing onto the Fox, which had a large 30-millimeter gun mounted on it.
He fired up the engine and tore around a field next to the museum, blaring the siren to scare off a flock of geese. He pointed out the huge Long Tom cannon in front of the museum: a 155-millimeter gun that in its time boasted an incredibly long and accurate range.
“That’ll reach out and touch you 20 miles away,” he said, with a laugh. “You need anybody bumped off?”
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