Woodside resident Reno Taini has created a kind of time machine, a vehicle of war equipped with bare essentials considered fitting for a general leading an army from 70 years ago.
There are weapons on Mr. Taini's restored World War II-era WC 56 command car, but they're few and hand-held (and nonlethal). There is a roof on this extended, 5,000-pound Jeep-like vehicle, but it's optional and canvas. With a flathead six-cylinder under the hood, the vehicle can reach 45 mph. The rear bench seat, reserved for officers, is upright and narrow. It looks uncomfortable. There is no heater.
As one would expect for a command car, the officers' area in the back includes a map case, a fold-out map table and room to stand up and survey the scene.
Thrills and therapy
The rapidity with which these vehicles were disappearing in the 1960s inspired Mr. Taini to buy his own in the early 1970s. "It thrilled people," he said. "It thrilled me. There was always an opportunity to make it better. It was kind of like a therapeutic kind of thing."
World War II was also a topic of interest to him when he was younger. The vehicle became a magnet. "It was kind of like an interesting thing to have and people would tell me their stories," he said. "It sort of made sense of it all to me. It continues to."
People have talked to him about it, written letters, sent emails, he said. "It just kept me in the game and I had a place to keep it," he said. "I was inspired by others to keep it. A lot of my friends wish they had had them now. It fascinated me more and more and more as time went on. The mysteries kept me going, too."
Asked for an example, he noted the history of the vehicle's dusty green color, referred to officially as olive drab. First referred to as Lustreless Olive Drab Enamel in 1940, over the decades the name of the paint became a number, then several numbers, then even more numbers, according to the website olive-drab.com. A page at the site includes a history of the paint's evolution in color and identification, but notes that the history comes from multiple sources and that "controversy continues."
On July 4 this year, Mr. Taini's command car had a distinguished passenger sitting in back as Mr. Taini piloted his vehicle through the parade in Redwood City: Ralph Rush, a lead scout for General George S. Patton in Europe.
"What a gentleman," Mr. Taini said of Mr. Rush. "What a great guy."
Mr. Taini says he tried to include Francis Sanza of Napa, General Patton's former driver, to sit with Mr. Rush in the parade, but it didn't work out.
According to a 2011 story in The Press Democrat, a Sonoma County newspaper, the general never called Mr. Sanza by name, but referred to him only as "soldier."
As for the back seat, that upright narrow bench, the general never rode in back, Mr. Sanza said in the story.
About 250,000 Dodge WC-model military vehicles were made, including about 18,000 WC 56 command cars, Mr. Taini says. The WC undercarriage also worked for ambulances and weapons carriers, he says.
After the war, WC models "were everywhere," Mr. Taini says, on farms and as tow-trucks, but WC 56s were not common at all.
He bought his in Los Angeles for $700 in nonoperable condition and in need of four new tires. The restored result involved 40 years of "scratching around and tinkering and exploration," he says.
Mr. Taini, now 75, taught biological science in the Jefferson Union High School District in north San Mateo County, and later took on troubled youth in an alternative program of education through experience. He would bring his vehicle to school on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the allies opened up a second front in Western Europe. (Soviet troops had long been engaging German forces from the East.)
His work in experiential education took him to refugee camps in the Philippines and Thailand for Amerasian children and boat people from Vietnam, Hmong from Laos, and Khmer from Cambodia. He also worked for a while on the Thailand/Burma border with the Karen people.
While abroad, he says, he noticed Dodge WC models converted for civilian uses, including rice harvesting and public transport, often decorated with colorful alternatives to olive-drab.
Mr. Taini says he's taken his command vehicle into the Eldorado National Forest on the Rubicon overland trail to participate in a boulder-strewn endurance race through mountainous back country to South Lake Tahoe. Four-wheel drive is a must.
In Northern California, he has heard of them used to plow snow and haul wood out of a forest.
"It's kind of like hanging on to a dinosaur," he said.