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ALCO Museum will return Lentz M7 model

ALCO Museum will return Lentz M7 model

Family indicates accession letter stipulated that loaned materials were to be displayed in Schenectady
ALCO Museum will return Lentz M7 model
Mike Palumbo, exhibits director at the Walter Elwood Museum in Amsterdam, poses with the model of the M7 Priest Tank.
Photographer: Peter Barber / Gazette Photographer

Anyone interested in another look at William Lentz's model of the M7 Priest Tank, currently on display at the Walter Elwood Museum of the Mohawk Valley, should get themselves to Amsterdam as soon as possible.

Donated on loan to the American Locomotive Company's Historical and Technical Society back in 2012 by Lester's daughter, Beverly Lentz Taylor Geiger, the model will be returned to the family sometime in the near future.

Matt Giardino, president of the ALCO Historical and Technical Society, which rents a large exhibit room at the Elwood Museum, confirmed that after a three-year battle over the model, his group will return the artifact to Davenport, Iowa resident William Taylor, Lentz's grandson.

"We can't afford to keep fighting this, and it's too difficult to prove the original intention of Mr. Taylor's mother," said Giardino last week. "We still believe that Mr. Taylor's mother donated the model of the tank and other items to us, and that they belong here, but to prove that in court is difficult and just too costly for us. We don't want to go bankrupt."

Also see: ALCO M7 Tank Timeline

The M7 Priest Tank, which was also described as a self-propelled tank destroyer, was designed by Lentz and manufactured by the American Locomotive Company in Schenectady back in World War II. The vehicle is often credited with changing the fortunes of the Allied Forces during World War II, especially at the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944 when the Germans were mounting a counter-offensive after the D Day invasion.

Soon after the ALCO Historical and Technical Society opened its museum on Maxon Road Extension in June of 2012, Mrs. Geiger brought the tank model to Schenectady and presented it to the ALCO group. In a written statement documenting the "donation" of the M7 model, it was noted that "this piece is on loan to the museum and is still owned by the family. If anything happens to the museum, the piece goes back to the family."

For Taylor, the arrangement between his family and the ALCO Museum all changed when the model and two boxes of various papers belonging to his grandfather were moved out of Schenectady to the Elwood Museum in Amsterdam.

"The accession letter had conditions," Taylor told the Gazette back in 2015. "It was being loaned, and if the museum wasn't being built or developed, then it would come back to us. We donated everything with the idea that if the stuff wasn't in a museum in Schenectady, it would be returned to us."

Taylor, who visited the Elwood Museum in Amsterdam at least twice to see the exhibit, also complained about what he felt was the facility's low profile and lack of public hours.

"The items are not in Schenectady, where they should be, and they're not getting any visibility where they are now," Taylor said back in 2015. "It's a small place, and if they're not planning on building a new museum, then we should get them back."

Taylor hasn't changed his tune at all, and is concerned that the process of returning the M7 model has taken so long.

"I was told in March that they would return the items and provide an inventory, but that hasn't happened yet, so I'm not sure what's taking so long," Taylor said last week. "I offered to go there in July and pick them up and they didn't respond to my phone call."

According to Giardino, the process of returning the model and other items is moving ahead.

"Everything has been inventoried and accounted for," he said. "There were some nice scrapbooks and historic photos included in the two boxes, so he'll get it all. We just want to make sure we're not going to be held liable for anything. Our attorneys are ironing out the details. It's an unfortunate situation, and we feel bad about it because we feel like everything should stay with us."

Ann Peconie, executive director of the Walter Elwood Museum of the Mohawk Valley, thinks the Lentz model should stay where it is.

"Mr. Taylor told me that the World War II Museum in New Orleans is interested in the model, but if he donates it or sells it to them, shame on him," said Peconie. "It's part of our history, here in this area. No disrespect to Mr. Taylor's grandfather, but the museum in New Orleans doesn't need this artifact. I've been there. It's a wonderful place. But they have real tanks there.

"And the ALCO story isn't limited to just Schenectady," added Peconie. "There were a lot of people who lived in Amsterdam and worked in Schenectady at ALCO. The model is part of a great exhibit room that highlights ALCO and enhances our museum about the Mohawk Valley. It's very disappointing to think we're going to lose it. It's one of the highlights of the ALCO Museum. In New Orleans it would probably be in storage much of the time."

Peconie also disagreed with Taylor's description of the Walter Elwood Museum, pointing out that the facility is regularly visited by school groups along with members of the public.

"We take students through there all the time," she said. "The kids love the train room, and we have people throughout the year who contact us by phone or email asking about the ALCO collection. We get plenty of people during the summer who specifically come here to see the ALCO collection."

While losing the M7 model is unfortunate, there is still plenty to see at the ALCO Museum, including Charles Lester's seven-foot long, 1930s-era model of the Hudson, a steam locomotive built at ALCO for the New York Central Railroad. Lester, who grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire, began working at ALCO in Schenectady in 1911 and joined the training program for draftsmen.

Lester's grandson, Charles Lester III, who lives in Niskayuna, is a member of the ALCO Historical and Technical Society's board of directors.

"Our model is on loan to the ALCO museum and it's not going anywhere," said Lester. "Unfortunately, we are losing the M7 and that's sad because it is a great part of ALCO history. We got plenty of people up there at the Elwood Museum who saw it and appreciated it. We just don't have the ability to fight to retain it. It's sad we have to return it, but hopefully it will end up in a place where it will be seen and enjoyed."

Also see: ALCO M7 Tank Timeline

According to Schenectady City Historian Chris Leonard, ALCO produced nearly 3,500 M7s between 1942-1945.

"It was the mainstay of the U.S. Army as well as the British in World War II and into the Korean Conflict," said Leonard. "The M7 was a great source of pride for Schenectady. A tangible weapon used simultaneously against the Nazis and the Japanese. It was one of the thousands of military devices and improvements to military technologies that came out of Schenectady during World War II, which helped win the war."

ALCO had 19,000 employees during World War II, and while not all of them contributed to the creation of the M7, the whole process remained unknown to the Germans.

"We weren't winning the war against Germany because of their tanks," said Peconie. "We needed something to obliterate German tanks and ALCO, which had been building locomotives, did the trick. And throughout the whole process all the workers kept the secret. That kind of thing is not going to happen today. There were probably spies out there looking for this information. But it's amazing what all those employees did. When they left the plant, they turned off a switch and nobody talked about it."

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