TAPPAHANNOCK, Va. – The Rappahannock and the Tappahannock. A river and a city linked forever by a ribbon of waves.
Different craft have cruised these waters over the centuries, but nothing has ever dropped anchor and made a splash here like “Wild Sally” and “Big Jack.”
“Some people said they looked like they belonged in a Star Wars movie,” said David Hennage.
The vehicles, which are both boats and trucks, now inhabit Tappahannock.
“This is the biggest piece of equipment I’ve ever worked on,” said John Hennage.
John Hennage is the proud new operator of the bulky vehicles known as Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo or LARC-V vehicles.
“It’s unique in that it can reach the beach. Get off the beach and go straight,” John said.
“It means a lot to me to have these two pieces of equipment here. They are very, very impressive pieces of equipment,” said Nate Parker, owner of June Parker Marina. Did they carry the pieces of equipment? What did they bring them with? I said they came on their own.
Three stories tall, the LARCs are hard to miss.
“These behemoths are so big, they’re 60 feet long, nearly 30 feet wide, and their tires are nearly nine feet tall.”
But John, an engineer, didn’t buy Jack and Sally as a conversation starter. His family business Tidewater Subsea will use LARCs to dredge area streams.
“We realized that the road system in the region couldn’t really handle the big trucks. It wasn’t going to work,” John said.
In their past lives, “Wild Sally” and “Big Jack” had far more dangerous jobs.
These old American military vehicles were used during the Vietnam War to transport troops and tanks.
“These have bullet holes that have been repaired,” John said. “They were combat vehicles, there was no doubt about that.”
After the fighting ended, the LARCs have sat rusting in New York City for the past 15 years. Only around 950 were made worldwide.
“As far as we know, there are only 10 left in the world,” John said.
Earlier this year, John found numbers 48 and 49 on Staten Island. Each costs $25,000. But driving the LARCs on Interstate 95 was out of the question.
“Oh no! We knew there was no way to ship them,” John said. “They’re too big to ship by truck. Too wide. Too heavy.”
This spring, John and a small crew, including his uncle David, embarked on a different kind of journey. A two and a half week ride on the east coast.
“No, I’ve never done anything like that,” David said. “It was choppy enough that the water was pouring over the back. We were catching waves rolling in. We had to run the pumps.
Don’t get me wrong, a LARC would never be mistaken for a pleasure craft.
“These are work boats,” John said. “There are no amenities at all. Apart from noise and heat.
Engine problems forced novice sailors to beach the boats in New Jersey. Where the curious gathered to remain speechless.
“So there you have it. Everyone who saw them was very interested in them. They wanted to know what they were,” John said.
The LARCs finally reached the Rappahannock River in May to begin their new chapter.
“I don’t know if I would use the word pleasure. It was an adventure,” John said.
The colossal craftsmanship is already generating a lot of interest in the city.
“If I’m there on a Saturday and working on it, one or two people will stop and usually want to put their arms up and take a picture in front of the tire because the tires are awesome,” John laughed.
It is not lost on John that by preserving maritime history, he is also honoring the soldiers who served on board. John Hennage, an experienced sea captain satisfied with his business decision which was made on a lark.
“I’d rather not see them sit and rust and be destroyed,” John said. “As long as they keep functioning and doing their job, they will live as long as we can keep them functioning.”
John and his crew hope to have ‘Wild Sally’ and ‘Big Jack’ restored and operational within the next few months.