Finally. . .time to pursue another passion

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Retired physician Ken Zichal now has more time to devote to his hobby: building model tanks.

By Pat McTaggert

Freelance Writer


After practicing medicine for almost 40 years at the Central Community Hospital in Elkader, Dr. Ken Zichal has finally hung up his stethoscope.  His retirement will give him more time to pursue another passion besides medicine—building model tanks.

There are currently more than 1,100 tanks, trucks and personnel carriers and artillery pieces in Zichal’s collection. Each one was meticulously assembled, painted and put on display in one of several glass display cases in the basement of the couple’s home.

 “My wife, Fran, has the main floor and upstairs of the house,” he said with a smile, “but the downstairs is all mine.”

 His collection runs the gamut from World War I all the way to the newest designs used by today’s military. It represents armor used by all the major powers during that time period.

 ”I have loved building models since childhood,” he said. “I started out with tanks, airplanes and boats. After college, I got out of it, but after a couple of years I decided to get back into models. Fran and I just had a small apartment, and tanks took up less space. Besides, I was always fascinated with military history.”

Zichal’s collection continued to grow and when he built a new home on the outskirts of Elkader, he made sure he would have space for future expansion. By 1990 he had just built about every type of armored model kit that was on the market. 

“Then there was an explosion in armor kits,” he recalled. “New companies were offering variants of the original model types, and I was back in business.”

Many of the newer kits had as many as 600 to 1,200 pieces. Each piece has to be put in place by a steady hand—something that Zichal definitely has.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a steady hand, patience and attention to detail,” he said.  “That goes for both modelers and physicians. One kit can take up to 40 to 80 hours to build.”

The Zichals have traveled extensively in Western and Eastern Europe while on vacation through the years. That has given Ken a chance to further pursue his hobby.

“The first thing I do is look for a tank or armored museum while we are planning a trip,” he said.  “When we get to our destination I will say something like ‘By the way, there’s a museum in this town.’ Fran is really a trooper. When I enter a museum, the museum personnel can tell that I am really serious about these things. Most of the time one of the museum’s people will take pity on my wife and show her to a lounge area and offer her some coffee or a snack while I am off snapping pictures of just about everything in the building.”

Dr. Zichal was instrumental in getting Elkader its own tank. When the U.S. Army started using the new M1 tanks, many of the older models were mothballed. Local communities could apply for one the AmVets, and that was precisely what Zichal did.  He had discussed moving the tank, if it was approved, with John Patrick Moyna, who owns a construction and earth-moving company in Elkader.

“We didn’t hear back from the Army for several months,” Zichal said.  “In 1990 Fran and I were on vacation in Egypt. One day John got a call from the Pizza Ranch in Manchester. The man said that a truck had just dropped off a tank and that it was sitting in the parking lot.  He also said that the driver told him to contact Moyna to come and get it.”

“John and one of his employees who had driven tanks in the army hooked up a heavy equipment trailer and drove down to get it.  Getting a 56-ton tank onto the trailer was easier than either of them expected. The driver suggested trying the engine, and to their amazement the thing started right up, so the driver could just drive it onto the trailer.  The tank, minus the engine, now sits at the entrance of the Elkader City Park.”

Zichal isn’t finished with his models yet.  He has about 300 more kits stacked around his “tank museum,” waiting to be built. He plans to build about 30 a year now that he is retired.

“Being in such a small town, this was the perfect hobby to have after I was done working or was on call,” he said.  “It’s a hobby you can pick up and put down whenever you want to.  You can work on something for five minutes or five hours.  It’s a very good relaxation technique, especially if you were having a hectic day.”

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