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The Ultimate Snow Vehicle?

Snowmageddon 2011 is quickly approaching. Here at the Atomic Toasters Detroit field office we’re expecting up to 16 inches of snow when it’s all said and done. That’s a pretty significant snowfall for us, and it is unlikely many people will be headed to work tomorrow. However, if you do need to go to work, and the road crews have been enjoying coffee in a heated office while snow accumulates on the ground, the proper equipment would be needed to traverse the snowy landscape.

This is not the proper equipment.

The United States Antarctic Foundation, headed by Admiral Byrd, was chartered by Congress to explore the 4,000,000 square miles of uncharted land in the Antarctic continent. With Nazi Germany threatening the balance of power in the world, this was also seen as a way to limit the forces of Hitler from taking full control of Antarctica. Two bases were established, each equipped with dog sleds, tractors, tanks, and aircraft. In order to facilitate the movement of men and materials around the continent on this defense/exploratory mission, The Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology sold the US government on leasing a giant snow vehicle that they would build. It was called the Antarctic Snow Cruiser, and it was to be the “halo vehicle” of this mission.

The giant Snow Cruiser was designed to carry a Beech Staggerwing aircraft and four men in comfort. It contained amenities now standard in RVs. It was to be a technological masterpiece and would guarantee the freedom of walruses and penguins from the clutches of the Nazi imperialists.

It was a miserable failure. During test runs in Ohio, it slid off a bridge and sat in a creek for three days until it could be rescued. When it was finally ready to be shipped to Antarctica, the 55-foot long, 20-foot wide, 15-foot high Snow Cruiser was loaded on the expedition’s ship in Boston and sailed for the 7th Continent. When it arrived they had to unload it.

Crap. They forgot about that part. A ramp had to be constructed to get it off the ship. While inching it down the ramp one of the tires broke through. Things looked precarious for a moment until the Snow Cruiser’s designer, Thomas Poulter, was able to give her a little more gas and she roared out of the hole in the ramp. Men cheered. When it got to the bottom of the ramp, it got stuck. It didn’t work in the snow. Men jeered.

The 120-inch diameter tires had no tread. They had been custom made by the Armour Institute of Technology and were based on a design for swamp tires. The treadless tires would just spin and dig themselves in while creeping ahead. The crew replaced the front tires with the spares and put chains on the rear tires, and through trial and error found the Snow Cruiser worked better in reverse. Designed for a range of up to 5,000 miles, the longest trek was under 100 miles, driven completely in reverse.

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Its failure to perform the mission it was designed to perform overshadows some pretty cool features. The tires could be retracted into the body where they would be kept warm. This helped keep the tires from cracking in the extremely cold Antarctic temperatures. It was also part of the system that let the Snow Cruiser cross crevasses. It was a diesel-electric hybrid — possibly the first in a four-wheeled vehicle. Excess energy from the diesel engines was stored in batteries so it could be used for lighting when the engines were off.

Soon, the Snow Cruiser became a fixed shelter and Poulter returned to the US in shame. Upon the US entry into WW2, the entire expedition was cancelled. The Snow Cruiser was lost in the Antarctic ice until it was rediscovered in the 1940s. The crew that found it reported that it only needed a little mechanical work and air in the tires and they were able to get it running again. They marked its position with a bamboo pole, and another crew found it in 1958 and were able to dig down to the bottom of the tires to determine how much snow had fallen since it had been parked. After that nobody knows where it went. Some claim the Soviet Union found and took it during the Cold War. Others say it was buried in snow and ice and is now either in a piece of ice that broke off near its location or at the bottom of the ocean.

Head over to this post on the Hemmings Blog to see more videos of the Snow Cruiser in motion.

[Image Credits: Hemmings Blog and Public Domain]

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