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Antarctic Snow Cruiser (wikipedia.org)
89 points by ciguy on March 9, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments

Check out the “Tucker Sno-Cat” that was used by New Zealander and British explorers in early (1950s) Antarctic expeditions, several of the historic vehicles are in the Canterbury (Christchurch) museum.

[1] http://www.spiritofmawson.com/objects/tucker-sno-cat-antarct...

[2] http://forrestmccarthy.blogspot.com/2016/03/commonwealth-tra...

And some amazing video footage here (sorry about the music): https://youtu.be/NA4pUalceVE

Tucker Sno-Cat is still in business too, still making snow crawlers. There's something to be said about businesses that don't try to diversify, they just keep making one line of good product.

I wonder what prompted them to use smooth (treadless) tires?

Large and soft tires are certainly good on snow, but smooth?

Maybe that actually works better on ice?

They were designed for swamps, where apparently this tyre design works well. On snow, treadless tyres are essentially useless, and this was a large part of why the cruiser failed to achieve much of anything.

I suspect that at the time producing and transporting suitable tyres was extremely difficult, so they weren't able to try swapping the original tyres for something more suited to the conditions.

Possibly, the LCC-1 that the US Army used in greenland was successful and while the tyres had treads, they were very shallow treads.

A picture here:


probably all that was available in that size plus a lack of understanding. or maybe they thought chains would be fine. but in the pictures there are just four chains! need another 20 or so i would think.

The threads will be packed with snow in no time.

Siping is an important part of snow tire tread.

Siping was cutting edge technology at that time. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siping_(rubber)

> [...] It was his son, Harry E. Sipe, who popularised the use of sipes in the USA for the new low-pressure balloon tires around 1939.

> The process was not applied to vehicle tires on a large scale until the 1950s, when superior tread compounds were developed that could stand up to the siping process. [...]

Modern tread blocks are designed to eject mud and snow. Back then though...

I would assume the tyres were chosen to work well on the terrain of Agartha, the ultimate destination of the expedition.

I hadn't heard about the connection to Agartha before.

I wonder if this was inspiration for the design of transport vehicle in Aliens.


I tended to imagine that was inspired by larger 'pushback' vehicles at airports.

eg. https://www.terbergdts.co.uk/globalassets/special-vehicles-s... - looks bad-ass!

The Wikipedia article says that it was an airport vehicle.

There's a good video on the topic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zR0M7KjnJTE

Thanks, that video is way more informative that the wikipedia article.

> combination kitchen/darkroom

As in photographic darkroom ?

edit: yes, https://books.google.de/books?id=vNsDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA494&lpg=P...

We forget, with the advent of digital photography, how pivotal access to a darkroom used to be for all sorts of endeavours.

Facility for developing Black and White photos is not very complicated. Usually you just need an enlarger, some chemical tanks and a room with no light. If you want to do slides (rather than prints), and use the right film, it's even simpler as you just need to develop the film.

Yeah I'm about to setup a darkroom in my bathroom. I already develop myself but I want to get into printing. Doing that on the go during an Antarctica exploration seems like a pain in the ass though.

It's simpler with slides because you skip the print process, but developing slide isn't nearly as easy as b&w. It's 10+ steps process [0] and temp is critical vs 3 steps for b&w. You can also make slides from b&w film if you're adventurous: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-so...

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-6_process

LeTourneau Land Train concept seems to use large tires as well. And is even more insane (in a good way) https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2009/11/19/54-wheel-drive-the-...

> By the way, recognize those tires? Bob Chandler bought four of them from a Seattle junkyard and fitted them to Bigfoot 4 to capture the title of Tallest Monster Truck.

From what I have read elsewhere this was where the monster truck idea started.

They could have waited a few months for the winter and tested it on the snow.

I don't think the Goodyear logo has changed a bit:

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Snow_cruiser_1.jpg

- https://corporate.goodyear.com/en-US/about/history/wingfoot-...

That seems somewhat rare these days.

Scientists measured cosmic rays in a 1930's, deco designed, self-sufficient, artic snow cruiser with an airplane on top! How cool is that!

Here seems to be another article with much better pictures about this beast https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/06/the-antarctic-snow...

Not for me, subscription only site.

4 free articles per month that they track in a cookie in your browser. Surprisingly common tactic these days... Good thing there's a Firefox extension keeping track of which sites do that and declining the cookies.

How come a 11L Diesel engine only made 300HP? Was the engine that ineficient at the time, compared to a modern engine?

Horsepower (which has many definitions) is the torque output multiplied by the engine RPM (divided by some number to make it equal to the strength of an average horse). Since these engines operate in a relatively low RPM range, the HP number is not that high. Most countries switched to using kilowatts as a measure of vehicle engine power.

Also remember that these are diesel engines from the late 1930's. This was before the development of 2-stroke (blown) or even turbocharged diesel engines. These engines were a lot less powerful compared to modern diesel engines.

Kilowatts are also a multiplication of RPM and torque - one horsepower is 0.7457 kW, no RPM factor required. High-redline gas engines compared to diesels will have more kilowatts than torque regardless of which system of measurement you use.

You need low-speed torque with low fuel consumption to work at relatively high power output efficiently for long durations.

That is correct. kW is used the same way as HP, except that kW is better standardized.

There are many definitions of how much power a horse has, and just one definition of the watt. For example: the 'mechanical' HP (commonly used in the US) is the equivalent of 0.7457kW, but the 'metric' HP (commonly used in Europe) is 0.7345kW [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horsepower#Definitions

They are both units of power the fact that they have different numbers does not have bearing on the question asked, power is power, torque is torque regardless of units.

The kilowatt measures precisely the same thing as horsepower. 1HP is approx 3/4 kW.

The engine actually only made 150hp, but luckily there were 2 of them.

Yes, they were certainly less efficient than modern engines. However, ICE engines have always had trade-offs between power output per size, mechanical efficiency and reliability, and for this vehicle the last one was certainly of most importance.

Horsepower are only one of the measurements for an engine. These engines have enormous amount of torque which is more important than sheer horsepower.

You can multiply torque with gears, can't multiply horsepower. An engine with lots of torque is important because you can make a lot of horsepower at low rpm, important when you need to make a lot of horsepower for a long time, efficiently.

Diesels like this trend to produce relatively low horsepower, but lots of torque.

As a comparison, here's a modern 11L diesel:


You'll notice that HP is 325-425, so not that dramatically different from the Snow Cruiser.

More than double the horsepower mainly due to turbo charging.

That level of power is for commercial use, an 11L diesel can easily put out more than 1000hp based on the amount of boost but the longevity of the engine suffers and the power is not need for the application.

Here is a Volvo 13L (The Mack MP7 is basically a Volvo D11) putting out 2500hp: https://www.motor1.com/news/94292/2400-hp-volvo-truck-seeks-...

They lacked turbo charging which is necessary for diesel to make modern levels of power due to the low max rpm of the engines.

Naturally aspirated diesel where relatively efficient they simply lack power.

such a huge feat of engineering and then they put smooth tires on it! humans are amazing.

what are some other examples of inexplicably bad engineering decisions on otherwise well built machines?

the front wheel drive nissan lemans car comes to mind

First ever application of the diesel-electric drivetrain setup on a 4-wheel land vehicle, now commonly used on those monster mining trucks. Neat.

Diesel-electric drivetrains were planned earlier for some heavy tank designs - e.g. TOG2 and I think one of the Porsche designs.

I wonder why tires were used rather than a continuous track. Perhaps because repair of continuous track would be harder than tire replacement?

From Wikipedia:

> Wheels and tires retracted into housings where they were heated by engine exhaust gases. This was to prevent low-temperature cracking of the natural rubber compound. Long front and rear overhangs on the body were to assist with crossing crevasses up to 15 feet (4.6 m) wide. The front wheels were to be retracted so the front could be pushed across the crevasse. The front wheels were then to be extended (and the rear wheels retracted) to pull the vehicle the rest of the way across. This process required a complicated, 20-step procedure.

continuous tracks can be retracted too though, and they can be made without rubber.

But this process requires even more traction than simply moving, which the vehicle had problems to begin with.

My guess in answering the initial question would be bad engineering.

More research seems to indicate that continuous tracks do have significant maintenance drawbacks compared to tires (a tire can be expected to last significantly more miles than a track between repairs/replacement).

However, it definitely was a design defect as the cruiser was unable to travel reliably on the snow, and Byrd had previous success in Antarctica with tracked vehicles...

Here's a nice video summing up the story


Snowmobile was patented in 1937, would have a been a much better choice than threadless wheels.

Should have used Agile development to iterate on an MVP snow cruiser. Let's have a standup to talk about any blocker re: the wheels getting stuck and [spike] a quick solution.

"75,000 lbs" .... whoa.

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