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The US Army's earth-shaking, off-road land trains (thedrive.com)
515 points by tomohawk 41 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 115 comments

Another unusual type of vehicle designed for arctic transport applications is the Rolligon: https://jalopnik.com/weird-tech-friday-the-rolligon-for-when...

Rolligon-type vehicles (mostly not under the Rolligon name today) are still used in mine and oilfield applications in the Canadian and Alaskan arctic. This is often motivated less by their snow/ice capability (which is similar to tracked vehicles), than by environmental regulations which specify a maximum ground pressure exerted by vehicles to prevent excessive damage to plant life. There's a whole world of "low ground pressure" vehicles for this reason, although in non-arctic situations they usually achieve this by use of exceptionally wide rubber tracks.

Speaking of "low ground pressure' vehicles: if you have not seen it before, take a look at the Sherp!


This is the only vehicle, besides a cruising yacht, that I truly desire to own.

My dream of journeying the worlds' swamps and river systems with a Sherpa is a tough one to shake. If only they'd made a fusion-powered version, hehe ..

What a delightfully odd-looking vehicle.

They look incredible but what are their downsides? Are they exceedingly expensive?

High Ground pressure is what destroys roads - road maintenance will be much cheaper if not for all the trucks. Does it make sense to require trucking to use such vehicles?

Also, these vehicles being all terrain why haven't millitaries shown interest?

Few manufacturers mean that they are very expensive (generally custom made today, in one case I've seen by a shipbuilder), which limits commercial usage. Besides that simple issue though I think it mostly comes down to poor maneuvering on hard surfaces which somewhat limits them to snow/sand/mud, and the drivetrain is probably more delicate and difficult to maintain than tracks which discourages military use. One of the big advantages of tracked vehicles in a military context, for example, is that they do not get flat tires. A rolligon could easily lose an entire bag. I'd imagine they probably carry spares and tools to swap them but no one would want to do that on a battlefield.

From what I have read, they are, in general, not really designed for survivability like most off-road vehicles we think of, but rather for payload. So operators send them in groups of two or three because they do get stuck or require repairs en route from time to time.

I’d imagine the biggest downside is scrubbing while cornering on a high-traction surface.

The difference in distance covered by the inside and outside edges would be significant.

> the Rolligon

Also used on the Moon (in Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress").

I'm so glad this was made and worked, does anyone else find themselves haunted by the dumb failed utopian projects of the past? That somehow stupid engineering of the past sits in your imagination beside the dumb software development in shitty languages of your personal history? - What's that employer? you want a contract management system entirely in microsoft word macros - and it has to produce a scrollable map of government infrastructure, and it's 1995, and this is all in word, is there a database?, no?, no database, all in the word template - sure why the hell not, I guess you're paying and no doubt I will experience immense person satisfaction wasting my youth in your strange beige office attempting and repeatedly failing to realise this hideous monstrosity and cherish the downward spiral of shame and self recrimination. excellent!

Thank you snow train - finally I can relinquish the weird melancholy I've always got thinking about the Antarctic snow cruiser: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antarctic_Snow_Cruiser

This was only a tiny part of US air defenses in the 1950s and 1960s. This was for building the Distant Early Warning line of radar stations, geodesic domes in arctic climate. They were built, they worked, and many, though abandoned, are still standing.

And that was just the outer warning line. The Mid-Canada Line and the Pine Tree Line were further in. Texas Towers were built out in the ocean with even more radars. There were interceptor bases all over the US and Canada. Anti-aircraft missiles and guns were staffed 24/7. The SAGE computer systems and Missile Master were built to coordinate this. Cheyenne Mountain was built as headquarters.

A portion of the original DEW line stations are still in service and retain most of their original structure. However, they are now unmanned, remote controlled, and infrequently serviced by a first nations contractor that reaches them by helicopter.

The construction of the actual stations is fairly interesting as well. Typical stations (e.g. not communications hubs) consisted of two "trains" of modular buildings assembled end-to-end with an elevated "snowbridge" between them.

But, perhaps the most interesting thing to say about the DEW line is its communication infrastructure. Because of the impracticality of building line-of-sight repeaters (and even more so laying cable), the DEW line was one of few large-scale applications of troposcatter communications. Each station included four large parabolic antennas aimed nearly horizontally at the stations in each direction, the radio signal reflected off of the troposphere to reach the next station over the horizon. Some larger stations featured additional antennas aimed south, which connected through a series of troposcatter repeaters until conventional telecom infrastructure was available.

Troposcatter was sparsely used because it required large antennas, high power, and still suffered from weather and solar impacts. However it was relatively widely used in arctic North America due to the long ranges achievable. Other systems included WHITE ALICE (a military communications system in Alaska that carried civilian phone calls to remote towns for decades), several commercial north-south links built in Canada to provide telephone service to mines, the NA-Thule and other connections in that region (some of which were originally built as part of DEW). Troposcatter also saw limited use over water when cable laying was deemed not worth the price, prominently between the Texas Towers and shore and between Florida and Cuba (where the link remained in service long after laying cable would have been preferable due to embargo and other trade complications).

Because I can't resist talking about this, one of my hobby topics, a bit more, there's a whole history of radar development occurring in Canada in the early cold war. The DEW line is of major interest because of the huge complexity of building such an ambitious project so far north. Also interesting, though, is the Mid-Canada Line which was built before, and further south than, the DEW line. The MCL pioneered the bistatic radar technology which was used (in a much refined form) in the DEW line.

The principle of bistatic radar is this: instead of the transmitter and receiver being at the same position, and thus receiving reflections (this is known as monostatic radar), in a bistatic system the transmitter and receiver are at different locations and detect changes in the signal propagating between them. In the case of the MCL and DEW line, the change observed for is dopplar shift caused by a moving object in the area in between. The use of bistatic radar means that the MCL and DEW line are very literally "lines" with each station transmitting to the next.

To overcome limitations of bistatic radar, though, the DEW line made use of both. The AN/FPS-19 search radar was a monostatic system. However, monostatic radar often has poor sensitivity to aircraft at low altitude (thus the expression "under the radar"). The AN/FPS-23 bistatic radar was used to "fill in" sensitivity at low altitude, although an aircraft would have to pass between two stations (and thus be further south) to be detected.

An interesting example of bistatic radar that makes for easy learning of the concept because of its small scale is the AN/TPS-39 (one of a number of radars called "tipsies" due to the req number), which was used as a "virtual fence" for surface security at Titan missile silos. In that case the two antennas were only something like 10-20 feet apart and had a distinctive horn shape due to using microwave frequencies. Microwave radar is still used in "virtual fence" intrusion detection applications but enhancements in signal processing technology now allow simpler monostatic applications.

Out of curiosity, how were these remote systems powered?

Diesel generators. As you can imagine this created an ongoing logistics need, although that wasn't as big of an issue as it may sound because the stations had relatively large crews and so already required regular delivery of supplies and new personnel. The method depended on the station but it was mostly done by sea or air.

Around the same time period the USSR was experimenting with lighthouses and remote monitoring equipment powered by RTGs, and on this side of the iron curtain McMurdo station had a small nuclear reactor. However RTGs produced much too little power for these stations and portable reactors were a very experimental technology that was abandoned for a number of reasons you can likely imagine. The RTGs turned out to be a bad idea as well because they now form a sort of sleeping environmental hazard in much of the arctic region, most of them slipped into the water and presumably the casing is slowly corroding away.

As a slightly related fact of interest, due to the ongoing need for crew there is a duplicate of a DEW line station located near Streator, IL which was used for training new personnel before they made the long trip north. It includes a troposcatter link to a small station in another town for training radio operators.

And nuclear hardened coaxial cables and the TD microwave system and communications satellites and fiber optic and...

I feel like millennial and future generations need a compact guide to what the GI and Silent generations actually accomplished.

Look at the state of our communications infrastructure today. These "modern" coax networks have no redundancy and so so reliability (eg: Comcast's Node+0 nodes occasionally have their IP stack fall over, requiring a reboot).

The remaining baby bells are baby bankrupt after years of pillaging their territory to pay for acquisitions and investor dividends (see recent Frontier bankruptcy and fire sale of Pacific NW territory to Ziply Fiber) and the infrastructure they do have is almost entirely running atop legacy hardware designed in the 1980s.

The coax networks that GP refers to have nothing to do with cable television (except that television syndication links were carried over them). GP is referring to the AT&T L-series carriers which carried telephone calls (and later digital voice link equivalents) over multiple bundled coaxial pairs.

The L-carrier infrastructure was built to remarkable standards of durability and reliability, in part because much of the system (particularly L-3I and L-4) were built as part of federal C3I contracts and were hardened against limited nuclear strikes, but also because of AT&T/WECo's general culture of obsession with reliability. Station equipment would be entirely duplicated for redundancy, nearly all equipment stations were manned to allow for quick repair (and 'maintenance patrols' inspected remote en-route repeaters as often as daily), and the system was designed for network-level redundancy through rerouting and the preparation of 'alternate control points' to allow continued operation even in the case of complete isolation of parts of the network.

The L-carrier system fell out of use when it was replaced by fiber-optic technology (which AT&T initially referred to as "lightguide", perhaps due to it coming hot on the tails of their work on waveguide carriers such as WT4 which were essentially microwave radio through a metal duct).

Of course, this raises the question of why this infrastructure is so much more reliable than cable television seems to be. I would suggest three explanations. First, AT&T, Bell Labs, WECo, and the rest of the Ma Bell crowd held reliability as an extremely high value, at both a cultural and requirements level. This is exemplified by now legendary Bell system feats such as moving exchange office buildings with operators still working inside (and dragging long tether cables) in order to avoid a service interruption. Second, AT&T long held major defense contracts with significant reliability requirements (against both natural conditions and enemy attack), and as a matter of cost savings these contracts were met using infrastructure shared with civilian services. In general, the non-Bell system modern internet carriers have not held this type of business on such a large scale, in part because they postdate the cold war and in part because AT&T, CenturyLink, and other Bell alums are more interested in federal contracts.

Third, cable television has historically been both more competitive and less critical in popular opinion than telephone service, and so reliability has simply not been a high business priority for these operators. For the Bell system any service interruption could be a major scandal, and this is still to some extent true today of telephone service (see any 911 interruption incident). On the other hand the cable companies descended from offering a service which was viewed as a non-critical luxury. Consumer and regulator behavior seems to have just not caught up to the internet era in this regard.

And yes, it is quite true that many of the Bell system alums are struggling today. On the other hand, CenturyLink is quite viable as a business and shows few signs of slowing. They are even arguably relatively innovation-forward as an ISP as evidenced by their having one of the larger gigabit GPON footprints in the US, as well as emphasizing no-contract "price for life" service in many markets where they compete with cable carriers. But yes, ultimately most of the Bell system has been dismantled in the interest of cost savings, and has been replaced by a sort of shambling wisp of its former self. Many feel that the writing was on the wall as soon as the breakup occurred, a move which was in good part aimed at reducing consumer prices, and did so, but partially at the cost of radically reduced investment in infrastructure. There is tradeoff between affordability and reliability, and the telecom industry seems to always cling to one of two extremes.

Part of their monopoly was regulation. Those reliability requirements were mandated by state utility boards and the FCC. The engineering culture was the tail that wagged the dog.

Yes, and I think it's an important example of "reason number three" that while cable television operators are subject to public utility regulation in most states they are not subject to nearly as stringent quality-of-service requirements as the telephone operators. You can complain to your PRC or equivalent body about nearly any interruption of telephone service, but when it comes to your cable you're largely on your own.

Very true.

In my experience in New York, Verizon basically uses the public service commission as a level-1 helpdesk -- they take referrals incredibly seriously. I had an issue with Verizon equipment infested with bees -- and they literally rolled trucks within 30 minutes of getting a referral from the regulator, a pole and a bunch of equipment was replaced within 24 hours.

With TWC/Spectrum, unless they do something grossly incompetent or unsafe, the regulator is more like another party nagging them.

As a bit of very purely My Opinon on the matter, I have always felt that there is great significance to the connection between the Bell system and Manifest Destiny. In the classic book Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner argues that the American drive towards irrigation agriculture in the West must be viewed not as a practical matter but as a religious one, both on the obvious level that a large part of the movement (e.g. the Bureau of Reclamation) descended from the Mormons (cough LDS) for which it quite literally was a religious value, and on the deeper level that the government pursued irrigation projects with great gusto when they made absolutely no economic sense, and the government knew that---so there must be something deeper driving the efforts.

I would view the telephone system through a similar lens. The famous painting "American Progress," frequently used to illustrate school lessons on manifest destiny, depicts not only the tide of pioneers headed west but, even more prominently, an angel stringing telegraph wire. This connection between the telegraph (and later telephone) and manifest destiny, and between the telegraph and deity, does not seem incidental.

It was a widely held opinion through the late 19th and early 20th century that instantaneous communication through the telegraph and telephone was a fundamental component of civilizing the nation, key to American progress. It was closely coupled with the railroads in that regard, both in the spiritual sense that both opened the West to reclamation (which at the time had a meaning more like exploitation, in the sense of natural resources), and in the practical sense that the early telegraph system was often operated by railroads.

So, perhaps at some basic level, there is a fundamental difference between the telephone system and the cable television system: the telephone system is an artifact of an era of unbounded American expansion and optimism, and so was founded with a strong sense of the "American values" of exceptional quality and dedication to purpose. The cable television system, on the other hand, only came to fruition in the 1950s, by which point it was coming of age in a post-war America in which capitalism was held as a greater value than expansionism and exceptionalism, manifest destiny having in good part died with the tremendous shock of the great depression.

Just something to think about when you consider how history drives technology today.

Very interesting observations, thanks for sharing.

Can you share any continuation of thoughts into the present and near future?

It's hard for me to see what is driving current "tech" culture. I'm loath to even call it that because so much of it is not really tech but attempts to hack business or regulatory processes, often without regard for ethics or social impact. "hacking" sounds like a better term than "tech" for most "exciting startups" right now.

See, I don't know, and I like to think that if I did I'd write a famous book about it or something, but it's just hard to say. On the one hand, it's a bit unfair of me to sort of present it as "post WWII capitalism ruined everything," even if only in the idealist sense that I'm a leftist and would generally maintain that capitalism always ruined everything. But also in the real sense that, while the Bell system (like the railroads) was very wrapped up in this spiritual American ideal of expansion, it also served the primary purpose of making a few founders and investors extremely rich. It's not like enriching the shareholders was invented in 1950.

On the other hand, it's hard not to feel like there is something qualitatively different about the barons (and their businesses) of the 19th to early 20th century and what we have today. Consider some of the great business empires of the early 20th century - General Electric, Standard Oil, the AT&SF... They were viewed as practically synonymous with the American ideal (a view which is clearly myopic in consideration of e.g. their treatment of labor, but which I think was nonetheless widely held). Then look at some of our biggest companies today... The FAANG companies, but also Wal-Mart, the oil companies... almost as a rule they are mired in controversy and entangled in politics in a way that is far more publicly visible than the (equally deep) entanglement of earlier companies.

Perhaps the first part is the, well, bad part: major industries in the early 20th century were, broadly speaking, not at all above bribing government officials and pulling of remarkably dastardly schemes to get legislation and policy changed in their favor. But it seems like this generally played out outside of the public view and was often only discovered later. On the other hand, modern tech companies are still assaulting the law head-on but do it in an extremely public way, more or less using their customers as the ammunition. They're just much more visibly scofflaws. Part of this might reflect simple power dynamics... Uber no longer needs to bring in the Pinkertons to quash a labor revolt, they can basically just say "no" and apply a little sedition and they get their way due to scale. Not to say that I think they're necessarily above putting down a strike by force, but it's 2020 - the strike will never happen in the first place [you might detect that I am a leftist, but a cynical one].

I think a big part of the picture though has to do with the modern financial ecosystem. Most of the titans of old were associated with a prominent founder, and most of them were just as much big personalities as Steve Jobs. It's somewhat amusing to see the discussion of "fake news" as such a modern phenomena when newspaper giant W. R. Hearst had a nearly national fleet of papers publishing exclusively his own opinions for decades. Just in the telephone system, Bell was not only an important inventor but also a very rabid advocate of some downright detestable viewpoints - he was a big supporter of compulsory sterilization of the poor. You might call him sort of a Peter Thiel of his day, although I'm not sure which of those two I'm being more unkind to with that comparison.

We still have this kinds of big personalities today, bizarre opinions and temper tantrums to boot (Elon Musk provides enough drama to make up for a dozen sane "founders"). But with limited exceptions even with multi-class stock and bizarre ownership schemes and all I just don't think they have the kind of single-handed power over their companies that was common a century ago. This has a tendency to push all companies towards behavior that is desirable for the investors rather than desirable for the founders. On top of that, there's sort of an odd split-brained system where, in the tech industry, investors tend to be broadly split into institutional investors that buy into established companies and want stability and growth (e.g. turning Google more and more away from a quirky tech company and into another Oracle), and venture capitalists, Masayoshi Son a particularly dramatic example, who are playing by their own rulebooks that for the most part emphasize growth above all else. Growth has always been desirable for companies but at a degree it becomes pathological, and venture capital seems engineered to push companies to this point as rapidly as possible.

Cyrus Holliday of the AT&SF was a founder and, like many of the time and many today, also a politician. His investors were many but they were largely looking for growth that was steady rather than exponential. Railroads in general "disrupted" transportation but no one at the time was looking at it that way, and many of the decisions made (such as the land grant arrangement) were very much long-term plays rather than short-term ones---aimed towards building a physical empire, not merely a large customer base. Really my point is, though, Holliday and his successors were basically trusted to make decisions on their own with comparatively little pressure from investors (who couldn't even practically be involved day to day because it took time for news to travel), and through a slow, plodding approach to growth they more or less made the anglo Southwest from whole cloth.

Investors today just don't seem to do that kind of thing... they either want exponential growth with almost no concern paid to other issues (where users go, the money will follow, they seem to think, although centuries of experience have shown that this is not a safe assumption), or they want to stabilize their portfolio by getting businesses to act just like all of the others. While the "tech community" has a real obsession with charismatic founders, it seems like the success of companies is more or less correlated with how little power the founder actually wields. WeWork imploded while SpaceX has given Elon Musk a play set to keep him busy while they do the actual work. Once tech companies reach a certain size the undergo a slow and very awkward transition from one to the other, more or less once they reach the point where exponential growth is no longer possible because they already count just about everyone in several continents as a customer.

All just my opinions, but there they are.

In the entire history of the Bell System, no electromechanical exchange was ever down for more than 30 minutes for any reason other than a natural disaster or a major fire.

How many nines is that?

I miss Stargate SG-1.

I think it is incorrect to compare ambitious (crazy?) utopian projects of decades gone with the mundane bullshit contract style work you describe. If anything, there is more of these crazy projects to be found today. It just so happens we don't bother remembering the inane and mundane work, so all that we have of the past is large (fond) memories of projects like this one, or that awesome snow cruiser.

To an extent I’d agree.

A good example is SpaceX we now live in a world where rockets can launch payloads in a commercially viable way and then fly back to their drone ships to land... and it has become routine.

I remember watching the first successful landing in sheer and absolute awe, “we” as a species knew it was possible, the technology existed and some early starts had been made but it took one person and a boatload of cash to convert a folly into a mundane reality.

For all the stupid things musk does, He will always have some of my respect for bringing back the feeling I used to have as a kid in the 80’s watching a shuttle go up.

Had they not been able to make it work for whatever reason in the decades to follow it would have been regarded as one of those ambitious projects that never went anywhere.

Yes, there may be more of those crazy projects today, but a major difference is the way abstraction in software obscures the insanity of the bigger picture.

The current South Pole Station was designed by an architectural company based in Hawaii; I'd imagine the architects felt like they were working on a really cool project. In the station they designed, the dorm rooms all have windows without blackout curtains, but the sun rises and sets once a year at South Pole and there's an awful lot of ice outside. It's very bright there in the summer, and the dorms are hardly used for anything other than sleeping. There is a large pile of decorated pieces of repurposed cardboard that polies fit in the windows - I can assure you that decorating those window covers feels a bit silly, even if it is novel to play cut-and-paste with the world spinning around you.

Byrd's Snow Cruiser and the CMS made in word macros are more alike than different.

Halley VI is my favourite, it looks like something straight out of a Simon Stalenhag painting and yet is a practical design.


Compare the Snow train to the mundane shit I did, no I wouldn't, I realise that my comment, which at the time i made it was not the root of a tree, appears that I am. It was the antarctic snow cruiser, an absurd half backed con job, that was never ever going to work i resonated with, no the snow train is the antithesis, competent bold well executed.

fit2rule 40 days ago [flagged]

I too feel the melancholy with regards to massive engineering projects undertaken to provide one thing only: death at scale.

Imagine if we'd used these things to bring hospital and water purification supplies to the world, instead of building gigantic inhumane "defences" to kill our enemies.

Its a sad state of affairs when you realise all the cool shit is in the hands of a death cult.

But, then again, there's crazy things like Virgin Orbit dropping rockets off a 747 in the news today, and that's not all that bad. Perhaps, once we get to Mars, we'll finally have a planet at total peace.

This is such an interesting thing to discuss. Of course I agree with you, guns, war planes, missiles are obscene, every dollar spent on weapons when people are dying from dirty water is revolting, our armies seem to be deployed primarily to expand and protect empire. But while as a twenty year old I was firmly anti-military, got arrested at anti war protests, personally I began to look at the military differently after the Australian army's deployment to East Timor, in Bougainvile after the ceasefire, and the federal police deployment to the Solomons after the civil war - I believe these deployments protected civilians from real danger. Perhaps as I have come to understand my own limitations, I am less bold in my imagination as to how long it will take us as a species to transcend selfishness and violence. For the foreseeable future violence and war will be part of the human experience, this doesn't justify its glorification, it doesn't justify empire or drone strikes on weddings, but this realisation has utterly dismantled my previously held belief that abstaining from all preparation and participation in violence and war is the responsible, progressive position I thought it was. The abysmal quality of political debate doesn't require us to reduce the sophistication of our own thinking to simplistic characterisations, we're capable of understanding that state sanctioned violence at the police or military level is supported by both good and bad faith agendas, and perhaps only at the extremes it is possible to tell which is which.

I don't think it's a black and white thing. It's entirely possible to support Australia's peacekeeping deployments to Timor Leste and their humanitarian deployments after natural disasters while being opposed to their deployment to them murdering unarmed Afghan civilians.

I can't comment on other militaries, but the ADF does a lot of good, alongside the bad. They do a lot of critical work in the Asia-Pacific region, both peacekeeping and disaster recovery. At the end of the day, they're subject to the whims of whoever happens to be running the country at the time.

To quote the gun-loving Right, sometimes the only person can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The better solution is to prevent there from being bad guys with guns, but this isn't always possible.

> instead of building gigantic inhumane "defences" to kill our enemies.

In all seriousness:

A radar chain doesn't kill anyone.

I also understand why people are against the military but we need to see the context of all this:

1. The world had just suffered another large war because a large number of countries hadn't been able to defend themselves:

If Poland had been able to stop Hitler or if they'd been able to convince others to stop him the second world war hadn't started at that point.

2. After the second world war USSR quickly took over most of easter Europe. And unlike USA who hasn't always been to nice either the USSR didn't leave until early 90ies.

Having a plausible defense is important when you stand against a Hitler or a Stalin.

Every single bomb dropped 'in defence' is a hospital or water treatment plant that wasn't built, in peace.

Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander Europe the President - hell of a CV) has a famous speech known as the “Change for Peace” speech in which he expresses those sentiments exactly.

> Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

Sure, and if you don't do that then you'll be forced to build that bomb instead of having a choice. You have to be able to defend yourself. If you can't then somebody that's worse than you is going to come along and make you do their bidding.

But this isn't about bombs..! This is you trying to twist a discussion about an early warning system into a discussion about offensive weapons!

I am most thankful for all the bombs that were dropped on the territory of my country during the Nazi occupation, and I am thoroughly sad the USA didn't drop any during the Soviet occupation - the effects of that 40 years are prominent even today, maybe more so than in the 90's; the old communist elite had 30 years to rebuild their wealth and influence and they're trying very hard to get back in power, this time as "centrists".


What tells you I don't show any concern for these people? I simply illustrated that bombings can be appreciated, not that all bombings are OK.


If a bombing is what it takes, then a bombing it is. I don't care much what method would be used - of course I prefer the one with least dead civilians - but certainly what they actually did was not enough, and in result a whole country has been condemned to poverty and a mindset/life outlook so twisted, people outside hardly understand it[1]. Repairing the damage will take at least 30 more years, if not more; that's several entire generations of people merely surviving, not living.

I am not German, btw. I am Czech and I don't think Babis and Zeman are CIA operatives, but their relationship with StB/KGB is well documented.

[1] if you can find a translation of the movie Kouř, definitely watch it. It's an absurdist movie that is, at the same time, painfully realistic.

Ah, Czech problems. Yes, I can imagine its very frustrating to have grown up in such an environment, where duplicity and subterfuge were used to undermine the Czech people time and again. I believe we won't solve those kinds of problems with bombs, but rather education...

Today, most definitely. Back in 1946, the US army could've stayed a little longer.

> Perhaps, once we get to Mars, we'll finally have a planet at total peace.

And two planets at war. Mars-Hitler, whoever they are, born yet or not, will be quite the foe.

We repeat patterns. The gulf of interplanetary space is no obstacle to war, any more than the gulf of the oceans are.

This whole story is pretty interesting and so far removed from almost every new thing we see today, but that 50's-ish TournaTrain promo reel with its outlaw country soundtrack, it's just... chef's kiss

Speaking of Byrd and Snow Cruisers, may I recommend:

Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure


Thanks so much for the excellent rant.

As I clicked the link on the HN front page to read this, taking "a break" and feeling entirely burned out, the snow cruiser came to mind.

There's a good editorial waiting to be written about Byrd as his generation's Jobs.

I wonder did this somehow inspire The Amtrak Wars[0]?

(Probably not, but I'm loving the `strange(truth) > strange(fiction)`)

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amtrak_Wars

LOL, I'm showing my age — I was reminded instead of the Mammoth Car from the Speed Racer cartoon: https://youtu.be/EgSk7yEheLo

First thing I thought of! Especially the picture in the header.

Seconded. Perhaps the series is less obscure than I'd imagined.

Heard a legend that when USSR planned the manned Moon program, one of ideas for how to bring a humongous rocket to Baikonur was manufacture it in Moscow, then move by rivers to Caspian Sea and then move over land east, to the launch pads. For that purpose USSR started to construct a pretty big off-road vehicle - rather similar to what's pictured here, but dropped the project, as N-1 was decided to be built on Baikonur itself. Remnants of the vehicle surfaced somewhere on the Web...

Wonder if somebody could confirm or disprove this :) .

Yes, the diesel-electric ZiL-135Sh. [1][2] 120t payload, zero-turn radius. The prototype looks deceptively small, those are motorized Il-18 landing gears, and the payload was supposed to go on top of them. The full-scale vehicle was being tested but there are no photos left, apparently.

[1] http://www.gruzovikpress.ru/article/6377-zil-135sh-transport... (in Russian)

[2] https://truck-auto.info/zil/304-135sh.html (less info, some more photos of the prototype with the wheels turned 90)

So, in my industry, moving 10,000 tonne loads is routine(-ish).


Yeah, it was supposed to look similar but obviously non-modular and with less wheels. It was USSR in 1967, nothing like that was available, so they had to improvise. More like a wheeled version of NASA crawler-transporter designed to cover fairly long distances across Kazakh Steppes.

Thank you! Glad to read details :) .

Cool. But I wonder about this stat: 63 manned stations, "would need about 500 tons of materials to create all of these stations"

500 tons seems WAY low.

I think they dropped a 1,000 from it, so it should have said "need about 500,000 tons."

> 500 tons seems WAY low.

Yes, it sees "460,000 tons of materials were moved from the US and southern Canada to the Arctic by air, land, and sea" at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distant_Early_Warning_Line#Con...

This reminds me of the Speed Racer movie where one of the competitors in the race drove a land train made of pure gold.

Not sure what the plot was but they were the villan trying to hide the gold. Speed Racer had to use his steering-wheel-radial-menu to summon equipment embedded in his aerodymanic car (up against this extraordinarily heavy freighter with lots a drag).

I just posted about that and then saw your comment. See: https://youtu.be/EgSk7yEheLo

What kind of professional auto race allows a car the length and size of a train? Love that they green-lighted (greenlit?) that script.

Haha thank you for this. I was cracking up at so many things - 1500 HP per wheel as told to the inspector LOL. 500 mph on any kind of road. Over the top in so many ways, love it.

The signature sound it made when it was imposing in a scene resonates with me in such a deep, nostalgic way.

Not sure what the plot was but they were the villan trying to hide the gold.

Kids' show are not ones for sophisticated plots - "they were the villan trying to hide the gold" was the plot in total.

The Bond film Goldfinger featured a villain smuggling gold as parts of cars.

And the master Plan was to irradiate all the gold in Ft. Knox so it would be out-of-play for the duration of the half-life.

R.G. LeTourneau also built LeTourneau College to train his workforce. It's evolved into LeTourneau University, my alma mater. www.letu.edu

Whoa a fellow Letu grad in the wild! My wife and I graduated back when it was top flight school in the nation 2009. Beat out Embry Riddle and the Air Force Academy that year. She wasn't on the Sting team though, just a regular student. I worked for IT for a year before we moved off into the wild world.

When did you graduate? Are you into programming?

He was quite a character. I read his biography a few years ago after chasing down an internet rabbit hole of construction equipment. Very interesting read once you get past all the religious stuff.

Article is worth it just to watch the video of the land-train on the interstate in the 50s / early 60s, with all the classic cars maneuvering around it.

Oh, so I guess a real machine inspired this?


From the linked article, a juicy tidbit:


"Jungle Destroyer

The Morrow Project purchased two of these as driver training vehicles, and for heavy load carrying -- though also because the manufacturer had them "lying around" -- SAC had tested them in the late 1950s for clearing crashed bombers from runways in a hurry. The same width as the Overland Train (5.25 meters), these are 17.5 meters long and 5 meters tall (over the blade-lifting arm) -- 3.4 meters from the ground to the cargo deck. Weighing 50 tons unloaded, they can carry 95 tons of cargo. Similarly to the Control Car of the Overland Train, the four rear wheels are not steered; all shock-absorbing is from the low pressure tires.

When purchased by the Project, these were powered by a 600 HP Cummins diesel, driving an electrical generator; the Project removed the diesel engine and generator, and installed a fusion reactor. "


.. ummm .. what? A fusion reactor? Like, nuclear powered jungle destroyer? That is bonkers.

Glad these things didn't make it out of the Armys' toy box. Imagine what the world would be like if we had fusion-powered jungle destroyers on the market ..

EDIT: This picture is a sad end to this story:


Somehow it doesn't look so huge!

That seems to be from a different article: http://asmrb.pbworks.com/w/page/53070717/Morrow%20Project%20...

And, as the casual mentions of fusion reactors suggest, it is fiction: http://asmrb.pbworks.com/w/page/9958836/FrontPage

Well, it was linked in the original article directly, which used that page as a source reference for a lot of things, so .. if there is fiction, its sprinkled throughout the original source material.

Hm, maybe the thedrive.com article has been changed since then. I can only find one link to that page, in the final paragraph.

Its the link in the sentence "In the end, the TC-497 was also abandoned." - that I followed... interesting that they'd use an ARG as a reference on it ..

In Australia there are apparently civilian equivalents of this.


There are a couple Australian TV shows about these trucks and truckers: Outback Truckers (on Netflix in the US) and MegaTruckers.

It's interesting that it featured regenerative electric braking. Whilst regenerative braking is an old idea, I couldn't find an earlier example of this applied to electric regeneration. It seems the first mention of this in a car is 1967's AMC Amitron concept but this industrial use predates that by over a decade.

Some diesel electric trains had regenerative braking in the 1930s.

Pet Peeve: they break the back button on the browser

Not just a little broken; I’m literally unable to use the back button to leave the site. I had to use the long press feature to leave the site.

Firefox mobile

Works for me on Firefox for Android, but uBO is blocking 27 items.

Worked fine for me in Firefox on Android.

Not for me, Chrome 81.

Me neither. Chromium 83 with plenty of adblocking and privacy extensions.

Before reading the article I was planning to complain that a tractor pulling a few wagons in a, well, train does not an off-road train make.

But after reading the article, you know what, I’m willing to concede it’s an off-road train.

I remember seeing a documentary about this vehicle as a kid. Everything about it just seemed so oversized. I had not realized it was the heavy lift helicopters that eventually outmoded it. Kind of sad, since it can be handy to have the logistic capability to move thousands of tons when you can't fly.

It also got me wondering about what a Tesla version of this would look like :-)

The closest I can think of for "a Tesla version":


I am reminded of the Burning Man 747 in terms of "things that could be done with this".

Haha, I was thinking the same thing

I wonder if we might see something like this operate on Mars one day, to haul cargo from landing areas to inhabited areas (or mining operations). These were apparently doomed by heavy-lift helicopters, which likely won't be an option in the thinner atmosphere there.

I imagine this would make more sense now with electric motors and a diesel generator. You would get a massive cargo transport and also a diesel generator at the same time.

Still an helicopter might be more better, it just seems a nice thing to imagine, a beast like this moving around in these days.

The LeTourneau land trains were diesel-electric. What are you imagining being different?

I must have confused a few parts. I read in one somewhere in the article being gas powered.

My dad worked on one of the radar stations on the dew line in Canada. He's got some cool photos. Like photos of a Polar Bear looking in the windows of his cabin.

Off road, maybe, but it's still required to scout the terrain and find a proper itinerary, and possible bulldoze dirt or cut some trees.

Strikes me as wasteful and pointless, like a lot of military projects.

I wish we had a world with zepplins ferrying people around, land trains with several gas turbine engines, and nuclear powered aircraft. I'm bored of the same Material design web sites, phones that look the same, every apartment is the same, etc. I want imagination and crazy ideas to rule the world.

There used to be steam-powered and battery-powered cars in the early 20th Century. There was an Edison-Westinghouse war in electricity distribution.

Typically, a consensus is reached based on technical and economic limitations.

For example, nuclear-powered aircraft? You need shielding to protect the human crew. You also need a reactor that can survive a crash. That's why they use nuclear fuel for unmanned probes. There are no humans to protect, and it's a one-way trip.

It's my understanding that if not for the development of ICBMs, the US might have created cruise missiles powered by unshielded nuclear reactors. They got as far as running a prototype engine for five minutes, but the whole project became pointless when it became clear ICBMs would work.


Russia has seemingly been developing this same sort of technology in recent years. Presumably this is in response to anti-ballistic missile technology calling into question the future effectiveness of ICBMs.


Shielding is all probably doable, but still really hard and questionable. Here's a good chapter on the Human Factors of Nuclear Powered Flight: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015001555146&vi...

Well if it makes you feel better, the US government spent about 1 billion 1950s dollars on nuclear powered aircraft between 1949 and 1959. Some remnants can still be viewed, e.g. in the parking lot of the EBR-1 museum near Arco, ID, which usually opens around Memorial Day if you're in the Snake River Valley area.

One spin-off out of these is molten salt reactor technology, which was adapted from airplanes to power reactors in the 1960s, but died anyway, along with about a half-dozen other "crazy" reactor technologies intent on making economical nuclear power.


If you did, you’d be bored of zeppelins and land trains.

Unfortunately, this happens because reaching a consensus helps in scaling that product/tech/design which in turn means more of that same thing.

Hold my beer..

WARNING: back button hijack. now on my blacklist.

non-user-hostile link: https://outline.com/PUh9a5

Really? A “warning?” A warning is appropriate for malware, but a faulty UX? That’s a bit extreme.

Back button works fine on Safari for iOS.


Read a few more sentences in?

> visible from space on Google Maps.

Note that google maps imagery is generally taken from airplanes not satellites.

Except the imagery they link to is actual satellite imagery from Maxar, a space company that sells orbital Earth observation imagery.

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