Life Magazine - 13 November, 1939

  Giant Snow Cruiser Comes To Grief In Ohio Cow Pasture

Newest invention in polar exploration is the $150,000 snow cruiser (LIFE. Oct. 30) which Admiral Richard Byrd plans to take with him on his Antarctic expedition, due to leave Boston Nov. 9. Designed and operated by the Research Foundation of the Armour Institute in Chicago, the man-made pachyderm weighs 37 tons, carries a crew of four men, is built to go 5,000 miles at a cruising speed of 10 m.p.h. In practice, however, it has been a disappointment so far.

The snow cruiser's initial scrape came when it got stuck beneath the 39th Street viaduct on Chicago's Outer Drive during its first test run. After 15 minutes it was dislodged but it could not quite make Grant Park, its first overnight stop, and had to be parked instead in a regular parking lot near Soldier Field.

The first trial run was in Chicago. Oct. 14, prior to a 1,100-mile run to Boston. Over 13 miles of smoothly paved streets, the cruiser managed to make only 10 m.p.h., although its top speed is supposed to be 25. It had difficulty turning corners, stopped suddenly, completely and without explanation twice, and got stuck for 15 minutes under a viaduct.

Next day the trip to Boston began. The cruiser rolled into Gary, Ind., at speeds up to 20 m.p.h., and was taken off the main road for a brief test in climbing "snowdrifts." In this case the snowdrift was a sand dune 19, ft. high. Six tries failed, but on the seventh the cruiser went over the top with the help of a 50-ft. running start.

In Mrs. Cleo Watkin's cow pasture near Gomer, Ohio, the $150,000 polar invention settled nose first in a shallow 10-ft. stream named Pine Run. Thousands of curious people came to see the weird sight of a 55-ft.long snow cruiser lying helpless a few yards off the famous transcontinental Lincoln Highway.

On the road to Boston again the cruiser had a minor collision with a truck in Columbia City, Ind. Next day it struck the corner of a bridge near Gomer, Ohio, and careened downhill into Pine Run, a 10-ft. stream. There, in the middle of Mrs. Cleo Watkin's cow pasture, it lay helpless with its nose buried in a mud bank. After 70 hours of rescue work, the cruiser was hauled back on the road. Undaunted it started off for Boston and the Antarctic once more. Meanwhile from Boston, word had come that Byrd might have to push off before the lumbering snow cruiser arrived.

Cruiser is so wide (18 ft.) that it almost covers a two-lane concrete highway. Its size can be gathered by comparing it with the boy on the bicycle at the right.

This page last updated: 03 October 2003