Over The Years

by Dr. Thomas C. Poulter

Text excerpt from pages 77 through 85

There was some discussion when we were at Advance Base in 1934 as to what type of vehicle would make the ideal exploration mobile, and we decided it would have to operate as a portable base and from which a plane could also operate.

In 1938 Governor Gruening of Alaska, Dick Black and others in Washington began discussions about the possibility of an Antarctic Expedition supported by the various armed services' branches. I was called to Washington to discuss it with a Congressional Committee.

As it began to look more and more like an expedition was going to develop, I proposed to ARF that I start immediately on the design of a Snow Cruiser. The President of Chicago Bridge & Iron started it off by donating $5,000 to the cause. The Whiting Corporation, whose President was a Director of ARF agreed to fabricate the wheels. I contacted the BEECHCRAFT Corporation and they donated a plane. The Cummins Diesel Corporation agreed to supply the two diesel engines. My good friend, Paul Foote, Director of Gulf Research and Development, who owned the die for the ten foot high 33" wide marsh buggy tires, offered me the loan of the mold to have the Goodyear Company make up the six tires that I needed. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber made a big thing by publicizing it as their 300,000,000 tire and many pictures and movies were taken of the event. We had only 4 of the tires shipped to Chicago and then stopped at the Goodyear plant in Akron Ohio and picked up the other 2, which had been mounted on rims, and were put in the tail compartment of the Cruiser enroute to Boston.

General Electric Company agreed to supply the two generators and the 4 motors for the wheels. Hundreds of other contributors made the whole venture possible. The Pullman Standard Car Company agreed to build it for a low figure. I put the head of the drafting department of IIT in charge of making up the working drawing from my sketches. He and his staff turned out drawings at a rapid rate. The machine was driven from the Pullman Standard yard just six months from the time we started the design. It was first driven to Grant Park in Chicago's Loop to demonstrate it's maneuverability to the public before starting for Boston over the highways.

The Army picked out the route and each State's highway patrol met us at the stateline to escort us across the state. They stopped all oncoming traffic and had planned to let traffic accumulate behind us for an hour, then pull out and let it pass. This was tried twice and 90% of them went down the highway and parked to await our arrival. The machine was 55' long, 22' wide and 14' feet high and had the capability of being raised or lowered 4 feet. All bridges and underpasses had to be checked. We passed over one bridge at Warsaw Indiana with only 3/4" clearance on both sides. We made a special stop in New York state so blind children could 'get a feel for the size of it'.

During the early stages of design I asked Clate Dohrenwend to make an analysis to determine the size of 'I" beams necessary for the frame. From our ditching machine design I had estimated six inch beams would be adequate, but Clate calculated that they should be twelve inches. We followed his advice and fortunately so. When we hit the ditch at Gomer Ohio, I am sure six inch beams would have been insufficient to handle the stress.

International Harvester had given us a truck which was traveling with us to Boston, and would be returned for use at ARF after the trip. Some of the news reporters who traveled with us, but not at our command, were sending their messages to their newspapers by carrier pigeons.

I was at the controls, which were levers and valves, until we got near Gomer Ohio and then Al Wade, our geologist, took over. As we were crossing a narrow bridge he got a bit too close to one side and the left front wheel caught the cement wall causing a hydraulic line to break, and we headed for the ditch. There were several persons on board, a man from General Electric, one from Akron, and one from Lincoln Electric of Chicago. Some of them and Helen were riding in the open tail portion and they jumped as we went in the ditch.

We were there a couple of days jacking it up and repairing the hydraulic line and backing onto the road again. The highway patrol calculated that on that weekend more than 100,000 people came to see the scene. It was a cold October weekend and it was reported that the general stores in the small towns around sold out their supply of gloves and scarfs as well as the markets getting rid of all their bread, donuts, and cookies. People were reluctant to leave the area as long as we were there. A nearby farmer complained to the patrol that people were parking in his field and damaging his crop. The police told him to charge -:hem to get out, which he did, and made more than the crop would have produced.

The motor which was damaged had to be replaced at GE in Schenectady New York and then we departed on the last leg to Boston. On several occasions particularly near small towns the traffic would be so contested that we would stop as if for the night, and we would try to get some rest, hoping they would get tired and go home and then in the early morning hours we would proceed.

Even with our delays we arrived in Boston about on schedule. It having taken 3 weeks to make the trip - often at 3 mph, and once at 20 mph which caused a seasick sensation due to the bouncing motion. Since the Cruiser was to be loaded crosswise of the ship just forward of the bridge, that space was filled with drums of oil to bring the surface level with the railing. The Cruiser was too long and so the last 10' of the tail was cut off - to be welded on once we reached the ice. There was a good machine shop aboard as well as a complete galley and comfortable living quarters.

We waited until the tide brought the ship level with the dock and secured it tightly to the pier and I drove the Cruiser aboard. The space between the ship and the dock was two feet but that didn't bother as the size of the front wheels alleviated that problem. Once aboard we anchored it securely to the railing, loaded the tail aboard and were ready to take off. However, we went to Philadelphia where we sat for a week while waiting for REB (Richard E. Byrd) to make a decision.

We went south through the Panama Canal and from there to NZ and then to the ice. We were all very busy on the way south finishing the crane for lifting the Beechcraft on and off the top of the Cruiser while on the ice. The Beechcraft meanwhile was on the well deck of the NORTH STAR. We Cruiser crew lived in the quarters of the machine and in some rough weather when the ship rolled considerably some slack developed in the chains and Al Wade called to me one night, "Doc she's slipping." We immediately got up and tightened the turnbuckles in the anchoring chains and went back to our bunks.

While we were in Panama we had some steel beams made up with a pair of 12" I beams placed far enough apart so the tires would go between. These were just long enough to reach from the ship's railing to the cribbing we planned to build on the ice. We had some long poles about 18" in diameter to extend from the end of the steel beams to the ice. When I was placing these poles so they would be under the wheels, Captain Lystad objected and insisted they be out further. Crosswise on these poles we placed 3" x 12" planks. The way the Captain indicated was to place a pole to each side of each tire. I didn't like it, but he overuled me.

When everything was ready the Admiral insisted on riding on top of the cruiser with the radio operator who was going to direct me. Off we went and when the front wheels were about one-third the way down the ramp, what I was afraid of, happened. The 3" x 12" planks broke and we dropped about 3 feet, stalled momentarily and Ferranto, the radio operator yelled, "Gun it, Doc." I did and off we went and I didn't stop until I was 200 feet from the edge even though I ran over a pile of bamboo poles. When the planks broke, the Admiral and Ferranto both fell down, but rode it the rest of the way.

The day before unloading, Ferranto, Wade and I skiied up the Bay to pick out a route for the Cruiser's approach to camp, which was about three miles. It was Ferranto's first day on skiis and he was having a great time. We were skiing along with a vertical wall of Barrier ice to our left, but snow had drifted in so he could climb part way up and ski down onto the Bay ice. About half way to our destination we looked back and there were three Adelie penguins headed our way. They were moving faster than we and were catching up to us. When they got closer we stopped to watch and all three began to attack Ferranto grabbing hold of him with their beaks and pounding him with their flippers. He got tangled in his skiis and fell down and they continued their attack. Wade and I had a big laugh and Ferranto decided he had been duly initiated.

The camp site was chosen in relation to the route of the Cruiser and in a couple of days we started driving it across the terrain to its parking place. Enroute I realized the gear ratio in our drive would have to be changed in order to negotiate the type of traveling we wanted to do, and since the expedition was to be in the field for two years, I could make the modifications and get the parts back so the machine could be used the second year. But that was not to be. The war situation made it necessary to discontinue the expedition at the end of the first year. However, the Beechcraft was used extensively along with the other plane that was left at West Base. The crew lived on the Cruiser, and Ferranto used the radio as the main equipment and the diesel fuel kept the camp warm. In 1964 I didn't go into Little America, but others said all the visitors had stripped the Cruiser clean, including a cylinder head off an engine. A few years later a huge piece of Bay ice broke off taking the old camp and the Snow Cruiser remains to sea. Later a ship passing this iceberg saw a part of the camp.

There were two important developments that were related to the design of the Snow Cruiser. Mr. R. G. LeTourneau told me when he saw the Snow Cruiser in Chicago that he had decided to incorporate my idea of having an electric motor in each wheel of a train and have the electric generator in a separate locomotive unit.

One was to be a snow train. I was extensively involved in the testing of this first unit in heavy snow at Houghton, Michigan. This unit finally developed into the snow train that was used in the establishment of the Dew Line Stations across northern Alaska and Canada. The tires on it were four feet wide and ten feet high. Some of these snow trains had as many as six or eight cars behind the locomotive. Similar trains were also built for the Army for off-road transportation.

Mr. LeTourneau used the electric motor in the wheel extensively in the design of many other large units for cleaning forested areas. The most exotic of which was a huge unit which would push over large trees and then run over them. It could clear an acre of heavily forested area in fifteen minutes and was used primarily in the jungle bordering the Equator.

The second unit that was related to the Snow Cruiser was a large amphibious barge. The Transportation Corps asked Rod Stephens who designed the Army DUWK, Richard Kerr who was in charge of offroad transportation for the Arabian American Oil Company and myself to design such a unit for them. This was done and became known as the BARC or Barge Amphibious Resupply Cargo.

I was given the job of testing it for withstanding severe jolts that would be expected when coming in through heavy surf with a heavy load. For these tests we jacked it up to various heights, up to two feet and supported it on H beams in holes in the concrete floor. The H beams had three inch diameter and 18 inch long pins through them which could be cut simultaneously by means of explosives. The BARC would therefore be dropped on its tires. With accelerometers mounted on the BARC we could determine the forces involved. These pins were similar to those developed by the Poulter Laboratories and now being used to separate the various stages of space missiles while in flight.

The BARC was powered by diesel engines mounted between the front and rear wheels on either side. It had two four foot diameter water propellers for use when traveling in water. The cargo compartment had a ramp across the front which could be let down for loading or unloading motorized vehicles. The cargo space was intended to carry loads up to fifty tons including our longest Army tank in such a position that its guns were operative. In actual tests it met all specifications, including taking a 50 ton load up a 50% grade.

An interesting thing happened during our testing program at Renton, Washington, where they were built at the Pacific Car and Foundry Company. Our SRI photographer, Walter Lawton, came down to the beach with several cartons of photoflash bulbs and when he opened the boxes they had all been fired. He went back for another supply and inspected them before returning to the beach where we were testing. Again, he opened the cartons to find they had been fired. It developed that on his route to the beach he had passed directly in front of a strong radar beam. He tested a single bulb by carrying it down in his hand and when in front of the radar it too fired. A third supply carried by a different route brought successful pictures.

We then developed launching ramps so that the BARC could be carried on the deck of a ship and launched into water to transport the cargo of the ship for any landing operation without the necessity of a pier. To test this the BARC was taken to Monterey on the deck of an LST and side-launched into the bay. We also wanted to make some beach-landing tests in heavy surf.

It made many successful landings there with the surf running fifteen feet or more. We also had an Army DUKW there negotiating the same surf but with much more difficulty. After these tests were completed the BARC was to be towed to San Francisco by a large Army tug. This was to be done at night and there was no communication between the BARC and the tugboat and there was a half mile of cable between them. They were traveling too fast and the BARC was eventually swamped with waves and filled with water and was towed under. The tug didn't realize that anything was amiss until the towing cable parted and then it was too late. This happened a few miles south of Ano Nuevo Island and the BARC went down in 320 feet of water and both men who were on board were drowned. It was later raised and reconditioned. Many more units were built by the same Company and used in various places around the world.

This page last updated: 07 October 2003