Gary Post-Tribune, Thursday, 26 October, 1939

Snow Ship Bests Sand, Moves East
Byrd Antarctic Cruiser Glides on Toward Boston After Shakedown Test Over Gary Dunes; Thousands Watch Performance

Like a prehistoric giant the monster 37-ton snow cruiser built for the Byrd Antarctic expedition crawled over Gary sand hills near Ridge Road and Cleveland today in its final shakedown test before gliding east over concrete roadways toward Boston. The metal behemoth is shown here as it reached the top of a dune during its trial. Note the small skylight in the roof which is the only window in the section where five men will live during a year at the south pole.

A sleek, 75,000-pound mechanical monster maneuvered for three hours this morning over the sand hills south of Ridge road where the WPA is cutting Cleveland street through to 45th avenue, and then silently moved eastward on U. S. 6 at a speed of 12 miles per hour.

At the controls 15 feet above the ground sat Dr. Thomas C. Poulter, scientific director of Armour Institute's research foundation and designer of the spectacular land craft which Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd will take with him on his third antarctic expedition.

It was the much publicized snow cruiser, streamlined and beautiful with its bright red quarter-inch metal body streaked with bands of silver and the American flag streaming out behind shipwise.

5,000 Watch Ship

A crowd of a few hundred greeted the ship when it reached the western city limits of Gary about 7:30 a. m. This number was swelled to a number estimated by police at 5,000 before it departed about 10:30 for Fort Wayne, where it is scheduled to park overnight.

The first tests of the snow cruiser's pulling power were made here today and officials of the ship declared it surpassed expectations. So interested were they in the outcome of the tests that none of the crew stopped for breakfast.

Turning off the highway into the new sandy road cut through the oak-covered sandhills just west of Grant street, the grotesque vehicle pointed for a spot on the ridge with a 40 percent grade. After three trials, it negotiated the uneven assent and rested with the two giant front wheels atop the crest. It then backed down to the road again and proceeded to a hill with a 20 percent grade.

The machine was designed to climb a 37 percent grade with the two 150 horsepower Diesel engines; it had mastered the 40 percent grade with only one engine in operation while the wheels sank a full foot into the sand. The crew was overjoyed.

Four tests were made on the lesser grade with one engine and two with the second engine to adjust the generators, it was explained by Charles Meyer, chief machinist mate of the U. S. navy, who has been assigned as engineer of the snow cruiser. He recently came from the U. S. S. Lexington but prior to that was on the staff of the naval experimental laboratory on Puget sound.

The crowd was disappointed that the monster machine did not go over the top of the hills. This was unnecessary for the test, it was explained, and involved only the lifting of the rear of the ship.

The cruiser will carry 20,000 gallons of fuel oil on its southland voyage, but was filled with only 5,000 gallons for its trip from Chicago, but it is estimated that it will average from 1-1/2 to 2 miles a gallon with both engines operating in rough travel, and about 4 miles a gallon on a smooth trip such as the maiden land cruise it is now making.

The Only Troubles

The giant tires amazed many. They are 10 feet in diameter, perfectly smooth, and carry only 15 pounds of air. When the weight of the craft is thrown onto one wheel as it lumbers over an uneven spot, the tire flattens out. Rubber freezes at 65 degrees below zero and would cause the wheel to spin if the air pressure were higher, engineers figured out. Chains will be used, however, when necessary, Engineer Meyer said.

Most trouble was experienced with the hydraulic mechanism which operates to elevate or depress each of the four wheels as required. Some oil leaks have developed, but this was expected during the "shake-down cruise," the engineer claimed.

C. D. Cummins, of the Cummins Engine Co., Columbus, Ind., builder of the snow cruiser engines accompanied the ship on its initial trip to assist in making mechanical adjustments.

With Dr. Poulter on the trial cruise are two other members of the Antarctic crew, Meyer and Felix Feranto, U. S. Marine corps radiomen. Joining them later will be Dr. Alton Wade, scientist and commander, and Theodore Petras, marine corps pilot for the airplane the cruiser will carry on its back in the polar region. Petras has gone to Wienita, Kas., to get the plane for the ship and will fly it to Boston this week.

The land cruise is being directed by Dr. F. W. Godwin, research director of the Armour Institute of Technology, Chicago, whose research foundation is sponsoring the snow cruise project. In his private car he precedes the ship.

Watched By Police

The ship was met at the state line west of Hammond at 5:30 a. m. by six state police who conveyed the expedition as far as Plymouth, where a new contingent of state police were to relieve them. Traffic was held back or ordered to park on the side of the highway as the ship passed by.

The cruiser's dimensions are 55 feet long and 20 feet wide. In the rear is a spacious storage room, which houses two spare wheels and leaves room for other equipment. The living quarters are in the middle of the ship, which is lined with 3 inches of rockwool and glass. There are now windows on the sides but a large skylight above. The fuel tank is between the living cabin and the engine room. Under the control room is a machine shop and laboratory. The single entrance is a door, airplane design, between the engine room and the laboratory. This entranceway leads to the controlroom ladder.

Members of the crew scoff at the idea that the ship lacks power to do all that may be expected of it. There are 28 power combinations built into the craft to assure locomotion, the engineer said. It has a cruising range of 5,000 miles, accommodations for five men and will carry fuel and provisions for a year of exploration. On the bottom of the ship are five metal runners to assist it along the surface in rough spots.

Dr. Poulter remained in the control room practically all the time the ship was in Gary, coming out only to check with the engineer. The public was excluded from the interior of the cruiser.

Rear Admiral Byrd will take the ship with him when he leaves Boston about Nov. 1 on a three-year expedition to Antarctica to explore and establish the United States claim to antarctic regions.

The trip to Boston will take eight days, Dr. Poulter plans, with overnight stops at Fort Wayne, Mansfield, O.; Akron, O.; Fredonia, N. Y.; Auburn, N. Y.; Albany, N. Y.; Framingham, Mass., and Boston.

This page last updated: 12 August 2000