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Antarctic Snow Cruiser

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Title: Antarctic Snow Cruiser  
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Subject: Off-road vehicle, Little America (exploration base), United States Antarctic Service Expedition
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Antarctic Snow Cruiser

The Antarctic Snow Cruiser was a vehicle designed from 1937 to 1939 under the direction of Thomas Poulter, intended to facilitate transport in Antarctica. While having several innovative features, it generally failed to operate as hoped under the difficult conditions, and was eventually abandoned in Antarctica. Rediscovered under a deep layer of snow in 1958, it later disappeared again due to shifting ice conditions.

The Snow Cruiser was also known as "The Penguin," "Penguin 1" or "Turtle"[1] in some published material.

The Snow Cruiser was featured in the novel Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler


Design and construction

On April 29, 1939, Poulter and The Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology showed the plans to officials in Washington, D.C.. The Research Foundation would finance the cost and oversee the construction, and then loan the vehicle to the United States Antarctic Service. Work began on August 8, 1939 and lasted for 11 weeks. On October 24, 1939, the vehicle was fired-up for the first time at the Pullman Company in Gary, Indiana (near Chicago) and began the 1,640 km (1,020 mi) journey to the Boston Army Wharf. During the trip, a damaged steering system caused the vehicle to drive off a small bridge on the Lincoln Highway and into a stream near the town of Gomer, Ohio near Lima, Ohio, where it remained for 3 days. After it arrived in Boston, it departed for Antarctica on November 15, 1939 aboard the ship the North Star.

Arrival in the Antarctic

The Snow Cruiser arrived at Little America in the Bay of Whales, Antarctica with United States Antarctic Service Expedition in early January 1940 and experienced many problems. It was necessary to construct a ramp from timber to unload the vehicle. As the vehicle was unloaded from the ship, one of the wheels broke though the ramp. The crew cheered when Poulter powered the vehicle free from the ramp but the cheers fell silent when the vehicle failed to move through the snow and ice. The large, smooth, tread-less tires were originally designed for a large swamp vehicle; they spun freely and provided very little forward movement, sinking as much a 3 feet (0.91 m) into the snow. The crew attached the two spare tires to the front wheels of the vehicle and installed chains on the rear wheels, but were unable to overcome the lack of traction. The crew later found that the tires produced more traction when driven backwards. The longest trek was 92 miles (148 km) -- driven completely in reverse. On January 24, 1940, Poulter returned to the US, leaving F. Alton Wade in charge of a partial crew. The scientists conducted seismologic experiments, cosmic-ray measurements, and ice core sampling while living in the snow- and timber-covered Snow Cruiser. Funding for the project was canceled as the focus in the United States became World War II.

Rediscovery and final fate

In the late 1940s, an expedition team found the vehicle and discovered it needed only air in the tires and some servicing to make it operational. In 1958, an international expedition uncovered the snow cruiser using a bulldozer. It was covered by several feet of snow but a long bamboo pole marked its position. They were able to dig down to the location of the bottom of the wheels and accurately measure the amount of snowfall since it was abandoned. Inside, the vehicle was exactly as the crew had left it, with papers, magazines, and cigarettes scattered all around. Later expeditions reported no trace of the vehicle. Although there was some unsubstantiated speculation that the (traction-less) Snow Cruiser was taken by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the vehicle most likely is either at the bottom of the Southern Ocean or buried deep under snow and ice. Antarctic ice is in constant motion and the ice shelf is constantly moving out to sea. In the mid-1960s, a large chunk of the Ross Ice Shelf broke off and drifted away; the break occurred right through Little America. It is not known on which side of the ice shelf the Snow Cruiser was located.


  • Length: 17.0 meters (55 feet 8 inches)
  • Width: 6.06 meters (19 feet 10.5 inches)
  • Height (wheels retracted): 3.7 meters (12 ft)
  • Height (wheels extended): 4.9 meters (16 ft)
  • Fully loaded Weight: 34,000 kg (75,000 pounds)
  • Range: 5,000 miles (8,000 km)
  • Maximum Speed: 48 km/hour (30 miles/hour)
  • Self-Sufficiency: 1 year under the most extreme conditions
  • Fuel Capacity: 9,463 liters (2,500 US gallons) stored under the floor
  • Additional Fuel Capacity: 3,785 liters (1,000 US gallons) stored on the roof, to be used by the plane
  • Crew Size: 5 people
  • Estimated Final Cost: $300,000
  • Cabin Compartments: control cabin, machine shop, combination kitchen/darkroom, storage for fuel, food, two spare tires

Powertrain Specifications

  • Powertrain Configuration: Diesel-Electric Hybrid (2 diesel engines, 2 generators, 4 electric motors)
  • Diesel Engine Model: Cummins H-6 engine
  • Diesel Engine Power Rating: 112 kW (150 horsepower) @ 1800 rpm -- 224 kW (300 horsepower) total combined power for 2 engines
  • Diesel Engine Configuration: 6-cylinder inline; naturally aspirated
  • Diesel Engine Displacement: 11.0 liters (672 cubic inches)
  • Diesel Engine Bore and Stroke: 124 mm (4 7/8 inch) bore x 152 mm (6 inch) stroke
  • Electric Generator Manufacturer: General Electric
  • Electric Drive Motor Manufacturer: General Electric
  • Electric Drive Motor Power Rating: 56 kW (75 horsepower) -- 224 kW (300 horsepower) total combined power for 4 motors
  • Tire Manufacturer: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company
  • Tire Dimensions: 3048 mm (120 inch) outer diameter x 1676 mm (66 inch) inner diameter x 851 mm (33.5 inch) width

Innovative Features

  • 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.
  • A pad on top of the vehicle was designed to hold a small aircraft (a 5-passenger Beechcraft biplane.) A winch would pull the aircraft into place. The plane was to be used to conduct aerial surveys.
  • Engine coolant circulated through the entire cabin for heating. The heating system was very efficient and the crew reported that they needed only light blankets when sleeping.
  • Excess electrical power could be stored in batteries for running lights and equipment when the engine was not running.
  • The Diesel-Electric drive train allowed for smaller engines and more space for the crew, due to the elimination of large mechanical drive components throughout the vehicle. This is possibly the first application of a diesel-electric powertrain in a 4-wheeled vehicle of this size; this design is now common in large modern mining trucks.


See also

External links

  • The Antarctic Snow Cruiser
  • Snow cruiser history
  • Reprint of article from Invention & Technology Magazine
  • The Antarctic Edsel by Bob Hanes
  • "Planting The Stars And Stripes In The Antarctic" Popular Science, November 1939, Reprint of an article from Popular Science magazine
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