Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Three Degrees of Separation

Paul Harvey had a radio spot for decades at noon on WGN and other stations.  He was probably just as much a daily routine for many as brushing teeth in the morning.  His winsome style was addictive and his historical nuggets contained fascinating bits of fact that were forgotten or unknown.  He closed his segments with, the famous, "And now you know……(long pause)…..the rest of the story."
Who doesn't enjoy historical trivia?  Today I bring you a forgotten or unknown bit of history that was recently relayed to me by long-time Existing In BFE reader, Russell Foust.  Russ is a Norfolk, Nebraska resident and classmate of mine at Iowa Wesleyan College.  Russ is also a brother in the bond of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.  And now the rest of the story… 

Dr. Thomas Poulter was a physics professor at my Alma mater, Iowa Wesleyan College.  Richard Byrd, the Antarctic explorer, yes, the famous James Byrd, picked Dr. Poulter as his second in command for his second Antarctic trip to the South Pole in 1939.  In fact, Dr, Poulter, according to Byrd said Dr. Poulter saved his life in one of the expeditions.  Before I forget I should also tell you that one of Dr. Poulter's students was a fellow by the name of James Van Allen who would later discover the Van Allen Belt.    


Dr. Thomas Poulter

After his first expedition, and while he was associated with the Armour Institute of Technology which would later become the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.  He devised plans for the Snow Cruiser, aka, Penguin 1 for the second expedition.  





At a cost of $300,000, this behemoth also dubbed Big Bertha was the biggest single construction equipment ever built.  $300,000 adjusted to today's value would be just a tad shy of $5,000,000.  



Complete with living quarters for 5 people with ability to go a year without re-supply.  It was 55 feet long, 19 feet wide and could travel at a speed of 30 mph. The wheels and tires retracted into the body thus allowing the heat of the engine to keep the wheels from getting clogged with snow and ice.

Since crevasses are a constant hindrance this guy had unique ability to retract the front wheels and the rear wheels would push it over any crevasse up to 15 feet wide.  Them the front wheels would pop out, the rear wheels would retract, and the machine would then drag the rest of the body over the hole.

Engine anti-freeze was circulated throughout the living compartment area in various pipes to provide warmth. it also had space on top for a small biplane for scouting expeditions.





Once it was built it was actually driven 1,020 miles from Gary Indiana after it was built by the Pullman Company to Boston Wharf, where it was then loaded on a ship to be transported to the Antartcic.    







This video shows the Snow Cruiser coming off the ship in the arctic.  They misjudged the weight and planking of the bridge, but Dr, Poulter was at the helm and stepped on it and soon was on firm ground, or rather, firm ice.  

What the masterminds didn't quite get right was the tires.  Instead of tracks like a tank the Snow Cruiser had bald Firestone tires.  Tires that didn't have the ability to gain any traction in snow.  Not only that but the weight of Big Bertha made it sink some 3 feet into the snow.  It simply couldn't move around down there and it was soon abandoned.  With the world soon to wage war, other projects required funds, and arctic expeditions were moved to the back burner.  The entire expedition returned to America and the Cruiser was draped in canvas and framed by timbers to help it survive.  

Two subsequent expedition, one in the late 40's and one in the late '50's found the cruiser but it was slowly becoming encased in the glacier.  After that it was no longer to be seen and speculation is that it is either at the bottom of the Southern Ocean or encased in several feet of the ice pack.  The land is forever moving, calving and encasing things so after 70 years is probably in perfect condition at the bottom of the cold sea water which will probably keep it pristine forever.  

So, Russ Foust is the grandson of Dr. Poulter's brother thus making me three degrees of separation to the inventor of the famous Snow Cruiser.

More information can be found all over the place, just type in Snow Cruiser. 

"And now you know………the reeeeest of the story. 


















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