Admiral Byrd's Snow Cruiser - By Albert Phillips

A History and Reminiscense

Snow Cruiser on State Street in front of Ohio Theatre

I was a boy of four when the famous snowcruiser came through Conneaut, Ohio. I never saw it personally, but I remember my older brother telling my family about it. Gene had peddled uptown on his bicycle from our home on Dean Avenue the day the cruiser finally showed up, and when he got home about having seen it, I was spellbound listening to him relate how this giant monster cusier lumbered slowly through the city. My imagination ran wild as I could see this thing just by him describing it, being reddish orange with tires on it as tall as a housr, roaring engine, a nd so wide it took up the whole road. The date was November 4, 1939 and I was just getting use to our radio which my father had brought home that summer, so imagination was what we were raised on and everyone's was different from everybody elses. In my mind I had formed a picture of what this thing looked like from my brother's description of it and it was buried deep in my memory and then forgotten, as other things would take its place.

The snowcruiser was the dream of Dr. Thomas C. Poulter. He was second in command of Byrd's Antartic Expedition II when he came up with the idea of the cruiser. Back at the Research Foundation of Armour Institute of Technology, Chicago, he directed the staff in the manufacture of this huge behemoth.

It was 55 feet long, 15 feet wide, with four rubber tires made by the Goodyear Rubber Co. which stood 10 feet high and were three feet wide. Each wheel was independently run by an electric motor which got its electric power from two 200 horsepower diesel engines directly connected to generators. These also made power for the radio, electric stoves, heat and the machine shop, which was built into the cruiser.

Each wheel was capable of being raised four feet, so the theory was that it should be able to cross at the most a deep crevasse as wide as 15 feet. This would be done by raising the two from wheels up, lowering the cruiser on the snow (it had a solid underside), the back wheels would then push the front part across until the front wheels could be lowered on solid snow, then raising the back wheels and having the front wheels pull the cruiser the rest of the way across the crevasse.

On the back of the cruiser was aram for a five-seat cabin bi-plane which was to be used for mapping and exploring a 600 mile strip across Antartica, with the cruiser as its moving base.

In the October 9, 1939 Conneaut News Herald, on the front page, was an article, the first of many to come about the cruiser being built for Admiral Byrd's newest, upcoming expedition to the Antartic, showing a picture of the cruiser without it's wheels, saying Pullman Standard had built this "American tank of peace" under the direction of Dr. Thomas C. Poulter and his staff.

In the October 18 paper, a story ran with the headline "Don't Hog the Road" Admiral Byrd's 25 ton Snow Cruiser to pass through the city. An October 26, 1939 story said the cruiser left Chicago today for its destination of Boston, where ir was to be loaded on a ship for the expedition. The article said it should stop in Conneaut for about five minutes on Sunday, October 29, according to the final schedule.

An October 28 story in the paper said the cruiser was 36 hours behind schedule and they hoped it would make Conneaut by Monday, October 30. The story in the News Heral on October 30 was that the cruiser had run off the road into the creek. After being pulled out, the story went on to day it would probably resume its journey on Tuesday, October 31. A picture of it being pulled from the creek appeared in Tuesday's paper. November 1, 1939 story in the paper said the monster was on the move again but was delayed by a broken oil line that caused another delay, and the projection for its arrival was not Friday, November 3. A November 2 small article said if nothing else would go "haywire" the cruiser was still due Friday the 3rd, 1939. November 3, the News Herald ran this small article: Siren to Herald Cruiser Arrival.

The city was on pins and needles this afternoon, itching for a view of that monstrous snowcruiser, but all that can be siad is she's on the way. The lumbering giant that Admiral Bryd will take to the Antartic passed through Brecksville at one o'clock, still some 76 miles from Conneaut. Traveling at an average rate of 23 miles an hour, the 35-ton vehicle possibly may reach the city late this afternoon. The State Highway Patrol at Geneva, however, hesitated on predicting just how far the crusier will travel today, but believed the overnight stop might be made near Ashtabula.

Chief R.R. Warren said the fire department's new truck would sound a siren on the streets a short time before its arrival. This proved to cause much commotion, as the cruiser didn't make Conneaut on November 3 and at 15:50 am. of the 4th, the truck roared from the station with the siren full blast. Hundreds of people were on the street in the blink of an eye. But the truck continued on to the John Toth residence, 199 Orchard St. where an overstuffed chair caught fire, burning the cushion and arm.

It went relatively quiet until 1:38 a.m. when the truck again streaked from the station. But this time it was a false alarm to Jefferson and Buffalo Sts. Due to intense cold, most of the people stayed indoors and kept in contact with the cruiser's progress by telephone. May humerous inquiries were made: "I'm Admiral Bryd," said one. "Where's my cruiser?" The 'Admiral' was informed the cruiser sank near Painesville after it had broken an oil line. Most folks had a different name for the cruiser, such as snowbird, snowcrusher, snowplow, or iceboat.

Snow Cruiser Rounding Corner at State & Harbor

Finally on November 4, 1939 the long awaited cruiser lumbered into Conneaut, Ohio and the public got to see it as it took a 30-minute stop at Harbor and Liberty Sts. An artical was in the News Herald saying that after a stay in Erie, Pa. to replace motors by G.E., it was continuing on to Boston.

At Boston, in preparation of loading onto the ship, it was found the crusier was too long to fit into its berth on the ship, so the tail where the spare tires were stored had to be cut off. The North Star was the ship that carried the cruiser to its final destination. During the unloading, it broke through the ramp and destroyed the ramp completely, but the momentum carried the cruiser on the ice without damage. The huge piece of equipment proved to be a complete failure adn was abandoned at the South Pole where it remains today. But the people of Conneaut and a small 4-year-old boy will probably always remember that day.

-- Albert Phillips

Pictures courtesey of Albion Public Library, Vern Best Album
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