Back in 1939 however, the thinking was that tread-less tires would make an ideal match for the conditions of Antarctica. This was based on concepts from swamp vehicles and tests carried out in the sand dunes on Lake Michigan. In the experiments, a large truck would sink in the sand to its hubs and had to be towed out—whilst the Snow Cruiser only sunk an inch or so.
The Snow Cruiser sat upon the sand with a contact area of only nine square-feet per tire and the hope had been this would keep the vehicle out of trouble in the frozen north. Alas, although able to move to some extent, the Snow Cruiser was nowhere near as mobile as hoped.
Getting underway with difficulty, the Snow Cruiser tried to redeem the ambitions of the project. The crew attempted to add the two spare tires to the front and chains on the rear wheels for increased traction, but their efforts didn’t improve matters by much. Instead, to their surprise, they found that driving in reverse seemed to work best, notably improving grip. One of the longest trips driven backwards was a whopping distance of 92 miles.
The crew were certainly innovative, but it didn’t help that they had only 300hp at their disposal to tackle lengthy treks through Antarctica. Back when the world was black and white, the Snow Cruiser’s 300hp would have sounded impressive. In most cars now this figure is still creditable, but given there was 37.4 tons of Snow Cruiser to shift, the specification was actually woefully inadequate.
Reports of the ‘complete flop’ and ‘floundering leviathan’ Snow Cruiser flooded US newspapers and the public’s enthusiasm, so clearly seen on the streets between Chicago and Boston, started to dampen. Regardless of reception back home, the scientific team continued with seismology experiments, taking ice samples and measuring cosmic rays.
By New Year’s Day 1941, the team were simultaneously dealing with heavy snowfall and low fuel gauge readings. Supplies had to be flown in to feed their large team of dogs that had accompanied them so far. After some success in the air, the Beechcraft Staggerwing was taken away on the North Star as the propeller engine had thrown a rod.