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Sunday, November 18, 2007: Traveling on snow and ice
Safely and efficiently traveling around McMurdo requires functionality and reliability of equipment that is suited for extreme cold conditions. This update takes a quick look at the strange names and configurations of vehicles used to meet the various needs of the community. Think of it as a car show- McMurdo style.


After stepping off the airplane, new arrivals are hurried to the Terra Bus, a behemoth designed for moving large groups of people and gear across the ice and snow between the runway and town. The tires on this beast are about 5 1/2 feet tall and 4 feet wide so stairs are needed to climb in. From this elevated perch one gets their first view of McMurdo and the ride to town for orientation.

The next size down in mass transportation is the Delta. This is another vehicle that you don't want to change a flat tire on. It seats about twenty if you squeeze in tight, like we did when going to snow school. As we found out though, if you are cold, being packed in really tight doesn’t seem quite so bad. It can even be an asset because experienced McMurdoites know to pick someone cute to sit next to.

The Mercedes Benz of the McMurdo fleet is the Hagglund. Manufactured for the Swedish military, it is expensive, fast and particularly valuable on sea ice because it floats if it breaks through the ice (tests are not recommended however). These vehicles are used primarily by the FSTP folks that survey cracks in the sea ice and by Search and Rescue teams.

The next few vehicles are issued to the various research groups based on their particular personnel and equipment needs. Each vehicle requires some training to understand their function, limitations and quirks.

Our group uses a Tucker Snow Cat that pulls a tracked trailer loaded with our equipment. The tucker boasts a powerful diesel that drives four independent tracks. The chassis articulates in the center giving a pivot point in the center of the vehicle rather than near the front. Backing it with the trailer is “interesting”. We also use this to tow our dive huts from dive hole to dive hole. With its long tracks it can travel almost anywhere but its “not so” top speed is sure to make you late for dinner anywhere you go.

Other groups requiring less people or equipment typically use the Piston Bulley. It’s another diesel powered tracked vehicle that distinguishes itself by being faster than the Tucker but having no suspension to soften the ride. It will rattle your teeth so have your fillings checked and come prepared if you wear dentures. If not, you may get to dinner on time but you’ll only be able to eat the soup.

For smaller teams or smaller loads you may elect to use a MatTrack. This is a pickup with its drive system converted to use tracks rather than wheels. It is a great idea but all the moving parts require vigilance with regard to maintenance.

It also has a reputation for overheating the transmission when driven too fast and catching the vehicle on fire. You are warned about this in the training but occasionally
people forget when late for dinner.

Around town, standard four wheel drive pickups and vans are used but interestingly the four wheel drive shift level is removed and you have no option of shifting them into two wheel drive. I guess there’s simply no reason to even try two wheel drive around here.

If you need to move equipment around on pallets you get to use a “Pickle”. They certainly won't win any beauty awards so it’s no wonder the Navy wanted to give away
these so aptly named work horses.

For fast traveling for one or two people there are plenty of snowmobiles to pick from the pool. The Skidoo seems to be most common of several types. These are used for both work and recreational travel but any time they leave town, travel must be in groups of two or more snowmobiles. Redundancy of machines that aren't large enough to provide survival shelter is mandatory when traveling away from the station.

If your driving record back home proves you can’t be trusted to drive any of the vehicles around station, you get assigned skis and/or a snowboard. Only Nick has earned that notable distinction in our group.

So no matter what your needs are in McMurdo, there is a snow and ice vehicle that will fit the job.

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.