Oh, your pickup has a lift? That's cute.
June 3, 2020 9:55 PM   Subscribe

The Incredible Story of the US Army's Earth-Shaking Off-Road Land Trains
You need to get 500 tons of supplies from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Arctic Ocean—a journey of about 400 miles through pure wilderness. There are no roads, very few airstrips, and endless ice. You're going to have to withstand minus 68 degree temperatures. Also, nuclear armageddon is on the menu if you're not quick about it. You, my friend, need a LeTourneau land train.

Full of unexpected anecdotes and amazing YouTube footage of these monsters in action, (and links to Google Maps photos of their abandoned broken remains), this article is pretty amazing. Technology and hubris and engineering!
posted by hippybear (29 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
1985 was a ridiculously strong year for land trains.
posted by neuron at 10:48 PM on June 3 [45 favorites]


I see they included the Bigfoot tyre anecdote, so I got nothing.

The last link in the article goes to a treatment of the land trains as source material for a pen-and-paper roleplaying game, if that's not clear, so it's a mix of fact and fiction.
posted by Harald74 at 11:17 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Some locals maintain lorries (trucks) from the 1960s as a hobby, and I always thought "that's a lot of iron to maintain", but having this vehicle as a hobby would be pretty awesome at meets, but maybe not so much when keeping it in running shape.
posted by Harald74 at 11:18 PM on June 3


Came here to make a "1985 was a ridiculously strong year for..." joke and, bammo. Beaten to the punch.

Worth it.

That's a cool train.
posted by chavenet at 1:23 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Didn’t they build a version out of gold to challenge Speed Racer?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:00 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


They should have built it with wheels on all sides rather than just the bottom, so it can keep going if it tumbles over due to a land slip or attack by marauding mutants in the postapocalyptic wasteland it is running supplies through.
posted by acb at 4:26 AM on June 4 [9 favorites]


I read LeTourneau's autobiography in my formative years and got the impression he kind of didn't know enough not to, so just did. His land trains seem the embodiment of "it's so crazy it might just work!"
posted by adamt at 4:55 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


There's a three-wheeled Vespa (or some other scooter brand, like Cushman?) in the first photo that is both ridiculous and cute.

I can remember reading a bad genre science fiction book when I was a kid that was about land trains on some world with extreme seasons. Looking at these photos, I know where that author got the idea from.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:42 AM on June 4


There are no roads, very few airstrips, and endless ice. You're going to have to withstand minus 68 degree temperatures. Also, nuclear armageddon is on the menu if you're not quick about it.

This reads like an alternate narration to the "Damnation Alley" trailer.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 5:59 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


I had been vaguely aware of this thing, but I had thought it was in the Antarctic, probably because I was getting it confused with the Snow Cruiser (which was linked in the article).
posted by ckape at 6:09 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I can remember reading a bad genre science fiction book when I was a kid that was about land trains on some world with extreme seasons

That's most likely "Wheelworld", from Harry Harrison's "To The Stars" trilogy. I devoured all things Harrison because I picked up The Stainless Steel Rat during my formative years.
posted by mikelieman at 6:11 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


That's most likely "Wheelworld", from Harry Harrison's "To The Stars" trilogy.

That's the one! I loved it, but I was probably 10 at the time; I have never revisited his books as an adult.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:16 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Gross.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:07 AM on June 4


I used to occasionally drive by one of these that was parked in a junkyard in Fairbanks. Looks like they've since cleaned up the junkyard, but.... pictures do not do justice to how big this thing was.

Also, if we're talking about weird abandoned machinery in Fairbanks, there's a lot of it. My favorite are the Gold dredges, which look like a bizarre combination of a factory, boat, excavation machine, and Rube Goldberg device. They weren't very successful (leading to their abandonment), and it seems like most of the remaining ones have rotted away during the past decade.
posted by schmod at 7:23 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


A 1980s-era RPG called the Morrow Project included these vehicles in its rule book, which I see is now online -- and it's got some pictures that I didn't see in the link, above:
http://asmrb.pbworks.com/w/page/53070717/Morrow%20Project%20Overland%20Train
posted by wenestvedt at 8:01 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


The Cold War was certainly great for producing impressive, innovative, ridiculous, and downright disturbing engineering feats.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:42 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]



That's most likely "Wheelworld", from Harry Harrison's "To The Stars" trilogy.

That's the one! I loved it, but I was probably 10 at the time; I have never revisited his books as an adult.


Land trains also featured in Keith Roberts' classic Pavane, although the cars weren't powered, just hauled by what was basically a big steam tractor.
posted by Mogur at 9:03 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Each wheel has its own motor and internal gear hub.
posted by aniola at 10:55 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I read Wheelworld multiple times as a yoof. It was I think my most memorable early story where some of the adults were politically motivated by blind, stupid adherence to authority rather than rational thought. It was a very disturbing, but necessary awakening.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:27 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Getting strong Amtrak Wars vibes here.
posted by PenDevil at 11:55 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I have vague memories that in some '40s-'50s era SF there is a sort of presumption that vehicles with independently-powered wheels were the way of the future. I came away wondering if the authors were influenced by LeTourneau's work.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 1:44 PM on June 4


So crazy it makes resurrecting wooly mammoths to use as pack animals sound almost reasonable.
posted by snofoam at 3:28 PM on June 4


Well, what *else* would you resurrect wooly mammoths for?
posted by Mogur at 4:13 PM on June 4


So crazy it makes resurrecting wooly mammoths to use as pack animals sound almost reasonable.
Mammoth is a 2005 novel by author John Varley. The book centers around the concept of time travel, and discusses the concept that there may be limits to science.

Mammoth opens with the billionaire scientist Howard Christian, and his attempts to clone a mammoth, largely for the sake of the countless circuses he owns.
posted by mikelieman at 4:13 PM on June 4


Occasionally I find myself thinking about Robert's Lady Margaret, later collected in the aforementioned Pavane. It's a slight story on its own, but the almost hallucinatory detail about the mechanics of driving a land train stick with me, more as a feeling than any specific memory. Often a bunch of years will go by between remembrances and I'll totally forget the name of the story and have to google it again, but it's still worth reading even fifty years later when alternate history has moved from experimental to mundane, especially if you're a fan of elaborate illustrations of fictional machines (Roberts was also an illustrator).
posted by chortly at 6:46 PM on June 5


The Navy Is Hatching a Sea Train — How unmanned warships could link up and cross oceans together., Popular Mechanics, Kyle Mizokami, 6/1/2020:
While the U.S. Navy is busy buying a new generation of unmanned warships to serve along manned vessels, those smaller “ghost ships” may need to team up to make crossing oceans easier. Future unmanned warships could journey across oceans physically connected to one another to make the trip more efficiently. DARPA’s new “Sea Train” concept is investigating the idea of ships that tether, like the individual cars in a train, in order to overcome wave resistance.

The Navy is plunging into the brave new world of unmanned surface vessels, or USVs. The service plans to buy a wide range of USVs, from medium-sized vessels (39 to 154 feet long) all the way up to large vessels (200 to 300 feet long).
...
The Sea Train concept, C4ISRnet reports, involves MUSVs rendezvousing at sea, tethering to each other, and making a long distance trip together. The first ship in the formation encounters wave resistance—the rest of the ships, not so much. The many smaller unmanned ships together form one large virtual ship capable of self-deploying thousands of miles without the need for refueling....
ALL ABOARD!
posted by cenoxo at 5:56 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


From land trains to sea trains. Oh 2020, you're the gift that never stops giving!
posted by hippybear at 6:11 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


From land trains to sea trains...

...to air trains like The Aérotrain 1963-1980, The train that could fly — or float, at least., Mashable, Alex Q. Arbuckle, 1/22/2016:
In 1963, French engineer Jean Bertin presented a 1/12 scale model of his idea for an Aérotrain, a jet-propelled monorail train which would float on a cushion of air to eliminate friction and allow for unprecedented speeds.

Bertin built four prototypes of his Aérotrain, from a half-scale, 30-foot version with room for four passengers, to a full-sized, 75-foot version with a car for 80 passengers.

In 1974, the latter prototype, the Aérotrain I80 [photo], set a world speed record for overland air cushion vehicles, reaching a mean speed of 259.5 miles per hour and a peak speed of 267.4 miles per hour.
...
Which itself was similar to the 1929 streamlined, pusher-prop German Schienenzeppelin (British Pathé newsreel) and its predecessors: the 1921 Bennie Railplane and 1917 Russian Aerowagon.
posted by cenoxo at 8:31 AM on June 7


I can remember reading a bad genre science fiction book when I was a kid that was about land trains on some world with extreme seasons.

Wasn't that like...The Amtrak Wars?

Edit: On non-preview (because I didn't seriously think it would be Amtrak) - what PenDevil said.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:33 PM on June 8


« Older The Hartzian View   |   ABOUT... FACE! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments