While preparing this post we realized we’d covered this topic before. But since logistics won’t go away, and it’s SO retro-groovy, we just had to revisit it.
The age-old military problem of getting stuff from here to there over challenging terrain has tested and bested the best engineers of the Machine Age. To date the heavy diesel truck remains the tool of choice for most land-based heavylift, but that hasn’t prevented brave souls from trying out more robust vehicles of much greater capacity. Indeed, the
first army to use land trains in wartime was the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. A young subject of the Hapsburgs, an engineer by the name of Ferdinand Porsche, designed and built the hybrid-drive (yes, that’s right) Landwehr. The vehicle was a success even if the military it served wasn’t. Dr. Porsche went on to some success in the automotive industry.
If the words “giant offroad vehicle” brings to mind the Bigfoot monster trucks, you’re on the right track. Most people, if they have heard of land trains at all, will have seen one of the Bigfoot trucks’ gigantic 3-meter (10-foot) wheels and tires, salvaged from cars of the U.S. Army’s TCC-1 (Mk.1) Overland Train.
[Robert Le Tourneau] is credited with a great number of inventions such as: the bulldozer blade, ripper, modern scraper (i.e., “Tournapull”), rubber-tired dozer, electric wheel, the use of large rubber tires, and of course the Land Trains. He also was one of the first manufacturers to use gas, and later, electric welding when most other companies were still using rivets. Before dedicating his work to manufacturing, he was a large contractor, building many roads and dams throughout California as well as the road through Hoover Dam (you can still see the original road off to the side as you come up from the South on Hwy. 93.
Charles W. Eberling writes in Invention & Technology:
It is estimated that two-thirds of the earth movers built by the U.S. during [World War II] were manufactured by LeTourneau; it is worthwhile to remember in this context that General Dwight Eisenhower said the bulldozer was one of the four primary tools for winning the war, along with the landing craft, the 6×6 truck and the Douglas DC-3 transport aircraft.
The Le Tourneau Company designed and built this Arctic-Orange leviathan in 1956 to supply the DEW (Distant Early Warning) radar stations under construction above the Arctic Circle. LeTourneau’s previous success with the “Sno-Train” and other giant ATV’s powered by the company’s new hybrid drives led to this machine, equipped with radar, accommodations for a three-man crew, and power supplied by big diesel generators to electric motors in each of the train’s 24 wheels. The five-piece train could carry a payload of 150 ton over darn near anything, and was even used to supply Thule Base in Greenland.
The success of the TCC-1 led the Army to order an improved model and LeTourneau succeeded in creating the longest offroad vehicle ever made. With a bridge, bunkhouse, galley, head with shower, laundry room and mess, the TC-497 “Mk. II” could carry its six-man crew in style. Some awesome color photos form Life permit a good look at the machine.
Note the scale of its sample cargo: a M-113 fighting vehicle parked crosswise on one car, a bulldozer on another. The TC-497 was twice the width of an 18-wheeler. This Overland Train could conceivably carry a helipad, a company of soldiers and their weapons, a Patriot missile battery and all the stuff needed to set up base camp. The TC-497′s payload was only 150 tons (five semis’ worth) but could be increased by adding cargo cars, power cars and fuel tenders. Company Historian Dale Hardy, based at the R.G. LeTourneau Heritage Center, said the TC-497 was built of aluminum for performance and would need to be redesigned for today’s MRAP requirements.
Like the Air Force’s X-20 DynaSoar spaceplane and the Navy’s SeaMaster jet flying boat (more on those later), the TC-497 Overland Train Mk.II was a marvel of Atomic Age engineering whose development was killed off by Vietnam, the Great Society and alternative technologies.