Big Bertha

Big Bertha
Circa 1940, on the streets of Rochester New York, Bertha does her work.
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Crawlers

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Off on another tangent... I'll do another knife post soon - I have one in process - I've got to keep the wolf away... down the street a couple of houses at least. If he ends up at my door, I'm screwed.
Okay, life in the modern world would be so different minus the simple innovation of the continuous tracked vehicle. That is to say: The Cat. The tank. What other piece of machinery could be counted on to perform if nothing else could? That's the stuff that makes its own road. That alone ought to be an expression of power, no?
First pic. I've got a thing about tanks. We've been there - done that. Pictured is an experimental tank design from the Caterpillar Co. Love that up-and-down logo.With that particular branding is has to date from the mid-twenties or later and so, to my eye, given that time frame, it looks a little primitive.
But, not to be led astray by the Cat brand and all out preconceptions regarding the way our world became what it is.
The story is more complicated than just: "The burning bush said 'Let there be Cat". But you knew that - I hope.
Next photo, taken in Greece during the Great War. We see an Allied gun tractor pulling a large artillery piece. It, the tractor, is obviously equipped with tracks, and we see on the radiator the name "Holt".
This piece of heavy metal was the work-horse of the Holt Manufacturing Co's lineup. Holt, originally of Stockton California and later of Peoria, Illinois was a major producer of large agricultural machinery on America's West Coast.
The big fella illustrated was known as the "Holt 75" (75 horsepower). It wasn't the biggest machine Holt offered but it was the most popular. It alone was used by the Allies as a prime mover - with essentially no modifications.
Next picture: Pay no attention to that word painted across the front. It's giving away the story.A restored Holt 75 in what was essentially the military configuration.
Well, Holt and his nearest competitor, C. J. Best were stumped by the soft soils of the California bottom land where the huge, steam traction engines of the day - 20-odd tons with steel wheels - would simply sink into oblivion.
This was a problem that the Brits had addressed fifty years earlier. They decided not to drive the tractors onto the field at all. Rather, they'd station two engines at opposite ends with a continuous cable between them, pulling a reversible gang-plow.
It worked fine. It just required twice the capital investment of one engine. Of course the second engine could be substituted with any odd, self-mobile, 20-ton chunk of hardware that may be laying about the place... Oh wait, self-mobile...20-ton. You see the problem.
Ingenious solutions were presented, some more ingenious than others.
The Pedrail system, with circular pads around the circumference of the wheels was one of the more rational. To the left, an article from the NY Times of 1904 describing such. Click on it to read the copy.
The other end of the spectrum could have been considered the Botrail system where double wheels, front and rear, were equipped with large iron planks, hinged to match the contours of the ground.
This plan worked as well but was cumbersome, complicated and, to my mind, a maintenance nightmare. All those tensioning cables down in the mud all day long. No. Bad idea.But, the stage was set for the single coolest vehicle ever built by the hand of man. It didn't invent the continuous track. It only improved on it - and, even though tested by the British army (see"masthead" photo) it wasn't taken up. It was horrendously expensive but one was ordered by the Northern Light Power and Coal Co. of London to haul coal from coalfields to the town of Dawson Creek in the Yukon Territories. That would be: The Hornsby Steam Chain Tractor. Patented in 1904, the same year Holt (remember them?) first manufactured a track-layer it was advanced beyond the Holt 75 of ten years hence. Whereas the Holt steered with the front "tiller wheel" and had some ability to slow the tracks on one side or the other to facilitate turning, the Hornsby was equipped with the single-track braking system that steers bulldozers today.
The one pictured (during its trials in Britain) is nearly the only one you can find photos of. You can tell it's the Yukon one (called "The Mammoth) because, unlike the masthead unit, it had been equipped to burn coal.
Hornsby-Ruxton had been building oil-burning steam engines for years so, naturally, their tractors burned oil as well.
Well, being that it was to be used in the Yukon...hauling coal...it seemed smart to convert it to burn that which constituted its cargo, and was therefore - readily available. So, it was fitted with a Fowler coal-fired boiler and engine.
This big unit served admirably from 1910 until 1927, hauling 100 tons of coal at a time, on 8 wagons - over 43 miles - throughout every winter.
It was put on display in British Columbia until the early fifties but then was abandoned in the woods.
Its boiler and engine were scavenged but the running gear remains intact and the whole story of this awesome machine can be found here.
Now Holt bought the chain-track patent from Hornsby in 1914, but had had a track-layer in production ten years earlier. Had Holt/Caterpillar (Holt and Best merged in 1925 forming the well-known "Cat" brand) invented the track-layer as their website claims?
No, that distinction belongs to the Lombard Steam Log Hauler

Ah, once again the rednecks of America come forward to claim their own. The Log Hauler, patented 1901 was the brain-child of Maine loggers. And, one should know that 83 of these items were manufactured and sold. Oh, and by the way, Benjamin Holt bought the rights to the patent in 1904.

4 comments:

Assrot said...

Very interesting stuff. Tanks, Old Pocket Knives, Crawlers, etc. You should think about writing a coffee table book about this stuff. I've got the perfect title.

"Stuff That Real Men Like"

:-)
Joe

Oliver Hart-Parr said...

Real men...
Hey, that's me!

Kevin said...

Yeah, but what about us posers? What about us boy-men? Dammit, everybody keeps forgeting us.

Anonymous said...

I can hook you up with a veritable flood of info on the first British tanks, names of books, photos and such... I'm at the lab, I'll try and set links up for you. I'd give you my blogdress, if I had one. Email at variant13 at yahoo.

MoE

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