Friday, February 7, 2014

The Snowmobile as Envisioned in 1924

Armstead Snow Motors
from Seeking Michigan on Vimeo.

WHEN I FIRST WATCHED THIS VIDEO, from an old 16mm film made in 1924, I was stunned. For the last 100 years, American ingenuity and know-how has been a leader in the industrial world. From backyard tinkerers to garage inventors to larger productions—there’s nothing like the freedom of the entrepreneurial spirit to spur a new idea. My father once told me the story of the trouble American tanks had during WWII in the hedgerows of France. The tanks could not negotiate the thick, thousand year old hedges until a ordinary soldier—a farm-boy from back home—suggested welding to the front of the tank steel prongs—which was able to virtually rip their way through the underbrush. Problem solved… a simple solution to a serious situation.

What an ingenious idea to a crippling problem before the small, fast and streamlined snowmobiles of today. The concept is a little bit like Buck Rogers, a futuristic design below a Ford tractor.

And then I wondered why the concept never went any further? Perhaps the idea lacked backers. Perhaps there were design problems this “PR film” did not display, or perhaps the concept vehicle sat stagnant until the 1929 stock market crash doomed its production.

To my knowledge, the U.S. military did not have any kind of snowmobile vehicles during the fierce winters in Belgium and Germany in WWII in the early 1940s. I do recall seeing pictures of trucks and jeeps being stuck in and dug out of snowdrifts, troops walking alongside. While it’s not such a peaceful thought, think of this baby multiplied by 200 with a couple of machine guns mounted on the front—leading a frontal assault during the Battle of the Bulge. Wild! Or, think of it being used to move supplies or injured troops to and from the front lines. It seems to me that the military would have funded this concept in a heartbeat.

So, where did this (seemingly) great industrial design go? I don’t know.

This old silent film is about 10 minutes long, but I guarantee you’ll watch every bit of it—in awe.


Eugenia Tibbs said...

I loved this video, I am surprised too, that nothing was done with this machine! Maybe there was a patenting problem. That could certainly keep something from being developed further.

Josh van Gelder said...

Today in London, we've just had the worst snow in 18 years. The buses have all been cancelled, the airports are at a standstill. It's chaos.

This post makes me want to throw on my union suit and fur-lined overalls and jump on a 1924 snowmobile. Definitely the coolest way to get around, in so many senses.

Mr Gilinski said...

an amazing machine... looks like the Heidrick Agricultural History Center in California has one in its collection, which was used to haul mail from Truckee to Lake Tahoe. See .

Mark Sullo said...

I'm glad to see you're posting here again! Thanks... said...

Very cool invention. I saw this on a video a year or so ago and am impressed today as I was back then. Perfect for many applications today. Something must have gone awry.

Suze said...

Evidently, the idea was considered in WWII:

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