The Collossal LeTourneau Land Trains

In the 1950s, R.G. LeToureau Inc. built a series of gigantic vehicles to haul cargo in in the far reaches of Alaska and Canada.

Robert G. LeTourneau (1888-1969) was a prolific designer of heavy land machinery for specialized applications of all kinds, from earthmoving to timber harvesting.  The founder of LeTourneau University and the holder of 300 patents, he and his company, R.G. LeToureau Inc., reportedly supplied 70 percent of the heavy earthmoving equipment used by the USA in the World War II. But easily the most stupendous of the LeTourneau machines were a series of giant land trains built in the 1950s to haul equipment and supplies across the most remote parts of Alaska and Canada, where there were no roads of any kind.

The LeTourneau propulsion system was a hybrid, using a gasoline, diesel, or gas turbine engine to power a generator and drive a series of electric hub motors, providing drive to any number of wheels without driveshafts or gearing. One, the TC-264 Sno-Buggy, ordered by the U.S. military to build the DEW Line radar system in the Arctic Circle, used an Allison V-1710 aircraft engine (see our feature here) while the largest of the machines , the TC-497 Overland Train Mark II, was powered by four 1,170-hp Saturn 10MC gas turbines, could drive and steer any number of wheels, and could carry up to 150 tons.

As enormous as the machines were, they proved to be surprisingly practical, especially in the most remote regions of Canada and Alaska. But ultimately, they were rendered obsolete by the successful introduction of heavy-lift helicopters including the Sikorsky S-64 Skytrain. None of the four LeTurneau land trains are still in operating condition, but the remains of three machines still exist in remote locations.

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