Goodyear? For Some (Part three)

From dirigibles to snow cruisers – the inter-war years would see a further inflation of the storied tyre maker’s fortunes.

The Snow Cruiser. (c) Pinterest

Initially in poor financial health, Goodyear maintained progress building more factory space as the oil and car industries grew around them. A favoured construction company, Hunking & Conkey of Cleveland had a great deal of empathy with their workforce; a foreman would sit near a pile of rocks, eager to launch one at a loafing man. Woe betide you dropping tools.

Goodyear stood for no horseplay either but usually kept the honest John, paying well and subsequently more than rivals. A Goodyear worker became a Goodyearite and prospects were good.

By 1907, a Detroit branch was established. Once Ford’s mass production lines began rolling the year after, so did the tyres. From a mere few thousand tyres produced that year, by 1912 it was over a million as the company fed over a hundred different car manufacturers.

The Great War was a time of great expansion. Not only tyres but gas masks, aeroplane parts, balloons and airships were made in huge numbers. However, come peacetime, and to coin a phrase, the balloon burst.

By 1921, Goodyear headed for receivership and the resignation of Frank Seiberling. Complex financial decisions, along with general national depression was the cause. He went on to found a new tyre company under his own name but Goodyear had to start pretty much from scratch but swiftly prospered guided by Litchfield and a new phalanx of directors.

The Winged Foot emblem was inspired by Mercury, Roman god of speed and adopted in 1900. The blue and gold came in 1929. The largest Goodyear product to wear these were the blimps.

An insight to these stemming from the First World War; Blimps has been around for a few years used by the Allies and German forces. Impressed by the German Zeppelins, the US Navy in the early 1920’s enquired if a Goodyear-Zeppelin cooperation was viable. It was a favourable deal with the Germans building several dirigibles until the Hindenburg disaster.

Dirigibles and blimps are airships; dirigibles having an internal metal framework whereas a blimp is, in effect a balloon, with the helium inside a large bag stretched tight. As for the name, blimp? British Naval Lieutenant Cunningham was inspecting one at Capel Air Station in 1915. Drumming his thumb on the tight rubber fabric and hearing the sound he imitated it: Blimp!

Biggest slicks in history. (c)

Returning to Earth now. From an Inauspicious start to a (seemingly) indignant end, the Snow Cruiser of Admiral Richard E Byrd was the stuff of dreams, and ultimately nightmares. 1939 and Goodyear produed their largest tyres so far; ten feet tall, three feet wide leviathans for the equally gargantuan Snow Cruiser.

This vehicle was designed to cross the frozen Antarctic wastes (with no number plates…)  bridging crevasses without fear while carrying a plane on its back for even deeper exploration. The construction of the Snow Cruiser went rather well; however, the subsequent thousand mile tour the vehicle took on route from near Chicago to Boston Army Wharf docks proved to be anything but straightforward.

Crowds flocked to see this 55ft long, 15ft wide and 12 ft tall beast wherever it paused. Alas some of those pauses were not exactly planned; a steering problem causing the mishap shown below, remaining beached for three days. Finally rescued and to the wharf where The North Star awaited its cargo. Once docked in the icy world more problems quickly surfaced.

The Snow Cruiser could not just be driven off, a wooden ramp needed to be built. Once made and the diesel/electric hybrid engine fired up, one wheel went straight through the ramp but the plucky driver gunned the “gas” and drove off onto the ice… and not one inch further; only deeper. Goodyear’s biggest tyres were slick, treadless and virtually useless.

How could the by then worlds largest tyre company have got the plan so wrong? Glossed over like their latex driven past it would seem.

As for the Snow Cruiser’s job of hopefully finding oil, it along with other extreme cold experiments went west rather swiftly. The vehicle did manage to move a distance of ninety miles: driven completely in reverse. Huge snow chains were tried but the vehicles 34 tonne weight hindered progress so much that it was decided to use the vehicle as a base “caravan” With Pearl Harbour about to change the course of the United States, the Snow Cruiser was abandoned. But the story of the “Penguin” does not end there.

“Hang on minute lads, I’ve got an idea..” (c)

Re-discovered twice with the use of bulldozers and the placing of a very long bamboo pole, the Snow Cruiser needed little more than a service and according to some websites, “air in its tyres”. What for? The vehicle was immobile! Contained within were the discarded detritus of previous occupants. Funding fizzled out and the Snow Cruiser was left to the ice and snow once more. Or was it?

Conspiracy theorists believe the Soviet Union found and confiscated the Snow Cruiser. Others consider the snow would have piled so high as to never locating it again. The final and most probable outcome being the ice cracked meaning the vehicle now sleeps with the Antarctic fishes, its ever-slick tyres still gaining no purchase.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

3 thoughts on “Goodyear? For Some (Part three)”

  1. A terriffic “boys own” tale about the Snow Cruiser, Andrew! Thanks for sharing this with us.

    1. The Snow Cruiser is wonderfully bonkers. It puts me in mind of the Russian Ekranoplan (or Caspian Sea Monster) programme of the Cold War era. Although in fairness, the Russian vehicle was at least somewhat fit for its purpose…

      For those who haven’t tyred of the Goodyear saga (sorry Andrew!), the final episode will air in due course.

  2. Never heard of the Snow Cruiser before at all. Sounds as if the embarrassment was so great, Goodyear suppressed much talk of it. So thanks for that story and all the new information!

    Considering the failure and the “what were they thinking” slick tires for snow use, when it was highly likely that Goodyear made snow tires for cars at the time, one has to scratch one’s head. The short wheelbase and long overhangs were also from Boys Own daydreamers I should think. Not even a glorious failure, but a complete one.

    Consider also that at the same time a much more practical engineer from Eastern Quebec name of Joseph-Armand Bombardier, made a proper seven passenger snowmobile, that actually worked and did so very well. To quote from the Canadian Encyclopedia:

    “With his first patented mechanical system — the snowmobile’s sprocket wheel and track drive system, patented 29 June 1937 — Bombardier brought his seven-seat B7 snowmobile to the market in 1937. The first buyers (about 100 in 1939) were country doctors, ambulance drivers and priests living in remote areas. The market soon expanded to retail businesses, transport companies, electrical utilities, telephone companies, mail carriers and forestry operations.”

    And the track system:

    My goodness, two wide rubber belts strengthened by canvas backing like tires of the era. Who made that rubber belt, one wonders? Probably used Goodyear rubber for the tracks! Akron Ohio’s winters are probably not much different from Southern Quebec’s to be frank, so one wonders what bright spark invented the Goodyear Snow Cruiser and where they lived!

    And then in 1958, Bombardier invented the Ski-Doo, and brought it to market two years later. By 1965, all the Japanese motor cycle companies but Honda were churning out replicas. Here’s the original 1960 model still made in 1961 and by golly, it had a CVT just like DAF. Needed some help in the styling department, but DTW wasn’t around at the time!

    Please excuse my use of tire for your tyre, but note that tire came from attire and was the original spelling before Britain also changed curb to kerb. And these machines were all from North America.

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