March 17, 2008

Tuesday, 17 March 1908


Col du Lautaret in late autumn. Photograph by David George, November 2006. [1]

The first trials of the motor sledges, in the French Alps at Le Lautaret, were something of a disappointment.

"Exhaust cam of our engine reversed by Pelissier, de Dion mechanic," Skelton wrote in a series of reports to Scott, "but he failed to get engine to run although trying to do so nearly all day. Failure to do so undoubtedly due to low temperature and petrol not vapourising. A blow lamp would have saved this trouble. M. Courier suggested that engine did not have a fair chance on account of the English additions (high tension trembler, coil and elbow piece in induction pipe), but this opinion was, of course, absolute nonsense."

"Dr Charcot's sledge made a trial to-day, but although it advanced on the sledge road, it did not prove capable of any tractive power and could not do anything in soft snow unless assisted."

"Snow wheels were depressed about half way and clutch put in, the sledge advanced a small amount and then stopped, the snow chain clearing a hole in the snow. Snow wheels were then depressed to the full extent, and clutch put in again, when sledge advanced a few yards and engine brought up."

"The conditions were so extremely different from the average conditions of the Antarctic it would have been difficult with any machine to gain any reliable information -- in fact, the conditions were really unfair to the sledges. Nowhere in the Antarctic was such soft snow met with; neither man, pony, dog or reindeer could have pulled on it.... The two surfaces are quite different, and require different tractors."

"In spite of the failure of the sledge to actually perform hauling work, I do not think the general system was in any way shown to be wrong in principle -- the failure was entirely due to details which can be easily put right, and to the especially severe conditions of the track."


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] Reginald Skelton, 7-17 March, 1908, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.351.

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