Musk Ox tests, 1959, by WNRE, Wilson, Nuttall, Raimond Engineers, Inc., Chestertown, Maryland, founded in 1954. Polecat, made first of two Weasel in 1957, Polecat II, Terrapin dynamometer for US Army, 1960, lighter Dinah, 1961 and Cobra three units around 1965 were also built by this forerunner of articulated vehicles. It went bankrupt around 1975. http://s3.e-monsite.com/2011/01 /13/13369464articulated-tracked-vehicles-pdf.pdf, http://www.unusuallocomotion.com/medias/files/articulated-tracked-vehicles-2.pdf
Killian McInerney is an engineer of Mobile Track Solutions, Iowa. Interested by history of off-road locomotion, he sought engineers who worked to WNRE in the 50-60. He found two of them (thank you Killian) which told their story :
Engineer R. Werner
Me: I didn't know if you had any documents or anecdotes available on WNRE's contributions to articulated tracked vehicle development (Polecats, Musk-Ox, Cobra, Dinah....)?
Reply (R. Werner): I went to work for WNRE in 1964 and, by that time, most of their efforts were doing research on off-highway performance of military vehicles. I think they may have built one articulated vehicle after I went to work for them (I'm not sure.) I did get to drive one of the articulated vehicles at the Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Ms. and made the mistake of parking it right against (inches away) from a building. It took a lot of maneuvering to get away from the building without leaving paint on the building. With respect to the partners, Bill Wilson was the all-American golfer who never seemed to have a care in the world ; Cliff Nuttall was the brains behind all of the technology. Vince Raimond was the accountant, who when you met him suspected he might be better at pushing a banana cart on the wharf's of NYC. Vince spent a lot of his time acquiring, moving, and remodeling early American homes to his property on the Chesapeake Bay. I left the company in 1968 and, at that time, it seemed all of our projects were short on funds. I don't know if Vince was having a problem with book keeping or we were just poor estimators. We acquired a small IBM computer in the mid 60's for data analysis and to keep it busy, we obtained many contracts from the Smithsonian to analyze their data on animals, insects, etc. They had the data loaded on cards and all we had to do was write the program, load the data, go home for the night, and return the next morning for piles of correlation data.
Further story of R. Werner:
I left WNRE in early 1967 to go to work for Lockheed Electronics Company which had a support contract with NASA in Houston. My responsibility was primarily the performance prediction of wheeled lunar vehicles plus the evaluation of vehicle mobility components. Obviously soil properties and mechanics were a portion of this. Accordingly, I, Jerry Cohron, as a consultant, developed a version of the Cohron Sheargraph which could be used on the moon. The tool was successfully developed and tested by the astronauts at 1/6 g on the "vomit comet". I got to ride that plane up and down through 28 cycles and the plane lived up to its name. Unfortunately, this tool never made it to the lunar surface.
Sometimes in late 1967 or early 1968, Jerry left WNRE, moved to Huntsville, Ala., and formed Cohron Industries, Inc. In November, 1968 I joined this firm as VP. We felt we could use our knowledge to model and develop vehicle performance programs for earth moving, mining, and other off-highway projects. Plus, we felt we could build and sell vehicles for the Alyeska Pipeline installation which could maneuver on existing terrains without the need to build highways. We coordinated our efforts through Dick Kerr who put the drilling rigs in Saudi Arabia on wheels. Plus we were looking at some agricultural developments in Central America. Unfortunately, the capitalization of the company never came through; however, we did have investors which would loan startup funds for 15% interest. I didn't want some bill collector showing up at my door in the middle of the night wanting either money or my life.
Consequently, I left and went back to Lockheed to continue with lunar mobility efforts. I don't know when Jerry folded the company; however, I know he was still pursuing loans in 1971.
Now, I'll finish my story. About two years after going back to Lockheed, I decided being a support contractor to NASA was not a long term career goal for me. I went to work for an oilfield service company as a sales engineer developing new markets for their equipment in non-oilfield applications. Several years later, I had the 4th offer in three years from Chrysler Defense and decided I could not afford to join Chrysler. I joined a group of 8 which were charged with the responsibility to insure that no design changes affected the required performance of the XM-1/Abrams tank. Again, after about 6 months of cold weather, and a dread of accounting for every minute of every day on a little IBM time card for government billing, my former boss in Houston called and suggested I return.
I did and 30 some years later, I retired as the President of that business unit of Smith International.
Engineer W. Grenke
Me: I was wondering, if you had time of course, if you could discuss the formation, development of WNRE articulated tracked vehicles and eventual break up of WNRE? One machine that fascinated me was the Polecat MKII Terrapin (both the amphibious and PRDC people hauler). Do you who came up with the forged aluminum drop center track with the 'caged roller' style drive sprocket that engaged the track guides? I thought that was ingenious!
Reply: Yes, I'm that guy. You mentioned some names that bring up memories from the past (1960's).
Are you still affiliated with Mobile Track Solutions? I came across that name on LinkedIn.
A bit of history...Cliff Nuttall started out as a Marine Engineer at Stevens Institute in NJ. Among other things, they were doing some research work for the military. He was a brilliant guy who saw an opportunity, formed WNRE, Inc. (late 1950's, I believe), and started doing R&D for the military...mostly off-road vehicle research. I started to work there in the early 1960's as a Jr. Engr. (Civil, but also did a lot of Mechanical and Electrical Engr. stuff). In the late 1960's, R&D funds started to dry up due to the war effort in Viet Nam. I wasn't sure if I would have a job from one month to the next, so I left in 1971. The firm finally folded in the mid-1970. Cliff went to work for the Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, MS, Bill Wilson died shortly thereafter, and Vince Raimond got into real estate. All are dead now.
Their main claim to fame was the patented hydraulic steering joint for articulated vehicles. Basically, a tracked vehicle steers by "skid steering", i.e., applying a brake to one track to skid steer to that side. That works fine on solid ground, but in soft, boggy terrain, that tends to bog the vehicle down. Using a couple of surplus WWII Army M-29 Weasels, they coupled them together with an ingenious connection that allowed steering via hydraulic cylinders at the joint, through which a drive shaft connected the axle in the front vehicle with the axle in the rear vehicle. That way, power could be applied to all four tracks, even while steering. It got the Knick name Polecat, since the first test areas were up in Northern MI, AK, and Greenland. Basically, it could go just about anywhere. An aluminum cab on the front vehicle was for the driver, a couple of passengers, and an engine compartment. The rear unit was an aluminum cab for passenger, or a flatbed for hauling equipment. We built 8 for the Army and 4 for the Navy (for Antarctica).
The amphibious MKII Terrapin Polecat came along in the mid-1960's, designed and built from the ground up, using the same two-unit, articulated steering design. The tracks were designed to have a narrow ground contact width on hard ground, but as the surface became softer, the wider part of the track would come in contract with the surface, thereby lowering the ground pressure and allowing more mobility on soft soil or snow.
I'm not sure if I have any technical specs on the Terrapin, but I will check and let you know.
We also built a Musk Ox for Imperial Oil (Esso) of Canada, a massive, two-unit design, about 50 feet long, with a 20-ton payload capacity on the rear unit. It allowed Esso to haul drilling rigs across the muskeg-covered tundra in Northern Canada. With a 4-foot track on each side, it had a ground pressure of less than 2 PSI (the PSI under the shoes of most people is about 9 or 10). One of the drivers once told me that his main concern was if it ever broke down 100 miles out in the tundra, he wouldn't be able to walk home in the soft muskeg. Last time I checked in 1990, it was still operating up in Northern Canada.
I had lost contact with Dick Werner. If you have an email or address for him, I would like to have it. I think we are the only ones left from WNRE.
Me: WNRE dissolving from lack of funds due to the war explains it. I am still curious why the US military never pursued WNRE off-highway solutions? Was it a transport/logistics issue, perhaps lack of necessity? As you can see here the Russians pursued a similar path in the early 70s, clearly inspired from the WNRE Terrapin (through Cliff's and Coe publications I'm assuming). I suppose with most military procurement decisions ; we will never know the full story...
Reply: Just a quick follow up. A Canadian firm also copied our patented steering joint design in the late 1960's (I forget the firm name). We should have sued them if they sold any in the US, but I'm not sure how patents work on an international level.
I'm just guessing, but I suspect one of the reasons the Army didn't continue with the two-unit Polecat design is that the vehicles were difficult to load and ship overseas. You might have to disconnect the vehicle's two units (a time-consuming exercise) to pick them up with a crane to load on a ship and then re-connect at the destination. Cost might have been another factor...even though it would perform better ; a two-unit design would cost more than a one-unit design.