Friday, 5 December 2014

An ode to Kathy.

Mawson has quite a few reminders of a bygone era of Antarctic exploration such as old heritage buildings, hallways adorned with memorabilia and some interesting old equipment. Today I want to introduce you to one such piece of equipment.



The big girl.


Meet Kathy. She is a well loved (I could never call her archaic or obsolete) machine, a Caterpillar D7H Low Ground Pressure 'Traverse Special' bulldozer which has been specially modified for back in what I believe is the golden era of exploring where teams used to spend months at a time driving thousands of kilometers with 3 or 4 sleds per tractor with up to 20,000kgs on each sled around the most extreme and inhospitable parts of Antarctica all in the name of science.



The Traverse Special tractors, which are so rare, you could count the amount of machines in existence using one hand, are heavily modified from standard. They run on ATK Jet Turbine fuel, they are fitted with special direct drive 6 speed manual transmissions, extra monitoring gauges for the engine, provision for titanium ice spikes to be fitted to the tracks, an ingenious warm air induction system which pre-heats the air for the engine, ability to fit a lifting jib to the blade, blizzard protection and covers for any cylinders, an emergency escape hatch in the roof for those "quick getaways" if needed and not least painted in the seemingly long forgotten 'ANARE Orange' colours.

In the past Mawson station has been used as a staging area for this big traverses and luckily Kathy has managed to hang around on station since these expeditions have gone by the wayside. She is typically now used as a station dozer, clearing snow and towing other machines from places that they shouldn't be but she also still has one other special job...

Mawson is situated at the base of the plateau or Antarctic ice cap and occasionally the need to use the plateau for operational requirements is needed. At the moment the sea ice around station is too unreliable for landing fixed-wing aircraft so we need to prepare a site up on the plateau. Unfortunately there has been very little snow here all season so the ramp up the hill is too icy and slippery to use.

The control room.


Here is where having a machine that was designed to operate in these kinds of conditions can come in handy. So we bought the old girl into the workshop and began converting her back to her former glory. Part of the blade cutting edge was removed and we fitted a plate from a 'drag beam' which should cut into the smooth ice and give some traction for the other vehicles. The tracks were also prepared for the ice spikes as driving a 28,000kg machine on ice so steep that it is impossible to walk on isn't my idea of fun.

Getting her ready for a 'birthday'.


Prepping the blade.


Titanium ice spikes.


The 'buck' tooth.


One all the modifications were completed it was time to tackle the road up the ice cap, affectionately referred to as 'Gwamm'.

Bottom of Gwamm back to station.


José testing the route.


Kathy and a Hagg at the top of Gwamm.


We found the mods worked perfectly and are looking forward to using the road next week to get all our fixed-wing equipment to the Rumdoodle skiway. Stay tuned for that blog..

To finish I just wanted to mention that I think it's sad, but Kathy has been on the RTA (Return To Australia) list for the past couple of years but as the Aurora Australis has struggled getting close enough to the station, she lingers on, still working hard and never complaining. It will be sad to see a piece of Australian Antarctic royalty leave the continent but I am very grateful to have the chance to spend a few months getting to know her and hopefully she will finish her tour on a high note.

These were the days...

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