April 14, 2024

Admiral Byrd’s Snow Cruiser and the Lincoln Highway

The Lincoln Highway Buy-Way sale is over for another year, but the highway itself continues to draw “roadies” who like to travel at a much slower pace and enjoy the scenery.  In fact, the Lincoln Highway Association has over 1,000 members from 39 states as well as 6 other countries.  Each year they have a convention and next year, in June, it is going to be in Canton, Ohio.

At the canal museum, we have recently redone our Lincoln Highway display and it now features a model of Admiral Richard  Byrd’s Snow Cruiser which was built by Kermit  Stemen  in 1940 when he was a senior at Elida  High School.  He had seen it pass through Gomer the previous year, and was quite amazed and inspired.

For those who are not familiar with the background, the Snow Cruiser, named the “Penguin”, was a huge science lab and home on wheels, specifically made for Admiral Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole.  It was built in Chicago and followed the Lincoln Highway from east of there to Mansfield, Ohio where it took another route to get to Boston and a waiting ship.  The cruiser was so wide it took up both lanes of the highway.  It was 55 feet in length and the tires were 10 feet tall.

In Delphos, Chief of Police Glen Ditto issued a notice that no one could park on Fifth Street until the Penguin had passed through town on a Saturday afternoon in October of 1939.  This was the Depression Era and people lined the streets to see the $150,000 monstrosity. 

East of Gomer, disaster struck.  The steering mechanism malfunctioned and the cruiser slid off the road into a ditch where it stayed for 3 days.  During the rescue, the crew of 5 stayed at the Phelan Hotel, now Lehmann’s Furniture.

After a few other minor problems, the cruiser eventually made it to Boston and on to Anarctica.  Unfortunately, one final disaster occurred.  Once off the ship, the idea was to move inland, but  those 10 foot tall tires spun in place in the snow and the cruiser ended up sitting right where it first landed, a case of not having enough power.  The crew was still able to use it for living quarters and a lab, but not as a method of transportation. 

The snow cruiser may not have lived up to expectations at the South Pole, but it certainly entertained a lot of people on its journey and it gave one young man a great idea for a school project.

The museum is open every Saturday & Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. and every Thursday from nine to noon.  We are located on the west side of Main St. between 2nd and 3rd St. and right along the Miami-Erie Canal.  Come visit us soon.

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