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Joseph Hill on: His Job on the Expedition
Joseph Hill Q: What was your job on the trip?

JH: My job on the trip was a tractor driver and mechanic. My first machine assigned was the old cleat track, and that was a big tremendous monster that hauled twice as much load as any one of the other tractors. We had the cleat track, we had three French Citroens, and we had two Ford snowmobiles. The Citroens could each haul about half of what the cleat track could.


Q: Can you describe to me briefly how you would start a tractor in the cold?

JH: Starting a tractor in the cold was a process depending on how you shut it down. We would drive [it] because of the difficulties of handling the tractor, if we let it stop. We would drive for eight, ten, twelve, maybe 24 hours at times. We would try to shift drivers and things like that as best we could. But we hesitated to let them stop. The process was, was straight forward in a sense. We had to stop the engine, dig a pit under the crank case under the engine, about two, three feet deep. Drain the oil and drain the radiator fluid. We would take those into, in camp, we'd take it into the cook stove and put it on the cook stove to keep it warm. On the trail you had to keep that stuff warm over little promise burners. Cooking, little cooking promise burners. We would at the time of the stop, we would throw a canvas that the sailmaker had designed and built, made for us, that went up over the hood and around the treads. And then we'd bank snow up on it, and so in case a blizzard and so on that would stay, the snow would stay out of the engine and things like that.

When we got ready to start the tractor engines then, after the shut down, we would put a large Von Prag torch in that pit that I referred to. And let that play up around or up underneath the crank case of the engine, until we felt that the engine was losing a little of its cool. And then we would bring the warm oil and the warm radiator fluid from its heat source, put that in, and get out and start to crank the engines. And remember this was by hand crank. For instance, the old cleat track had a magneto ignition system, it had no batteries. And batteries are no good in those temperatures anyway. If you were lucky you would get a start. And therefore since that process alone, preparing to start would take an average of about a half a day, to do all the heating, get the engine warm, and so on. So it was no easy project to let a tractor stop and then have to start it again.


Q: Was it a brutal trip? Did people get frostbite and were the tractors breaking down? Was it very cold going out there to set up advance base?

JH: We didn't have any of that problem on a clean run. But we did have that problem because my own cleat track lost a pin bearing, and we had to stop and replace that about 57, 47 below zero. Demas and I stayed behind. The other two tractors, Citroens, went on ahead with all of the advance base supplies, but lacking a lot of the house parts. Since the old cleat track could haul twice the load or three times the load of the Citroens, it had the major parts of the house. Demas and I stayed and worked on the cleat track, trying to get it started after we overhauled it. But these troubles with these temperatures, we just couldn't get the thing warm enough to start after it cooled down and we had replaced the parts. June and Skinner and I've forgotten who else came back from advance base, the 20 or so miles and picked up the tractor, the cleat track loads and Demas and me, and we went on back to Advance base to finish establishing that base.

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