Sunday, December 13, 2009

Snow Devils!

In my last post I profiled what may be the oldest vehicle at our museum. Now for the oddest. We have on loan from the Pioneer Air Museum a Snow Motor, also known as a Snow Devil. The bizarre contraption consists of a Fordson tractor mounted on two revolving cylinders or “screws.” The revolving screws pulled the tractor across snow or even bare ground. Each one was controlled by a separate clutch that engaged depending on the position of the steering wheel.

The machine was marketed as the Armstead Snow-Motor, and there is an awesome promotional video made by the company at The video shows a Snow-Motor zipping across deep snow, making donuts, mowing down underbrush, pulling loads and illustrating how much better it is at negotiating deep snow than a rather unfortunate horse. The video also includes footage of a set of screws attached to a automobile--anyone know what kind of car it is?

Three Fordson Snow-Motors were brought to Alaska to haul supplies for a 1926 transpolar flight attempt from North America to Europe by Sir Hubert Wilkins and Ben Eielson. The plan called for the Snow-Motors to pull ten freight sleds bearing 15 tons of aviation fuel and oil, radio equipment and gas for the Snow-Motors. It turns out that the revolving cylinders didn’t work so well in interior Alaska’s cold, dry snow. The machines were also very slow and tremendous gas pigs. We have a photo from the expedition in the museum, as well as footage of a Snow-Motor pulling one of the expedition planes.

We’re pleased to be able to display one of these curious vehicles outside our museum and thank the Pioneer Air Museum for the loan, which included an extra set of screws. The Valdez Heritage Museum also has a set of Snow-Motor screws, apparently from a Fordson tractor owned by the Museum of Alaska Transportation in Wasilla. If anyone knows the whereabouts of the third tractor, please let us know.

P.S. Check out our more recent blog post about Fordson Snow Motors at

2/23/10 Update: We just bought a Fordson tractor, so now we have some missing parts to get this Snow Motor running. 


  1. I believe there is a Fordson Snow-Motor on display at the Hays Antique Truck Museum in Sacramento, CA.

  2. Nancy,

    Great blog, lots of good stuff here! Now I can keep up with whats happening at my favorite museum....well, I do like the Getty a lot...

    Dave M

  3. This is apparently another link to the same video:

  4. There's some fun info about screw-propelled vehicles at


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