Operation Deep Freeze was the codename for a series of U.S. missions to Antarctica beginning in 1955. The initial reason behind the mission was a scientific collaboration between 40 nations to carry out studies of the earth’s environment. The Deep Freeze missions set up the American research stations in Antarctica and kept the stations supplied. Caterpillar provided track-type tractors and diesel electric sets specially built to survive constant temperatures of 65 degrees below zero for use 24 hours a day. In fact, Cat® track-type tractors were the first tractors in Antarctica.
Caterpillar engineers specifically developed Low-Ground-Pressure (LGP) tractors for use on the ice. These machines constructed roads and bases, hauled supplies, maintained airstrips and trails, dozed snow and carried snow to melting units in order to produce drinking water. In 1958, they helped the U.S. Navy complete the first permanent airstrip on Antarctica. Electric sets provided all of the power for heat and lights, communication systems, kitchens, radar and ground control approach systems and the snow melting system for drinking water.
Glen Sankey, a Caterpillar service representative at the time, said in a 1957 issue of News & Views that “There many other stories I could tell just as proudly about Cat equipment in service. But suffice it here to say our machines are respected because they deliver the goods when life and limb depend on it.”
“When speaking with the National Science Foundation, I was told a story that the team was so dependent on the tractors, they named them…Pam, Colleen, Big John” said Lee Fosburgh, Corporate Archivist. “They were literally viewed as part of the team – they even had a birthday party for the machines from when they arrived. While quirky, it’s a fun story (from a very serious and dangerous mission) that only our machines could tell.”
Nearly 150 Caterpillar machines and engines were in use at the various bases on Antarctica by 1960. A number of these track-type tractors were recently retired and in operation for nearly 60 years. Cat products are still supporting the stations today.