Contest: The $64 Question

Contest: The $64 Question


Many of my upcoming blog posts will be a challenge and a contest. Whether snowcat, safety or tower certification related, the challenge will be in the form of a  difficult question.  If you are the first to email me with the correct answer you receive $64.00 and bragging rights.  This week the question is in fact a little tough (you thought I would send you $64.00 for answering an easy question—really?).  My email is [email protected]


OK, here is your question.  If you have been through our Snowcat Basic Operator Certification course, you just may get it.


You are driving a 1404 Thiokol Imp built in the early 1970’s.  You have to cross a steep 20 degree side slope on the way to a remote site needing service and notice one of your tracks is very loose and hopping on the drive sprocket badly when you make tight turns.  You wisely decide the loose track needs tension before attempting the side slope to avoid track loss.  It is 10 degrees outside with winds of 30 miles hour and it is 2:10 in the afternoon (remember anyone in a snow cat after 3:30 is just asking the “snow gods” to punish them).  Please explain what you need to do?




Best, Art Seely

  • Jon
    Posted at 21:19h, 20 December Reply

    Just wondering where the picture of this particular 1404 came from? I am considering buying that exact machine. Do you happen to know it’s history?

  • Arthur Seely
    Posted at 10:11h, 10 October Reply

    Excellent response that could have come from less than half a dozen old gray haired guys (me included) who remember these machines. The first to reply was Bill Blass out of Northern California, certainly one of countries top snow cat operators.

    In this situation “power is my friend” would not apply, that is a phrase used when we have a “sudden unintended decent”, in this situation it will just get you a large hole in the snow with you at the bottom. What I was looking for was the wisdom of going home, which Bill promptly supplied. The 1404 has never lent itself to track adjustment in the field.

    By the way Bill I have never seen a a 1404 with an air filled front bogey wheel, as I recall even the first ones were that solid rubber wheel with a tread pattern? Have you seen a factory air filled one?

    Also on your point on breaking the bands or linkages on planetary machine from too much force, I recall vividly doing the same 25 years ago and driving home using a lot of reverse gear to get the Spryte to turn towards the broken side!!!

    Funny now, no laughing then!

    Best, Art

  • Bill Blas
    Posted at 14:04h, 08 October Reply

    After some thought, I must make another statement regarding the 1404. For those of you that may not have a lot of time in a 1400, 1404, 1500, or other planetary braking system. No matter how hard you pull on the laterals to steer one of these cats, you are not going to stop the track you are braking. You are only going to slow it down maybe 1/3 the speed of the other. By pulling on the lateral to hard, you can break a steering band in the differential. You may be able to drive out with only one lateral, but it’s going to be a long day and I hope you aren’t going down a steep hill. We have repaired one in the field. Not something I want to do again! You are probably wondering how I know this. Twice in forty years. But that was a long time ago.

  • Bill Blas
    Posted at 13:46h, 08 October Reply

    Personally I think this would be a call that I would have to make if I were actually there. A 20 degree side hill in a 1404 isn’t that bad depending on snow conditions and whats below you. Tight turns in a 1404 will cause some hopping, but the conditions described say “badly”. Once the track tension on a 1404 is set there are two way to re-adjust it. On some 1404’s you may find they still have a pneumatic front idler wheel that needs air or may be flat. That certainly is not good and why most would have the newer solid wheel. To much weight or cargo on a 1404 can cause the leaf springs to go flat. This can also cause the tracks to be loose. Always follow the manufactures recommended adjustment procedures.
    To answer the question: Since the 1404 would require you to break track and re-position the front idler wheel mount that is bolted to the frame, and being that it’s late in the day, I would go home, make the adjustment in the shop and go back another day. If the track has stretched that much, which I doubt, and you were all the way forward on the idler wheel adjustment, you would have to cut the belts back at the track hinge to the next grouser and re-install the hinges. The pitch of the track at the hinge must be maintained. When you do something drastic to one track, like shorten it, you must do it to the other one. Each track must have the same length and tension.
    Secondly, “power is not always my friend”. As you know there are many times when you apply power to the tracks you are going to auger in a dig a deep hole. We find there are many times when an idle will get you where you want to go easier than applying power. If I were flying, I would say power is my friend!
    On a side hill, yes keep the nose up. You must make the cat go where you want it to go, not where it wants to go. I can just about guarantee if you let the cat go where it wants to go, you will find yourself in a place you do not want to be.
    You are correct! Gravity works 24/7. BE SAFE! Have a great winter!

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