Did You Know This Rankin-Bass Car Is A Real Life Vehicle?
We've all surely seen the 1970 Christmas Classic from Rankin-Bass, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and thought the half-track mail truck that S.D. Kluger drives is the coolest thing, but did you know it's a real vehicle that was manufactured?
When Ford first started producing the Model Ts, they were known for their toughness, which was why people would take them off-roading back in the day, but it was Ford dealer Virgil D. White who first dreamt up a. new type of vehicle in his Ossipee, New Hampshire town.
He called the idea a "Snowmobile," which nobody had ever thought up before, so he's also the father of what we know to be engine-driven vehicles with skis and treads.
Rather than create a new vehicle entirely, he created a conversion kit for his Model T. With the skis and the treads, it was able to easily traverse the heavily snow-laden landscape of his New Hampshire town.
His conversion kit included wooden and metal skis that would replace the front wheels, but also an extra axle and wheels around the back. To get the treads to work, there had to be an extra axle added with some wheels.
The early versions of the kit would have metal cleats connected by heavy fabric, but that was later updated with steel shoes with chain links connecting them.
To accommodate the modifications, the factory rear axle, rear spring, radius rods, and driveshaft all had to be swapped. In their place, a 7:1 Ford truck worm gear driveline was attached to the frame by using two cantilevered semi-elliptical springs.
The car would also need heavy-duty wheels to accommodate the TT rear axle, plus anti-skip chains were also in the kit.
Virgil D. White patented the kit and the term "snowmobile" in 1917, and it in 1922 he started selling his kits to the public. It was hailed as a "Ford on snowshoes" by most. Depending on the kit, it could range in price from $250 to $395, which was a chunk of change at the time - about $6,777 today.
It was then discovered through trial and error that leaving the wheels on the front rather than skis, would turn the Ford Model T into a more capable machine for mud and sand, which made it an attractive option from the Florida Everglades and the Middle East. Some will say the kits were rare to see, but White manufactured 25,000 kits.
The vehicle would gain a little more popularity when Rankin-Bass' Santa Claus is Comin' to Town was released, with Fred Astaire's character driving a version of the car.
Today, a small but mighty club of people who drive the vehicles exists, rolling it them out and around through snowmobile trails across the country.
Check out this video from the "Ford Model T Snowmobile Dust Off Ride" this year.
If you want to see one of these in real life, head out to the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum, where they have one for display.