The Nodwell crawler transport vehicles built by Foremost Developments of Calgary, Alberta, originated in the early 1950s when the oil industry was expanding its search to the far north of the North American continent. One of the biggest challenges was the formidable expanse of swamp and muskeg, which hampered or made impossible the use of con- ventional wheeled equipment. The need for a specialized all-terrain vehicle became increasingly apparent. Until the appearance of the tracked carrier, northern oil exploration had to shut down in the summer months when the muskeg thawed, making most sites inaccessible.
In 1952, Imperial Oil Ltd. was looking for a way to extend the northern exploration season. It had designed a wide-track vehicle and asked innovator and contractor Bruce Nodwell of Calgary, Alberta, to build it. With a carrying capacity of five tons, it was designed to take men, materials and equipment across bogs and muskeg to remote oil-exploration sites. Bruce Nodwell and brother Jack had established contracting company Nodwell Brothers in 1943, and were already innovators in the pipelining industry, having invented a pipe-wrapping machine. The brothers were well aware of the need for an all-season, off-road vehicle and were already experimenting with various wheel applications, but decided tracks were the answer.
The machine designed by Imperial Oil didn't work very well and needed major modifications. After a second machine also proved unsatisfactory, the project was abandoned. But the experience gave Bruce some ideas. He was convinced the concept was sound and, in 1954, founded Bruce Nodwell Ltd. to develop and build a six-ton crawler vehicle. To give the carrier enough flexibility over uneven ground without loss of stability, Nodwell introduced a four-foot-wide track system consisting of twin rubber belts connected with steel bars and running around rubber-tired wheels.
A big break came late in the 1950s when Nodwell rented six transporters to the United States Army in Alaska. General Harrison of the Army Transportation Board was so impressed that he purchased 45 more. These flexible tracked vehicles measured 40 feet long by 10 feet wide and, with a gross vehicle weight of 25 tons, could carry 10 tons of cargo. It could virtually 'skim' over any terrain at an average speed of 12 mph while exerting a ground pressure of only 2 psi.
In 1963, Bruce Nodwell's son Jack, while still working on his mechanical engineering degree, began design work on a new tracked vehicle and established Foremost Developments Ltd. to specialize in low-ground-pressure tracked vehicles. Two years later, his father and five other employees from the Nodwell company joined Jack at Foremost and the company expanded, eventually building vehicles ranging from 1,000 pounds to over 40 tons.
From this small start in Alberta fifty years ago, Nodwell vehicles now work around the globe. More than 50 were used on the Alaska Pipeline in the mid-1970s, and 700 were sold to Russia over a 35-year period. Today their versatility extends to army maneuvers, skidding logs in tropical forests, and even recreational tours. These include vehicles for traversing the world-famous ice fields near Banff, Alberta.
You can read more about the evolution of construction equipment in Keith Haddock's latest book release, an updated version of his fully illustrated Earthmover Encyclopedia now available in bookstores. Also, consider a membership in the Historical Construction Equipment Association, www.hcea.net.