Sunday, March 30, 2008


Hey, they do exist! I actually caught sight of two rollagons at the fuel station earlier this evening. They are in the process of transporting diesel from Barrow to Atqasuk because there is no fuel for the plane that usually makes the delivery. One of the drivers told me that they were completing their sixth of thirteen trips out to Atqasuk this week. Wow! I guess it’s not a terrible trip. Barrow is only about 60 miles northeast of us, but I’m not sure how fast they are able to move, especially carrying fuel, a potential hazard on the tundra.

I wish I’d been able to ask the driver more questions, but by the time I finished taking pictures of the rollagons from every conceivable angle, my face was so cold that I was having a hard time getting words to come out right. I hope he didn’t think I was TUI (talking under the influence)…that’s an embarrassing thought.

A couple of days ago someone told me that the tires on a rollagon are actually soft and pillow-like. There is supposed to be a photo or advertisement somewhere that shows a woman lying on a beach being run over by a rollagon without physical damage or discomfort to her body. I asked the driver if the tires were actually soft and pillow-like. He looked at me blankly for a minute. Then his mouth curled into one of those you-poor-gullible-soul smiles and he said, “Uh…” So, I’m guessing that would be a no.

One of the trickiest anomalies of the Arctic is conflicting information. Equally reasonable and seemingly knowledgeable people can have two entirely different perceptions of the same event and pass on mutually exclusive information as indisputable fact. It’s often a challenge to determine if something I’ve heard is actually true or just true enough.

After seeing the rollagons for myself, I realized that the description found here describes exactly what you'll see in these photos. (and the photo from the previous post is not)

This is the first one that I saw. At this point, it had just passed up the entrance to the fuel farm (I'm not sure why) and was about to back up.

Here's the second one as it turns in toward the fuel station where it will begin unloading diesel into the tanks.

In this shot, one of the drivers is hooking up the blue hose that will transfer the fuel from the truck to the fuel farm tank.

If I am understanding the article correctly, the rollers are what move the tires. And the pressure of each tire can actually be controlled individually by the driver without leaving the cab!

When I walked around to the far side of the trucks, I noticed a spare tire wedged in beside the tank and below the trailer there was yet another tire attached to some sort of arm that looked as if it could extend outward. When I read the article about rollagons it mentioned a "fifth set of tires installed under its cargo dock. That difference raises the vehicle's payload capability by 15,000 pounds, to 45,000 pounds." I'm thinking that must explain it. Anyone have a better theory? I'm open to ideas. This is the Arctic, after all. Our explanations don't have to be actually true...just true enough! :)
I took several more photos, but won't attempt to share them all here. If you would like to see more, just click on a photo and that will send you to my Flickr account.


Steve said...

Big machinery is cool! Good pictures and account.

Bryan said...

I can easily imagine the excitement and the stir that would be caused seeing one of those crossing the tundra! Do they travel cross-country, or do they stick to the established road? I guess the answer to that depends on if they can traverse fresh snow, or do they need to stick to the snow pack?

Kimberlee said...

Thanks, Steve. I'm glad I had the opportunity to see them for myself. :)

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Bryan. I wish I WOULD have been able to see them coming into the village. I think that would be quite an impressive sight to see those huge yellow and black giants against the stark whiteness of the tundra. There is no established road anywhere on the North Slope except, the Dalton Hwy, between Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks. I'm pretty sure the rollagons can go wherever they want as long as the surface can support the weight, so THEY basically establish the path. I know that people who ride snow machines really like being able to follow a rollagon track because it's so smooth and even. I'm only guessing, but I would think they'd have to map out a route that would prevent rolling over larger lakes that don't freeze solid.

Good to hear from you!

Laurie B said...

Cool, Kimberlee! Maybe one day there will be a Monster Trucks of the Arctic event!

Kimberlee said...

LOL! Monster Trucks, huh? That sounds pretty scary! :)

lesle said...

What goes around, comes around

Kimberlee said...

Ha! That's a hilarious comparison, Lesle! There is no doubt that riding on a rollagon would be MUCH more comfortable (even luxurious)compared to what pioneers endured with the prairie schooner! Thanks for the link. :)

Rm said...

Oh! Aunt Kim! You don't know what a can of questions you have opened up. Cader is wanting to know way more info than I can even make up. So, I see a phone conversation between the two of you coming soon.

A couple of nights ago, Cader fell out of bed and hit his nose on his side table. He got a bloody nose and was crying. I cleaned him up and tried to calm him down and stop the crying. I told him you just sent some pictures of a huge snow truck for him to see. So at 2am we were looking at "your" big truck photos. He loved them and we talked about them until he fell asleep about 3am.

Thank you for sharing your experiences and the interesting sightings of your area. Love you.

Kimberlee said...

Okay, that HAS to be the first time that rollagons have been used as a sleep aid or treatment for a bloody nose! :)

I'm so glad that Cader enjoyed the photos and I would love to chat with him about what I saw. I have no doubt that he'll run through my little puddle of knowledge lickety-split! LOL!

Powertampa said...
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Powertampa said...

Did ya saw one of them drivin into a corner yet, i dont think they have normal car steering, do you know how they steer?

BTW nice pictures, i luv such machinery. I rebuild one for a computer game now :D

Kimberlee said...

I'm sorry to say that I don't know how they steer, but I'll ask around. I did see the rollagons pictured in my post turn several corners, so I know they are capable of turning, but the only thing that I can think of at the moment is that they have the ability to stop the wheels on one side with the other keeps turning. I'll try to post more info after I've had a chance to talk/write someone who has actually seen the inside or operated one. Great question!

Queen of Clean said...

So tonight I was visiting with a former teacher at a wedding, and I asked her what her husband did for a living. She replied that he drove a Rollagon in Alaska during the winter months. So when I googled it, your blog came up. Thank you for posting pictures of them, it was very helpful.

Kimberlee said...

Hey! I'm so glad you found your way to the Buggy Side. Welcome! Rollagons are very cool. I'm hoping to get to ride in one from Atqasuk to Barrow one of these days. I think that would be a blast!

Alberto said...
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Tom said...

Hi, Kimberly!

To answer a couple of your questions: Yes, they exist! (Grin) I used to work on them about 30 years ago in Anchorage while they were building the pipeline. One of the problems then was that the frames weren't strong enough for the cold. When it gets to be 50 below or more, the steel gets brittle and is weakened and can shatter. I would imagine the newer versions have fixed that problem.

Yes, you are right on about the extra tires adding to the total weight that can be carried. I've never driven the rollagons, but I have driven long-haul trucks stateside and have about a million miles of experience. The more axles and tires you have, the more the weight can be spread out, and that cuts down on any damage that could be caused. This applies to anything, trucks, rollagons, or anything else.

I had to laugh about your comments about right, wrong, and what's right enough! Let's put it this way: If you are outside at 40 below, something breaks down, and you are freezing your buns off, then the "right" way is anything that works, and nobody cares what the manufacturer or anyone else "recommends"!

I actually saw that picture. However, it was promoting the rollagons, so she could have been laying in a dip in the ground for all I know.

My best to you and all the "sourdoughs" up there!