Muskeg big end repair in the field

Dick Cuthbertson

Dick's Diary transcribed by his son David

In September 1966 a 4-man tractor party, Tony Haynes. Dick Cuthbertson, Brain "Speedy" Swift and "Stu" Noble, set out from base heading for the Tottan Mountains. Their mission was to replace a broken drive shaft in a Muskeg tractor that had been left at Pyramid Rock the previous summer. Also they carried a plaque commemorating the 1965 crevasse accident to place on a rock face at Pyramid Rock. Two days out, while they were crossing the Bob-Pi, a big end failed on one of the tractors. Dick Cuthbertson recorded what happened in his diary:
Sun Sept 18th

This was at 15.00. In No.5 [Keg] Stu Noble & myself made a quick dash back to base to pick up spares. We arrived at base at 23.00 in the dark. Sun set at 6.00.

After a good meal I collected all spares including crank-shaft & a con-rod! Put my head down at 2AM.

They set off at 11am the next day and arrived back at camp at 19.00
Tues Sept 20th

Rigged up A-bar of sledge as gantry & covered complete rear half of Keg & gantry with large tarpaulin. Had engine out by 20.00 hrs & located big-end trouble by 22.00. Quite reasonable working under tarp with heater on & Tilley lamp. Far easier than I had thought.

No.4 Kegís big-ends all showed signs of overheating a little with No.1 hammered out. Fortunately No.1 journal only slightly scored, & max wear after smoothing with fine emery paper was .003"th with .002"th overall. I replaced all big-end shells & checked two centre mains up to the present.

Wed Sept 21st

The amount of oil in sump when filled to the full mark on dip stick seems inadequate to me & I intend to put more in. When Stu drove me back from base with the spares he commented on drop in oil pressure when hot. I thought perhaps if the bonnet was removed more air could cool the sump oil. We did this & the pressure increased by 15lbs/sq"! This could possibly be the cause of No.4 big end failure.

Tony & myself now sleep in a tent. Far more room & more comfortable. I fell out of the top bunk in the Keg! The tents are jolly cosy. Only my face gets cold about 4.00 in the morning but my feet and body remain warm.

Thurs Sept 22nd

A good blizzard blew all night & all day, about 40 knots I would say, causing 2 to 3 ft drifts with large wind scoops.

The engine, part dismantled under the tarpaulin! Everything in fact was covered with 1 ft of snow with snow drift up to Keg platform. I took all morning closing the larger holes around tarp with snow & more rope in an attempt to stop snow blowing in & then cleared snow off engine & tools & engine parts, being careful not to sweep away vital parts & tools. Of course I had cab heater on & Tilley & Primus & 2 blow lamps-going. We sleep & live in 2 man tent its much cosier & more room but it creaks & flaps about & Iím not quite sure when it will blow away, but Tony assures me it's as safe as houses. He should know.

I checked No.1 Main; it was sound. Boxed all up & refitted engine into place & connected mountings.

Fri Sept 23rd

Brilliant calm day. Almost an Antarctic summer's day.

Started Keg after Rad & winch, replaced tarp & A-bar removed. Stu, Tony & Speedy all busy digging out sledges & Keg No.5 & loading boxes, all ready for moving when No.4 is run in a bit. Oil pressure 25lbs/sq". Had thought it would be higher. Changed relief spring & also packed spring out but still only 25lbs/sq" on electric gauge which I think little of.

Sat Sept 24th Flag 29

Early start this morning, but had to wait until 12.00 hrs before actually moving. A lot of time spent on retying loads. The going was rather slow as I was nursing No.4. Stu broke open a large hole by the dunnage stake at Flag 23. A very slow haul up Bob-Pi slope. After Bob-Pi, progress was rather slow & enormous crevasses were encountered. Stu seemed rather worried but arrived at Flag 29.

Sun Sept 25th Flag ARO716

Left 29 at 08.20 & reached Depot 36 at 11.30 thence dumped all items for Theron trip. Six drums of fuel were dropped off No.4. Dick fixed speedo & No.4 left at 12.30 with Bob & Bill leaving a little tidying up for Stu & Speedy. No.4 made good progress until 15.30 when big end went again. In short time everything was arranged for removal of engine. No.5 arrived & after setting up tarpaulin, Speedy, Bob & Bill & Tony set out for Depot 80 to take Bob & Bill to their area of work obbing & manhauling glacier stakes.

I soon had engine out. Weather was not too bad.

Mon Sept 26th

Ready to remove crank-shaft.

Heater in Keg 4 dismantled.

Tues Sept 27th

Fitted new crank-shaft

New No.1 con-rod

All new main bearings but for No.1 con-rod which had the best old original big-end shells fitted as no more spares here. All other con-rods retained their bearings which had only had a few hours' running & were in Very Good condition.

Tony & Speedy returned after taking Bob & Bill around and taking advantage of breakdown stayed longer to help Bob & Bill reduce their manhauling trips by laying a few dumps more than intended. Worked Keg engine till 1AM.

Wed Sept 28th

Had to attend to Keg 5 dynamo which stopped charging. This I thought to be priority as it must be kept going at all cost. Stu & Speedy found great difficulty in removing dynamo which I must admit is rather difficult. There was oil on brushes which were sticking & cut out was sluggish to close.

I worked on till 11pm.

Thurs Sept 29th Flag ARO714

Started work at 9 AM. Tony cooked bacon & with rolls, was jolly good.

Sat Oct 1st Flag ARO744

Start in mank; viz very poor.

Thanks to Gordon Ramage (tractor mechanic, Halley Bay, 1972) for reviewing this transcript.

25 July 2022
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