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The 'watermelon' tyre


During one of his fishing trips in the 40’s to the Bering Strait in Alaska, William Hamilton Albee, a school teacher noticed few Eskimoes move a heavy wooden built boat with ease on a muddy bank. It appeared like ‘rolling balloons’ but coming closer to the scene, he observed that they were seal skins that were rolled up, stitched and inflated. That was it.

He goes back to his home in California and starts thinking on this. He wanted this to be made and sought makers. Finally, he could convince the tyre company Goodyear with his plans to make them under his guidance. Goodyear does this by using a combination of a special fabric with nylon so that its light construction would allow the tyre to absorb the bumps on its own. To prove its lightness, William Albee volunteered to let a 5 ton truck pass over him. He forms his company – Albee Rolligon Co.(ARC).


He thought that his brilliant discovery would help oil companies move man and materials over large distances in the icy cold Tundra region of Alaska and Canada. He obtained patents on his tyre as well as a vehicle that were fitted with these low pressure tyres. However, he was unable to push his concept in to a successful business model and so sold his firm in 1960 to a construction based firm that was located in Houston, Texas where most of the oil firms are located. John Holland, the new owner who brought William Albee’s inventions formed a new company called the Rolligon Corporation. 


This was the beginning of a new class of vehicles that could operate on sand, ice and difficult terrains. Today vehicles with these ‘watermelon tyres’ are made in various configurations such as 4 x 4, 6 x 6, 8 x 8, 10 x 10. Even few 12 x 12 wheel drive were made, that construction giant Bechtel used for their oil projects. They carry loads up to 30 tons and can move at a speed of 30 km/hr (maximum).


These are not the watermelons you thought.

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