Questions & Answers
Some words of advice to snowcat shoppers. My experience comes from use of snowcats for access to my house in the winter (full-time) during the last 20 years. Snowcats have become my hobby and I have accumulated very helpful knowledge for people in search of a cat. If you're looking for a cat, consider some of these main issues concerning your intended use or you may be quite disappointed with your purchase.
- What are your Snow Conditions? What's the deepest fresh powder you will ever need to get through? Do you need to climb steep pitches? Cats come in all different snow (or lack of) capabilities. Tracks are made in various widths and out of different materials. A wide track typical steel grouser w/rubber belting snowcat will get you through the deepest of powder but compromises speed and trailerability due to excessive width. On the other hand, a rubberized narrow track cat will be lighter, faster, easily trailered, and more suitable when used varied terrain (mud, dirt or rock roads, swamp, etc.) The Weasel is one of the most incredible vehicles for varied terrain travel despite its age it'll cruise down the highway at 50mph, ramble over rough off-road non-snow terrain, bob along through water, climb out of the water onto ice and proceed up the hill through 1-2 feet of powder effortlessly. On the other hand, the asymmetrical track groomer will go up just about anything in just about any depth of snow. These wide track Sprytes (1200A or 1200B or 1202WT or 1202B-42) and this 1500WT also do very well in deep powder.
- What size cat do you need? The size of your cat can be your friend or your enemy. There are two common problems with large wide cats. They are too wide to tow on the highway without special permits and they can't fit through trees. Smaller cats present various other limitations. They can't successfully move snow, carry large loads, use attachments, or travel easily through deep powder especially up steep hills.
- Do you really need a Blade? Unquestionably the most commonly underestimated factor of snow is it's weight. It is the common misconception that any cat with a blade will take care of any of your snow removal needs. I learned the truth first hand. I bought this 1450 super imp with a blade. I thought I would be able to clear the relatively little snow I need to move with it. This consists of a bit of snow around my house (wind drift and roof shedding) as well as some piles of snow that my truck plow blade leaves where I park my cars. The Imp's performance was pathetic to say the least. Two guys with shovels could move more snow faster than that cat. And in several occasions I actually got out of the cat with my shovel to move snow when the Imp was failing miserably. Having a blade also greatly handicaps the capability of your cat. On the mountain behind my house, just about every local utility company, and public agency uses their own cat to access the microwave/cell site at the top of the mountain. They have quite a variety of cats and they all get put to the test as the hill is very steep and a typical storm leaves between 2-8 feet of powder. Cats without blades definitely travel better through the deep powder but a blade is essential for cutting a road across a steep sidehill. This 1500WT is a great all-around utility cat which can do well at most tasks and reach almost any location. If you need to move a lot of snow then look for a cat with over 10,000lb. GVW or you may be disappointed (This LMC 4700 weighs 16,000 lbs and will easily move any amount of snow). Otherwise, do yourself a favor and forget about a blade if you have any deep snow to travel through.
- Hydrostatic or Brake-Steer? Hydrostatic cats operate on individual hydraulic motors driving each track. They are the only cats capable of counter steering (one track driving forward while the other track driving backwards). This allows you to turn on a dime and while not necessarily easy on your tracks, it does make the cat more maneuverable than any conventional brake-steer cat. Hydrostatic cats are the 'cadillacs' of cats. They are very smooth and easy to maneuver. The two main drawbacks are warm-up time and cost of maintenance & repairs. To prevent damaging the hydraulics, the cat must warm up for about 20-30 minutes in cold weather before it should even move. If you skip this step you could be looking at a $2,000-$10,000 repair. For the snowcat commuter, a 'brake-steer' cat is much more convenient just like your car start it, warm it up a bit and go!
- Don't be fooled with 'Toys'. There are many vehicles out there that fall in the all-terrain class that you don't want to make the mistake of purchasing of you really need to travel over deep snow. If you get more than 2 feet of powder from any one storm where you live, these vehicles are not going to serve your needs. For lighter snow conditions however, these vehicles may be very adequate. Examples of these vehicles are Cushman Tracksters, ASV Track-Trucks, Argos, Playcats, etc. These are not snowcats! Common brands of 'real snowcats' include, Thiokol, DMC, LMC, VMC, Tucker, Bombardier, and Pisten Bully.
Other common questions:
Who's LMC, DMC, Thiokol? Just to clear up the confusion... It was same company that changed names over the years. Originally Thiokol Chemical Corporation, it changed to DMC (DeLorean Motor Company) around 1983 or so. When DeLorean had troubles, it changed to LMC around 1984 (Logan Manufacturing Company). Even though they are out of business altogether now, parts are still fairly easily found for most models as so many cats were produced and many use very generic parts. F.Y.I. - VMC is a totally different company that has tried to carry on were LMC left off.
How important is the age of the cat? In general snowcats have been slow to evolve. It seems only the newest hydrostatic cats have really taken advantage of the latest technologies available. For those looking at less expensive used cats, the age is less important than the state of condition. For example, Thiokol Sprytes (1200 series) are practically identical from 1967 when the OC12 rear end was introduced, to the 1980's. Minor changes were made but a 1979 Spryte is not necessarily better than a 1967 Spryte. It's more important to consider the condition of the vehicle and how well it was maintained.
What are the differences between rear ends? On the common 'brake-steer' Thiokol cats (Sprytes/1200 series and Imps/1400 series) you'll find two different models of rear ends used. The C-4 and the OC-12. You can identify them by the serial number stamped right on the back of the rear end. The number will start with a 'C12' on the OC-12. Also, the access plate is on the top of an OC-12 and right on the very back of an C-4. The C stands for Clark, OC stands for Oliver & Clark, the company that made them. I believe they were originally made for farm tractors. The older C-4 is a less desirable rear end usually found on Imps and older Sprytes (before 1967). I wouldn't pass on the purchase of a good running cat solely due to it having an C-4. Parts are still available and an C-4 in good shape can last for many many years when not abused. The OC-12 was used from 1967 through the 90's on Sprytes, Super Imps(1450's), LMC 1200's, 1500's and 2100's. It's a great rear end and when configured with drop boxes (offset axles which give far more ground clearance below the differential) is ideally the rear end to have in a 'brake-steer' cat.
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What oil do you run in the rear end? On an C-4 or OC-12 there have been different oils recommended - even from the factories. The most common is hydraulic oil preferrably 10W if used in cold winter conditions. Cats used for other purposes in other seasons should adjust accordingly. I use Unocal HT-4 which is a 10W Hydraulic Tractor fluid. Don't use heavy gear oil or you will have difficulty steering. ATF is recommended in some manuals for machines that have hydraulics but is very light. Although ATF may be easier on the hydraulic pump when below freezing, it's not necessary provided the fluid is warmed up properly before raising engine RPM's. High RPM's with cold fluid will starve the pump causing premature failure.
Are parts difficult to obtain? Most snowcats are component-built machines using commonly found generic parts. There are very few parts that are specific to any snowcat. Obviously, the body and frame are custom built. Grousers (metal bars bolted to the rubber belting that make up the tracks), wheel guides (bolt to the inside of the grousers and keep the tracks running on the wheels), and sprockets are several more specific parts. Other than that, most parts are fairly easily replaceable.
Where's a good source for filling tires, rebuilding sprockets, or replacement track belting? Fall Line in Reno, Nevada at 775.827.6400 is the best source that I know of. Do me a favor and tell them you were referred by the Chameleon Snowcat Site and they may give me a deal someday??? They provide many products for the ski industry and have perfected the poly fill snowcat tire. They even sell there own brand of tires for groomers. On heavier cats, filling all the tires is essential for durability. On smaller cats, at least the front wheels should be poly filled or solid. Fall Line also rebuilds your sprockets. Send them in when you start seeing a lot of metal. They also sell new track belting that is pre-drilled for your model cat. It's not cheap but it is stronger than common conveyor belting and if you ever decide to undertake the tedious task of rebuilding your tracks, don't cut corners by using cheap 3-ply belting. You'll be sorry down the road.
Another source for belting is Quality Belt Service. Call Steve at 303-929-7777
Can I drive my cat on the road? Tracks differ in design and although some are much more durable than others, most snowcats are not damaged by driving on pavement within reason. Keep in mind snow lubricates the tracks as they contact the wheels and sprockets so sustained use on dry surfaces does cause more wear although it may be minimal. The grousers on some cats can be hardfaced to increase durability for extended use on pavement. Driving on rocky roads can break grousers. Due to the light ground pressure of snow cats, traction on a hard surface such as pavement is poor. The tracks will spin easily so pulling or pushing capabilities are limited on roads.
How tight do I run my tracks? Tracks run too tight will never skip a tooth on the sprocket when turning and will wear tracks parts excessively. Tracks run too loose will skip constantly while turning and may walk off the wheels. Ideal tension keeps the sprockets from skipping too often and prevents the tracks from walking off. An occasional skip in a turn is O.K. When feeling the outside edge of the track at the midpoint of the cat, It should flex up and down approximately 4-6 inches when pulled up and down by hand. It should not feel tight but should not flop - somewhere in between.
For replacement parts for Thiokol, DMC, LMC call Peterson Equipment, Logan, UT - 435-752-5110. They stock many parts. They also have the original production records to find out what year your cat was made. Tell them you were referred from the Chameleon snowcat site - thanks!