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ExWeb interview with Tractor Girl, Manon Ossevoort: tractor passed tests and arrived in Cape Town

Posted: Oct 22, 2014 03:00 pm EDT


(By Correne Coetzer)  Today, twelve years in planning became a reality with The Tractor arriving by cargo ship in Cape Town, South Africa. 


Twelve years ago, Dutch girl, Manon Ossevoort, started planning on her dream to drive a tractor to the South Pole. She set off on a tractor from her home country, The Netherlands, driving 38,000 km in 4 years through Europe and the Balkans, and 3.5 years through Africa until she reached the Cape of Good Hope, in Cape Town, her port to Antarctica. 


But she still needed a custom-made tractor for the cold continent and eventually, last year, Massey Ferguson teamed up with her; mindful of 1957-58 when Edmund Hillary arrived at the South Pole with three Ferguson tractors.


ExWeb caught up with Manon at home. She tells about the modifications on the tractor, the tests done in Iceland and in a cold room, and the last preparations before leaving for Cape Town in less than two weeks. 


ExplorersWeb: Since we have spoken in March last year, what modifications have been done on the tractor?


Manon: They tried to keep the tractor as close to a normal tractor as possible. But these modifications were put in place: 


- The fuel is being replaced by Jet A1 fuel, two stroke oil added for lubrication. This fuel-solution passed the tests in the cold chamber and Iceland really well.


- The glass windows have been replaced by polycarbonate (plastic windows /minimizing the chances of breaking a window).


- The normal fuel tank is being used for the heating system of the tractor. Webasto heating in place for fuel and oil-system and battery, an extra heater added in the cabin (which we may not need, because the cabin warms up nicely on the coldest days with sun shining into the cab ; ).


- Special oil was added, that can stand the coldest temperatures; 'Castrol Alaska oil'.


- On the rear linkage of the tractor there's an extra fuel tank added, tractor is carrying it like a backpack. This is added to ease refueling, so we can add more than a barrel into the tank (very practical solution) and travel for longer distances because refueling is time-consuming and will slow the tractor down.


- A crevasse bar was added to the front of the tractor. On it there’s a 'toolbox' added carrying oil and spare parts. This also creates the possibility for us to play around with weight-distribution which is very important to maximize the speed and traction of the tractor.


- Winches are added to the front and back of the tractor, just in case it needs to save an Arctic Truck. Heehee, I can wish, right? ; )


- The tractor was fitted with special tires to help create maximum floatation and traction. So it's driving with tires instead of a full-track system, which has never been done before on Antarctica.


We've tried and tested them in Iceland on a glacier and in the end decided for the Trelleborg Progressive Traction tire and Arctic Trucks has rounded off the sides of these tires so they don't cut through the snow too deep. Driving with these tires will dramatically decrease fuel consumption and increase the speed of the tractor.


ExplorersWeb: The tractor has been tested in a cold room. At what temperature was it tested and how did it perform?


Manon: After being switched off for 30 hours in temperatures of -40ºC it started up without a problem!

It was tested in temperatures up to -50ºC, driving.


On Antarctica we plan to drive on a 24 hour traveling schedule with the tractor driving as much as we can. If there are extreme white-out or storm conditions stopping us we'll cover the tractor with a specially designed (by Northwinds Arctic's Matty McNair our expedition leader) and made tractor-tent! It covers the tractor entirely and blocking the wind will prevent the temperatures from dropping below -20ºC. And of course it will help us when we need to dig out the tractor after a storm.


ExplorersWeb: What have you tested in Iceland on the glacier (with the volcano erupting in the background)?


Manon: We tested our 24 hour traveling schedule. Now that it is ready for the expedition, we want to see how the tractor's performing in the snow-conditions, and if all the modifications work as we wished them too ;-) Finding out how many kilometers the tractor averaged per hour, and travel as many hours as possible to make the test very thorough.


The results were: a few bolts on the toolbox came loose and needed to be replaced. One electrical wire wasn't plugged in well enough (we first thought there was a bigger problem and changed a sensor somewhere, but then it only turned out to be the plugging in of the wire. 


The tractor passed it's tests really well and drove speeds up to 32 km per hour (at night times unfortunately, during the day up to 27 km per hour). A very promising test-result. Though I keep my expectations very conservative and plan for the worst. The idea is that that we will minimize stress and maximize the fun! :-)


ExplorersWeb: What preparations do you still have on your to-do list before you leave for Cape Town?


Manon: Labeling all my clothes because we're all going to wear the similar clothes, buy underwear and sunglasses. Digitalize the last dreams I’ve collected in Africa (on small pieces of paper, which I off course won’t bring). Build a small 'letterbox-red tractor' to carry all the dreams to the South Pole. Knit the scarf of the snowman that I will build, carrying the 'dreams of the World' in it's belly...as a children’s book ending to this adventure story come to life! 


Finish the little video-clips that I'll put online every week during the expedition to show glimpses of the previous leg of my tractor journey (38,000 km in 4 years through Europe, the Balkans, and 3,5 years Africa, traveling alone). Some of them will give a stage to a few really inspiring projects I've visited in Africa...


ExplorersWeb: You have a baby girl now. Congratulations. How does being a mother and planning an expedition on Antarctica, match?


Manon: This year has given me the greatest challenge ever. It made my two biggest dreams come true. Two dreams I never thought would go together. But life threw me the challenge and I accepted it. Now it turns out little Hannah is loving every step of it. And her father is really looking forward to spending quality time with his daughter. He is taking a holiday and his paternity leave while I'm on the expedition, to look after her. And in Iceland he, and the grandparents that love to be part of it too ;) had his first test alone with her. When I came back he said he couldn't wait till I started the expedition, haha!


He also helped with building the heart of the snowman I'll build on Antarctica and with building the little mailbox-tractor. This last year I've cherished every minute of every day I spend with Hannah, and this project gave me a lot of time because I could work from home. So it seems I'm honored with and being challenged to truly celebrate the Happy Ending of the story I set out to tell 12 years ago! It humbles me. And leaves me with a big smile. 


I will miss her like crazy though! You'll probably read that in my blogs somewhere... ;-) I truly have something to come back too. I also can't wait to start the next chapter of my life. But as Rogier (my partner) says: you won't be a happy mom if you won't do this, you’ll set a really bad example to our daughter. Do it!


In the mean time, in Iqaluit, inside the Arctic Circle, expedition leader and veteran polar guide, Matty McNair told Explorersweb that she is stuck at her desk, giving attention to every small detail.


The expedition is scheduled to fly to Antarctica with Antarctic Logistics Centre International (ALCI) / TAC from Cape Town in November, to ALCI /TAC base camp at Novolazarevskaya (Novo), 70° 46’37”S, 011° 49’26”E 




ExWeb interview with The Tractor Girl, Manon Ossevoort: "I created a story that ultimately just had to become a real-life adventure" (Part 1 of 2)


ExWeb interview with The Tractor Girl, Manon Ossevoort: machines, mechanics, modifications and mates (Part 2 of 2)


ExWeb interview with Aron Reynisson (part 1), It is by no means easy to drive to the South Pole


ExWeb interview with Aron Reynisson (final): We literarily tear the vehicles apart and rebuild them with components proven to tolerate the cold climate


Hillary and Fuchs 1955-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition on Wikipedia



Lessons from a yachtswoman: Paula Reid to ski to the South Pole


Geoff Wilson’s Top 5 South Pole Tips


ExWeb interview with Faysal Hanneche, "I learned to be patient on Antarctica"


Union Glacier start-up team to Antarctica


Rules and Regulations in No-Man's Land: ExWeb interview with ALE's Steve Jones


Mount Sidley, Antarctica’s highest volcano accessible to climbers


Polar Tech Week Roundup: 2014/2015 Recommendations


Your Smart Phone going Global: Review of Iridium Go


ExWeb Special: 2014 Polar Tech Roundtable Conference


A journey to the South Pole in a wheelchair


Antarctica video trilogy


Video: Second 2012-13 Ilyushin-76 flight lands at Union Glacier, Antarctica


AdventureStats and Rules of Adventure



Expedition sites


2014 Tractor expedition website


Manon Ossevoort’s website
















Manon Ossevoort and the tractor training and testing in August in Iceland with the volcano erupting in the background. (click image to enlarge)
courtesy Manon Ossevoort / Sarah McNair-Landry, SOURCE