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

Posted: Mar 23, 2013 09:43 pm EDT

(Correne Coetzer) Today Manon talks to ExplorersWeb about modifying the Massey Ferguson tractors to travel with them in Antarctica during the 2014-15 season, as Edmund Hillary did in 1958-59; about Polar mechanics sharing their knowledge, and what the biggest machine challenge is. Manon also says she is following the British expedition, currently on an Antarctica crossing with two Cats, with great interest.

The Tractor Girl reveals who her tractor team mates to the South Pole will be, and tells about her four-legged team mates on her nearly 4-year tractor drive from the Netherlands, through Europe, the Balkans and Africa to the Cape of Good Hope.

ExplorersWeb: What modifications have been made to the tractors for the harsh conditions on Antarctica?

Manon: Though I’ve spoken to Antarctic and Arctic mechanics in many places worldwide, while trying to set up the expedition all by myself, and I was really happy with how they had liked to share their knowledge and expertise... I’ve now passed this collected info onto the Massey Ferguson mechanics team who will do the modifications to these modern tractors.

In basic modifying a tractor for the cold is pretty straightforward, because they are sturdy farm machines they’re build for rough terrain and circumstances.

Their fuel needs to be replaced by Polar diesel which has a higher lubricity, is thinner than normal diesel, and a special type of oil that doesn’t freeze/flock.

But it’s the so called ‘little’ and ‘simple’ things that can create big problems, like for example, snow accumulating in the wrong places and melting. That’s why I’m so happy that we’re testing our material in Iceland. You can come up with so many things in your head, but facing reality is always the best check of your gear and systems.

Our biggest challenge may be the tires. Historically tractors have always driven with tracks instead of tires, and half-tracks caused tractors to, in certain areas, dig themselves in the deep snow. So using full-tracks is seen as the only option.

But we’re investigating the idea of driving with tires. I know it sounds crazy, and people may think: ah, another mad bunch. But think again: big balloon tires that can be deflated. They give more traction when needed (in very soft snow), but also suspension so we can keep driving faster with less possible damage to the vehicles.

Many years ago in South Africa when I shortly chewed on the idea, all experts spoke against it. ‘It can’t be done, has never successfully been done before!’ After some pushing I gave in. Though I didn’t have prove, they were probably right. I also didn’t have their experience on Antarctica.

Now in Iceland we were training with the people from Arctic Trucks, and they’re totally into the idea of tires! (just like the Massey Ferguson company). They gave facts and figures, we discussed tractors verses cars, and then with their support we tried it out on the glacier. We still have more testing to do and find the right tractor tires but I’m pretty convinced now about the idea. We’ll see..... ; )

ExplorersWeb: Will the tractors have heated cabins?

Manon: Yes, they do. Heat/warmth management will be an issue to keep our eyes on. As Matty McNair puts so well in her Polar training; Lesson nr 1: ‘You sweat, you die!’ I’ve heard stories of people working tractors around scientific bases, and they face the same problems.

So what can happen while driving a tractor on a clear day when it’s really cold outside, is that the sun starts warming up your cabin. So because ‘you may not sweat‘ you have to start undressing yourself to keep cool. I heard that sometimes around the bases you can see people driving tractors in their underwear. Well, for the sake of it” ‘I’ll bring polka-dots!‘ ; )

Sorry, I like to make jokes. But I take the matter rather serious.

ExplorersWeb: What are the challenges for man and tractor?

Manon: There are many. The biggest one being crevasses. Hidden from view they may be our biggest challenge. Even on so-called ‘proven’ routes, these tractors are different in weight and a snow-bridge that supports a skier or car might not support our tractors.

ExplorersWeb: How much fuel will you carry with and where will the tractors refuel?

Manon: More testing to do, before I can answer that question. But I like the tractors to carry as much fuel as they can, doing what they are good at, pulling. But it’s a nice calculation to make, because when you pull too much weight, your consumption of fuel goes way up.

So calculating this is all about looking for the right balance, and the logistic possibilities. I hope we can do it without needing support, but that may stay a dream...

ExplorersWeb: How does your preparation plan look like for the next two years until you go?

Manon: Will get back to you. This is something to discuss with Massey Ferguson people, what do we share, when?

ExplorersWeb: Who are the team members? Do you have a mechanic going with? An experienced polar explorer/mentor? (Matty?)

Manon: We are planning to be a team of six people. Three Ferguson mechanics will come along, Matty McNair will be our Polar guide, Sarah McNair-Landry (her daughter as you may know) will also come along to guide and assist with AV (audio-visual) recordings of the expedition.

As she has worked with National Geographic and filmed and photographed several expeditions already, I’m really happy to have her in the team because we want to make this an interactive adventure that people can follow. Sarah will work together with Gianpiero Gandolfo, an Italian cameraman/photographer with extensive experience filming worldwide in severe conditions, who is asked by the Massey Ferguson company to record this expedition.

And then there’s me off course, the ‘Tractor Girl’ - leader initiator of the expedition. The girl that’s collected thousands of dreams and wishes Worldwide and that sets out to build a snowman on the South Pole with the ‘dreams of the World‘ in its belly. Driving the tractor, skiing in front, keeping my diary so people can virtually travel along on this epic adventure story (on its way to a happy ending’, so we hope!).

‘For some things I’d go to the ‘End of the World’! Because they’re so worthwhile.

ExplorersWeb: At the end of a day's drive on Antarctica, will you switch the tractors off or will they idle during the night?

Manon: That’s one of the main questions we are working with right now. We don’t want to leave the engine’s run idle through the night, even though they only consume about a liter per hour. We might go for 24 hour traveling.

But together with Matty I also created the idea of a tractor tent sitting on the roof of each cabin. This tent could be used to cover the tractors during the night, with 24 hour daylight and taking away the wind-chill the temperatures inside the tent are estimated to not drop below -20°C, which would make all the difference for our tractors in the morning.

But as you can see, this is something to calculate and test. And setting up these tents will be al lot of work every night. And maybe they’re too big in storms. So I’m still leaving the option open for 24 hour traveling and other possible solutions.

ExplorersWeb: The Brits are on Antarctica at the moment with two Cats. Are you in particular keeping an eye on them to see how their vehicles perform in the cold? (even though it is winter expedition)

Manon: Of course. It is great to see what they are doing. Such a great challenge they face. They travel in the worst possible circumstances so that’s always a good thing to look at. I feel privileged to read about their expedition and think it’s great how they share their stories and experiences.

ExplorersWeb: Do you get advice from any of the car teams that have driven to the South Pole?

Manon: Yes, we were advised by the Arctic Trucks people who have such an abundance of experience and knowledge. And I look forward to working together with them more while preparing for the Antarctic tractor expedition.

Of course tractors and cars are not the same, but these men know (and love) vehicles. And the Ferguson mechanics feel eager to rise to the challenge of translating car-info to tractor-info. Some problems with cars do not exist with tractors, and maybe vice versa.

ExplorersWeb: What happened to your dog that has travelled with you to South Africa?

Manon: My first dog Kosovo, was given to me at the Kosovarian border by their police. He travelled with me for 2 years and three months. In Tanzania he got the sleeping sickness and in the end I buried him at the coast. There, in Dar es Salaam, I adopted a puppy born from a streetdog. I named her Biba. She traveled with me on the tractor for nearly two years. In South-Africa she accidentally fell pregnant and had four gorgeous pups. Biba is now 5, and she lives with me in Amsterdam.

Family: Mother, father, twin-sister and younger brother.
Hobbies: Tractor-driving? (hehe;)
Dancing, performing, in other words: my job : )
Favorite music: Singer/songwriters
All sorts, as long as it’s inspired and is delivered in such a way that it gives you energy.
Favorite Food: Satsa & beans ; ) the food I ate in Africa for about 3 years! Yum.
Latest read book:
“The other hand” by Chris Cleave.
Best adventure yet:
38.000 km’s by tractor to the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ on my own.
- well ok, locally everywhere there was lots of goodwill support :-)

3 top accomplishments in your life:
Following my dream to become an actress. I think it takes courage to follow a road that makes you happy, that seems so selfish! But when you smile you can pass that on to others! And only later I also realized choosing this road could helped me to be worthwhile to the World to some extend I never before could have envisioned. I hope to inspire, and enjoy what I do.

1-2 people who inspire you:
Hahaha, Forest Gump

Quote that inspires you:
“Never grow Up!” - J.M. Barrie (from Peter Pan)
“I have a dream” - Martin Luther-King

“Remember that the most difficult tasks are consummated not by a single burst of energy or effort, but by consistent daily application of the best you have within you.” - Og Mandino


Previous - 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)

Previous - Winter South Pole crossing: Bad summer weather before winter-start March 21

Previous - ExWeb 2013-14 South Pole kick-off interview: Daniel Burton, return cycle journey

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

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

Manon Ossevoort's website

Manon Ossevoort on Facebook

Hillary and Fuchs 1955-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition

Massey Ferguson's website

Massey Ferguson's website

Matty and Sarah: Northwinds website

Best of ExplorersWeb 2005 Awards: Matty McNair - Arctic and Antarctica

This expedition (and other expeditions/ adventures/ projects with RSS feeds) can be followed in the live Dispatch stream at the Pythom App for iPhone/iPad and on Android as well as at ExplorersWeb.

ExplorersWeb Expedition List

South Pole Adventure Stats

#Polar #topstory #interview

"It’s the so called ‘little’ and ‘simple’ things that can create big problems, like for example, snow accumulating in the wrong places and melting." Image of Manon on a Massey Ferguson during and training and testing session in Iceland in February.
Image by Sarah McNair-Landry courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort / Massey Ferguson
"I was really happy with how [Antarctic and Arctic mechanics] had liked to share their knowledge and expertise."
Image by Sarah McNair-Landry courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort / Massey Ferguson
"In basic modifying a tractor for the cold is pretty straightforward, because they are sturdy farm machines they’re build for rough terrain and circumstances."
Image by Sarah McNair-Landry courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort / Massey Ferguson
Starting her Africa tractor drive in Egypt.
courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort
A rhino in Zimbabwe on inspection.
courtesy (c) Manon Ossevoort, SOURCE
"I adopted a puppy born from a streetdog. I named her Biba. She traveled with me on the tractor for nearly two years." Image: Biba and Manon in Cape Town, South Africa, 2009.
courtesy Manon Ossevoort