Between recent reviews of a Can-Am Spyder, the Ski-Doo MXZ and the Goodyear Blimp, a certain TTAC writer has succeeded in shaking off this site’s usual monastic dedication to the world of four-wheeled passenger vehicles. And since this particular writer is too talented to fire (well, for mere distraction, anyway), I’d just like to remind the TTAC family that this website is, and always will be, about cars… unless we find something really cool, like this mid-to-late 60s Thiokol Spryte Snowcat. Then we’ll save it for the traditional rule-breaking period: the weekend.
Timberline Lodge (you know the exterior as The Overlook Hotel in The Shining) isn’t the only gawk-worthy antique on Mount Hood. This mid-60s Thiokol Spryte doesn’t get used much anymore, as more modern groomers and larger snow cats have taken over day-to-day operations. It now sits at the end of a parking lot of old snow cats, tractors and groomers, developing the patina to match its classically brutish looks. In fact, these few pictures were inspired by the fact that I finally saw one being started and driven, its Ford straight-six coughing and dying several times as the driver struggled with an unforgiving clutch. But a vintage voyage wasn’t in the cards: the Thiokol was just being moved down a few spots in the Timberline boneyard… and in an infuriating development, the video I thought I took of it on my iPhone has mysteriously vanished. Maybe the kid mangling the Thiokol’s clutch and I should have switched jobs; I’ll take a clutch over a touchscreen any day.
Since this is not The Truth About Snow Cats, I won’t bore you with a lot of history here, except to note that the Thiokol conglomerate, which is most famous for its rocket propulsion and military contract work, sold its snow cat business in 1978 to none other than John Z Delorean. Obviously that didn’t last long (insert Delorean “playing in the snow” joke here), and the snow cat business (first called DMC, then after 1981, LMC) lost John Z as a stockholder in 1988. Still, the company built derivatives of the Spryte design for years, before closing shop in 2000.
But the real Spryte history here (well, other than the fact that there’s an amphibious version) is its role in The Shining. When Jack and Wendy first arrive at the Overlook, they’re showed a snow cat that is definitely not a Spryte. “Basically the snow cat operates very much like a car,” they’re told, still unaware that one will use that knowledge to abandon the other who, in the meantime, will have turned into a deranged killer. But here’s the interesting thing: that shot was taken in England, on a set featuring a giant replica of Timberline (one of the largest ever built at the time, according to god old Wikipedia). But, at the end of the film, Wendy leaves the hotel in a snow cat that looks remarkably like the “single cab” Spryte just down the line from the one that had caught my eye. And those closing shots of her escape definitely look like they were taken at Timberline. Is the actual Thiokol piloted by Wendy in The Shining sitting right here in Timberline’s snow machine retirement center? Maybe that’s a question for next weekend… or, the Truth About Snow Cats dot com.