By on March 6, 2011

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.

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19 Comments on “Down On The Slopes: Thiokol Spryte (From The Shining?)...”

  • avatar

    “too talented to fire” – I’d love to see that inserted into Baruth’s byline.

    And since you guys like to refer to a certain genre of American vehicles as “land barges”, how about doing a review sometime of an actual bona-fide barge.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    ———Inappropriate use of thread warning———–
    How about the Suzuki Kizashi ads comparing them to a snow cat. A silly concept in many ways, yet the copy writers seem to have done even less research then usual as the ad claims cats have the turning radius of the Queen Mary. The old 4 track Tuckers have about the turning circle of a large truck (probably a 6×6 power wagon as the running gear is from Chrysler), But modern 2 track cats can turn around inside their own length.
    AHHH I feel better letting that rant out.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    The book was better, although I like the adaptation staring Jack Nicholson better than the made for TV one.  Then again I thought Christine was a better book than movie too. 

    Too bad you didn’t get to review that Snow Cat for real. 

    • 0 avatar

      Well, just about every book is better than the movie adaptation.  A good writer can develop settings and characters that can be visualized in a reader’s mind far better than they ever could be depicted on film.  But occasionally a mediocre novel by a hack writer gets transformed by a very good screenwriter and director.
      Stephen King’s actually very good, as far as contemporary novelists go.  Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining was good, probably the “best made” film version of any King story.  The imagery is great.  But King hated it, because he felt Kubrick ignored the themes of the story and that Jack Nicholson’s casting was wrong, lessening the impact of the character’s descent into insanity.  The book was more about the inherent evil of the hotel possessing its occupants, whereas the movie deemphasizes that somewhat and is more of a “Crazy Jack Nicholson” vehicle.  Granted, Jack Nicholson does crazy better than anybody.
      Christine had the same problem to a degree.  But, hey, it’s a John Carpenter horror flick.  And any movie with Harry Dean Stanton in it isn’t altogether bad.  Well except for ruining all those ’58 Belvederes (The film didn’t use real Furys. Hey, I had to include a factoid about cars in here somewhere).

      Anyway, that’s why Stephen King prefers to have his books adapted as miniseries and is usually involved on the production. He has greater artistic control. Unfortunately, that’s also meant that most of those adaptations have been crap. And with stories like his, some things are best left to the imagination.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      One very strong factor is the story’s length: with few exceptions the best adaptations of book content to the silver screen have all come from the short story and novella format, as evinced by such exemplary films as Breakfast as Tiffany’s, Enemy Mine, The Third Man, Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption. Even the towering Lord of the Rings saga omitted whole novellas worth of content to cram its extended version into a day-consuming epic, which underscores the big problem with adapting novels to the big screen: it’s impossible to perform the feat and do justice to the work when you’re converting a novel to movie format, even when you are now given 3-4 hours to tell the tale (thank you, James Cameron and Titanic: you saved cinema from the sub-90 minute death spiral it had entered from the 80s).

      And the miniseries angle is the best one for longer novels: you have enough time to properly introduce and flesh out characters, build plot and set the stage for the forthcoming crisis(crises). Some novels and series could easily be turned into a year or 2’s worth of television episodes without feeling drawn out.

      I like Stephen King’s short stories but his novels tend to drag for me. His style has a very strong “summer nights around the campfire” feel to it, which makes for an excellent short story or novella but becomes wearying when it reaches the 500 page mark. Then again, I tend to be more of a Bradbury fan, whose compact stories feel as if he stayed up long nights agonizing, “should it be an ‘and’ or an ‘or’? Damn it, this is going to hurt. . . .”

      Argh, now I am sad. I just watched the Cowboys and Aliens trailer again and it reminded me why Night of the Cooters won’t ever be made into the greatest War of the Worlds parody/homage film anyone can imagine: Slim Pickens died before the original short story was written.

    • 0 avatar

      Books and movies are very different forms of media and are often able to do, and are trying to do, very different things: apples and oranges if you ask me.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Prince By-Tor does not want.

  • avatar

    “films as Breakfast as Tiffany’s, Enemy Mine, The Third Man, Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption.”
    Enemy Mine was, in my unmuffled, pre-gulp valve days opinion a truly enjoyable movie.

  • avatar

    I believe Snow cats (or their equivalents) were featured on the TV movie from 1982 starring Rock Hudson, “WWlll”.

  • avatar

    For a while I was considering submitting a review of how the Boeing 737-700W handles on the ground. Is anyone interested in that?

    • 0 avatar

      I am! Stopping distance, cornering ability, 0-60 mph times, best tarmacs, hangars & runways, etc. Count me as one who’d like to know, as I have trouble properly approaching my Cessna for landing on Flight Simulator!

    • 0 avatar
      Kosher Polack

      I want it! I also want a rant about how the rudder pedals in all aircraft are totally wrong. I’m pretty sure I’d get in one and immediately steer it into a fuel depot because PUSHING ON THE LEFT PEDAL should make the LEFT SIDE GO FASTER like in an R/C car. Amirite? Or is a 737 handled on the ground by some kind of knee-located tiller wheel?

    • 0 avatar

      The funny thing about rudder pedals is that they are not what you use to “turn” while in the air…

    • 0 avatar

      It sounds like I have at least a few readers interested!  I’ll get on the job, but of course it will be up to the good folks at TTAC whether they decide to run the review.  Thanks for the encouragement!

  • avatar

    They also used one of these for the ‘Chariot’ in Irwin Allen’s sci-fi tv show Lost In Space . Not too bad in it’s much darker first year in black and white Allen decided to camp it up ala Batman in the next two filmed in color seasons . Watching it now it looks far too silly to ever be considered for tv and mostly about a pedophile chasing around a young boy in a velour jumpsuit . Blecch !

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Hey, I know that cat! I always park down there when I’m up at Timberline, it’s the lot most convenient to the slopes.
    In their defense I definitely wouldn’t wanna take that thing out for a spin. When I got a ride up the glacier in one of the more modern ones I was really surprised by how much the driver had to fight it to get it up the hill. Can’t imagine how tough it must be in one of the older models.

  • avatar

    I just noticed something that I’ve forgotten about for many years – the headlight bezels on the snow cat: They look like dead ringers from the ones used on a 1959 Chevy, just like the ones you used to see on all the public transit buses every metropolitan bus company used to have. Just a thought. As far as movies go, get ready for “Atlas Shrugged”, as it will be done in three parts, like the novel. It should be interesting. “Lost in Space”? That show stunk and wasn’t worth the film it was shot on. “Star Trek”? Now that’s another story! Back to the snow cat: It reminds me of a railroad track speeder I used to run back in 1980. It had a Kalamazoo 4 cyl. engine that you had to crank start! No kidding.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    i almost blew an O-ring just looking at it.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    I had no clue the company that buried a bunch of rocket parts in the present-day field behind my school built these!
    (My school sits right in front of where the Thiokol plant used to be in Fairless Hills/Bucks County PA. Only two buildings still exist and one’s the county impound.)

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