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Extreme Rigs

The Snowcat Alaskan Machine

Skylar Holgate has assembled one of the coolest vehicle and camper combinations we have ever seen; a vintage 1964 Thiokol 1200B snowcat, and a custom 1958 Alaskan Camper.  Wait until you see what this snow-anywhere rig can do.

Snowcat Alaskan Machine

Perhaps when you were growing up the cool dads drove Thunderbirds, Barracudas, Chevelles, Corvettes, Mustangs, Cameros, and Jeeps.  When the spritely chickens that hatched these electrons were young and wild, the cool dads drove BMWs, Porsches, GTIs… and Corvettes, Mustangs, Cameros, and Jeeps.

Now imagine as you’re standing outside your junior high (aka middle school) waiting for a parental unit to pick you up.  Jeff’s dad arrives in a Mustang.  Sweet.  Chuck’s pop swings through with a Porsche 911.  Dang.  Jennifer’s dad roars up with a Pontiac GTO.  Double dang, and the car too.  Bodacious.

Then, your dad pulls in with a 1964 Thiokol 1200B snowcat.  It’s not even a contest.  Pack it in Pac-Man.  Game over.  The coolest dad has arrived, on tracks.

In my admittedly fermented imagination, Skylar Holgate and his extended family have had experiences like this for half a century.  Looking like a lovechild between a Hummer H1 and a Sherman tank, the Thiokol 1200B is the quintessential winter go-anywhere machine.  Deep snow is its middle name.

Returning to reality, the Holgate snowcat is first and foremost a workhorse.  As a family living in Silverton, Colorado, they face heavy snow conditions.  The snowcat helps with rooftop snow removal and can easily access snowed-in locations.

As the current owner, Skylar, recently kicked things up a notch by adding a 1958 Alaskan Camper.  He then rebuilt and modified the camper resulting in one of the most capable and cool-lookin’ truck camper rigs we’ve ever seen.  The expressions on his young son’s face tell the real story.  Let there be no doubt whose dad has the coolest vehicle.

Holgate Family And Alaskan On Snowcat

Above: Skylar, Genna, and Stone Holgate

Many families saw snow and had cats in the 1970s, but your family had an actual snowcat. Why did your family purchase a snowcat over 40 years ago?

In the early 1970s, my family bought a 1964 Thiokol 1200B six-window snowcat with a Ford 170 straight-six engine. It was used to access the old family dude ranch and for shoveling off roofs in the winter.

I got the snowcat from my brother-in-law. I kept it at my cabin and drove it around, but we could only get to the cabin via helicopter. So, now it’s kept at my house in Silverton, Colorado. We brought it here so we can enjoy it more with the family.

Putting the truck camper on the snowcat has been perfect in Silverton. There are mining roads from the 1800s all over the place. With the snowcat and Alaskan, we can go up into the basins and stay the night.

1964 Thiokol 1200B Snowcat Deep Snow


Do you know the history of your Snowcat?

This model was made by Thiokol Chemical Corporation, a chemical company that accidentally made an indestructible synthetic rubber. The material can’t burn or freeze.

The Thiokol snowcats were contracted as military vehicles. Specifically, the US Air Force used Thiokol snowcats to move missiles in deep snow.

In the 1960s and 1970s, ski areas bought snowcats so they could drive in deep snow. Then the phone companies used them to check power lines.

There aren’t that many Thiokol snowcats around. There are only a few hundred of my model. My Thiokol is like number 86. My brother-in-law’s father got it from Pacific Bell to check power lines. Then, we used it to drive it to the ranch in the San Juan Mountains where we would get a lot of snow. We would use the snowcat to clear off snow from the saddle and horse barns.

There is a little community around the United States that has collected the old Tucker Sno-Cats with four-tracks or the ones like mine with two-tracks that are super lightweight. The Thiokol’s track-to-body ratio is abnormal. It can go into five feet of fresh snow with no problems.

Snowcat Has Tracks Easy Maintenance

A highly specialized vehicle from 1964 might be challenging to maintain. Does it need a lot of work?

It’s pretty robust. It has low hours on it for it being old. Pretty much everything, including the motor, is upfront.

My model has the Ford industrial straight-six engines like the Mustang and Falcons back in the day. It starts up with no problems in the cold weather because it’s not diesel. For parts, all I need to do is look up the year and Ford Falcon.

Everything else is underneath between the tracks. The only things I had to customize were the steering and an access point for changing fluids. Everything under the vehicle is easy to get to.

It’s a really simple machine, so there is not much to it other than the motor. Basically, it has a drive shaft in the back that spins the cog wheel brackets. That spins its track and five wheels that spin on the bearings. They get greased and shaved. There’s not much to it.

Snowcat In The Colorado Mountains

That’s incredible. How did you know it would fit a camper?

The drivetrain, sheet metal body, motor, and flatbed make it ideal for a camper. Since it was made to haul missiles, it has a 1,900-pound payload capacity. The cat itself weighs 3,600 pounds and that is mostly the tracks. It’s really lightweight. The Alaskan was made for an eight-foot bed, so it fit perfectly.

1958 Alaskan Caboverless Camper

So where did the idea to put an Alaskan Camper on your snowcat come from?

It was my idea. Originally I was going to frame out something with plywood and steel studs, but then I checked around for an already built camper. I found out that a lot of campers were too heavy, too top-heavy, or wouldn’t be suited for our winters. I have an old Palomino pop-up, but that wouldn’t work as well in the extreme winter weather we have.

Then, I found this 1958 Alaskan on Craigslist. It was originally posted for $800 by a guy who lives in Silt, Colorado who owns a pawn shop. I called him and asked him if that was the lowest he would go since it is a five-hour drive for me. He told me that if I made the drive, he would work with me on the price.

He kept it around to restore it but never did. There were no leaks, so there was no water damage. I worked out a deal with him where I bought the camper and a six-shot .22 pistol belt buckle from his pawn shop for the original price of $800.

Snowcat Parked In Driveway At Home

An Alaskan Camper and a pistol belt buckle for $800! That has to be one of the best and craziest truck camper deals we’ve ever heard of. What’s the story behind the square roof?

That was a mystery. First, there was no Alaskan emblem, serial number, or any other identifying information on the camper. I figured it was an Alaskan, but I wasn’t 100-percent sure.

I sent Bryan Wheat at Alaskan Campers some photos and he did some research. At first, he said, “That’s not an Alaskan”. And I said, “It has everything your campers have except for the rounded roof”.

Bryan kept researching and found out that my camper was an Alaskan custom build, but it was smashed by a tree in the 1960s and then repaired. To rebuild the roof, they made it square because it was in the budget for the owner.

That’s why it has the different upper cabinets that are custom built. The different cabinets were throwing Bryan off, but then he found the history about the tree falling on it. That’s why the roof is square and doesn’t have the classic Alaskan round roof, so it is truly one-of-a-kind.

Helping Out Dad With Camper

What did you need to do to restore the camper?

When I got it home, it was a solid year of work. I worked my regular job during the day and worked on the camper when I came home. At the time, my son was a year old. It was a good time to have him contained with me in a small area while I was tinkering.

We live in the mountains of Colorado, so I wanted to make sure the camper was super warm. The first thing was updating the insulation. I stripped down the camper and doubled the insulation.

When I pulled off the ceiling, I saw the Alaskan paneling. I pulled that off to make sure there was no water damage or rot. It was in good shape for a 1958 camper. There was no water damage anywhere.

I added two layers of 1.5-inch purple board and 2-inches of pink insulation on each side. The insulation is now doubled up on the walls and the ceiling.

Working On The Vintage Alaskan

I redid the ceiling with tongue and groove cedar boards, like what you’d put in a closet. That made the camper smell good and it looked good. I also installed outdoor carpet inside to make it warmer.

I replaced the gasket that separates the top and the bottom to make the seal. Then, I covered the exterior in aluminum diamond plate and I painted it black.

It had the original Alaskan aluminum skin when I got it. Something had hit it on the side and there was a hole. I used aluminum diamond plate to cover up the torn aluminum.

Outer Boxes Built For Alaskan

The shape of the camper was smaller on the bottom and flared to go on a pickup truck. Since I was putting it on the flatbed, I centered it up and put the diamond straight down. The wider part of the camper is the same width as the flatbed. I framed it out with steel studs and brought down the diamond plate. This gave me big storage areas for toolboxes, skis, a generator, extra fuel, shovels, and recovery gear. There’s an 8-foot by 1-foot box on both sides.

Snowcat Camper Fits In Garage

Other than the insulation and ceiling, did the inside need any work?

The original shelves were heavy 3/4-inch plywood, so I made some lighter shelves to pull some weight out for the snowcat. I also put in custom counters and cushions. For sleeping, we have the dinette and the bunk bed. The lower bed in the dinette is an XL-twin, with a single-size bunk bed that goes perpendicular.

When they redid the roof, they made sure that every cabinet had a 110-volt plug. Some even have two. In the future, if I add solar, I have plenty of places for power.

I used LED light strips under the cabinets that are dimmable. We can have a whole lot of light or we can tone it down. I’m also looking at getting a Goal Zero power station for my lights. When we’re winter camping, we don’t need too much. We go out for one or two nights at a time.

Bunk And Bed Alaskan

We love our GoalZero 400 Lithium. What did you do in the kitchen?

I pulled out the refrigerator because we camp in the winter. By taking out the refrigerator we dropped the weight and the power required to run it. We have a Yeti cooler in a drawer with heavy-duty slides. If anything needs to be really cold, we put it outside.

We bring along an Instant Pot, coffee maker, and water boiler. We use a two-burner camp stove that stores in an upper cabinet. When we are not cooking, we can use the counter space.

I pulled out the oven. When we want to bake, I have an old Coleman fold-out oven that sits on the stove. I don’t want the kitchen out all the time because we only have 48 square feet.

We are out skiing when we go camping, so we have a lot of gear, jackets, and boots that need to be stored. Once the family is inside, it’s nice to have things put away. I had to make sure that things weren’t out and taking up space.

For entertainment, there is a projector and screen with surround sound.

Watching Frozen Projector In Camper

Wait, what? You don’t have a refrigerator or stove, but you have a projector screen and surround sound. Where do you set that up?

I have a projector that mounts under the upper cabinets that plays any media off of my phone. The blinds on the windows are white and pull down, so the picture is 3.5’x 2.5’. We have surround sound Bluetooth speakers. My son loves it! On our last camping trip we watched Frozen out in a mountain basin when it was 1°F outside the camper was a cozy 75°F.

Since you’re camping in the cold, how do you heat the camper?

As of now, we use a Honda eu2200i generator and an electric heater. I put the generator about 100-feet away in a snow hole to keep it quiet. We also have a diesel 12-volt heater as a backup.

Could you use a Mr. Buddy heater so that you don’t need the generator?

We need dry heat. The condensation with the Mr Buddy is too much when we have wet gloves and wet boots. The windows would frost over and everything would stay moist. That happens even in the dry mountains here.

The electric heater is ideal for drying out snow gear. In the snowmobile world, people use a diesel 12-volt heater to thaw out snowmobile trailers. They sip diesel and the 12-volt battery lasts multiple days. Our heat comes in through a hole in my toolbox and ducting.

We go out far into the basins, so it’s a good idea to always have two forms of heat should the Honda bonk out on me.

1958 Camper Alaskan Refurbished

Yes, we need our readers alive. What is still original from 1958?

The lower cabinets in the front are original as well as the dinette bench and the cubbies that open up. The table set-up and how it drops down have not been changed. The frame and the windows are original. It’s also got the original roof lift and we have the bottleneck jacks.

The Alaskan’s lift system does not quit. Do you have holding tanks?

The original fresh tank was stainless steel, and heavy! I pulled it out to drop the weight. We use a blue five-gallon jug that fits under the cabinet. I don’t want anything permanent in the camper.

I bought a bar sink to drop in the cabinet, but I am hesitant to install it because it will use up counter space. I have a hand pump galley-style faucet. When we cook and eat, we pull out the jug and put it on the counter. It has a little faucet.

What about a bathroom?

My son uses a porta-potty and we use the outside. We live in the winter all year.

Mountain Scene Colorado Camp With Snowcat

Now that sounds cold. How is the Alaskan attached to the snowcat?

It’s really on there. The flatbed has steel crossbars through the entire bed. I was able to make L-brackets along the base of the Alaskan that bolted to it. Snow is so smooth in comparison to a dirt road that’s rocky. I’m not worried about it swaying.

So it’s bolted on. Can you remove it if you wanted to?

Yes, but it would be a day’s work if I wanted to take it off. It would take an impact wrench to lift it off. It was a big challenge getting it on there.

I saw the Cirrus 820 with the snowcat on Truck Camper Magazine’s Instagram page with the jack system for the snowcat. I thought for months about how I was going to get the Alaskan on the snowcat without taking the tracks off, which is a big job. You can’t take the tracks off to lift the camper and then back it up because you can’t lift it up with the tracks on it.

A buddy came over with skids with forks on the front. He lifted it up, but he could only go so far forward. The camper sat on a 3/4-inch pipe that allowed it to roll forward as we moved it using the forklift. It would be a huge process to take it off. That’s why I built the floor and the hatches when I need to do maintenance under the snowcat.

Excitement Snowcat Ride

You said the “SnowCamper” is only used in the winter. Tell us more about where you go with it.

We have many old mining roads nearby, so we can go exploring right from our house. It can also be put on a trailer for road travel. I bought a factory Thiokol Chemical Corporation tilt trailer made for this model.

Thikol Trailer Carrying Camper

In our mountain town we have one paved road and we are allowed to drive vehicles anywhere in the county. So, we pack it up and go up any of the mining roads that aren’t maintained.

Sledding Snow Winter Wonderland ColoradoWe were on a mountain pass a month ago. A snowmobile tour came through with our buddies as guides. The folks on the tour were amazed at our rig. They came upon the view and there’s the Holgate family with their Alaskan Camper and snowcat camping for a couple of days.

As of now, with my son being three, we’re keeping it close. We do ski tours and take the sleds for him. He’s got a strider bike that we’ve put skis on, so he can ride that in the snow. We play in the snow and enjoy being way out in the mountain basin where we’re not worried about people stealing our campsite. We will see snowmobilers and backcountry skiers when we’re out camping.

Snowmobile Winter Colorado Camping

What kind of fuel mileage do you get?

It’s a gas guzzler. It’s got a 15-gallon tank and it gets about 10 miles to the gallon. With my son being so young, I want to be somewhere where people can get to us if we get stuck. We might go six to seven miles away. Typically, it goes about ten miles per hour. On a flat road, it can go up to 15 to 20 miles per hour.

It’s really cool because I steer with the brakes. There are two handles. If you pull the right handle, it locks up the track on the right side and you turn. So, it will just spin around. It’s fun to do donuts. With a camper on it, it almost does better since it has weight in the back.

Do you camp in the summertime?

I run a ski and snowboard business down in South America during the summer, which is their winter. My family doesn’t go for the entire season. They come down for half the time in the middle of the season. I live ten to eleven months a year in the winter.

Early season snow can happen around Halloween, but it’s usually November and December for the mining roads. Once there’s 10-inches of snow on the mining roads, it’s perfect for the snowcat.

Panoramic View Alaskan Caboverless

It sounds like your son really enjoys the snowcat.

Definitely. Even if we’re not camping, he asks if he can sleep in the snowcat in the driveway. We have sleepovers out there all the time.

We don’t have a television in our house, but we have a movie projector in the snowcat. When it’s in the driveway, he has his toys in it. It becomes a clubhouse in the summer when we’re not driving around.

It’s been a fun experience, being a first-time dad. We’re rooted in Durango and Silverton. My family has been here for five generations. I’ve been camping and in the snow all the time. Now, I am raising my son camping in our crazy snow world.

Getting Ready To Drive Thikol Snowcat

To see more snowcat, Alaskan, and fun winter camping photos, feel free to follow Skylar on Instagram.

 

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