Plattenwagen is a surprisingly important Volkswagen vehicle that no one remembers

Plattenwagen is a surprisingly important Volkswagen vehicle that no one remembers

Volkswagen is one of the biggest automotive companies in the world and it has millions of fans, who adore the long history of the brand. Everyone knows that the beginings of Volkswagen were the Käfer (better known as Beetle) and the legendary Type 2 minivan. However, aren‘t we missing something? There was also a car called the Plattenwagen, which would appear on the timeline in between the Beetle and the Type 2,

Volkswagen’s history is actually quite simple. Käfer was conceived before the WW2. It was meant to become the car for the masses. Cheap, practical and a genuinely good way to travel – Käfer was bound to be a huge hit. However, the WW2 changed these plans dramatically. Instead of mass production of the new car, entire industry was employed to manufacture guns and military vehicles. And so instead of the Käfer the world saw a military off-roader Kübelwagen and an amphibian version of it named Schwimmwagen. However, once the war was over, Käfer was pushed into production and onto its global success. But there was another special little Volkswagen that helped making these little Beetles.



Meet the Plattenwagen – Käfer-based light truck. You have probably never seen one, because it was actually never sold to general public. Volkswagen built the Plattenwagen for itself – it was meant to distribute various parts inside the factory. And that’s what it did – workers would load heavy engines, transmissions and other car components into its front loadbed and the Plattenwagen would be on its way to the other end of the factory where these parts would be installed. Because of how utilitarian and primitive the Plattenwagen was no one even though of making them for sale – who needs a bizarre backwards pickup truck thing? But for Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg it was a very useful tool.

(Bundesstefan, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Plattenwagen was based on Käfer’s platform, but featured a somewhat weird layout. Its open cabin was situated right above the air-cooled engine. It had two separate seats or one bench. Just like the Käfer, Plattenwagen was rear-wheel-drive and had a simple manual gearbox. Its frame was a bit stronger than Käfer’s – it was constructed from heavy steel pipes, which were strong enough to support a huge load of cargo in the front.

Plattenwagen’s wheels were significantly larger as well and between the axles there was a big fuel tank. Even though Plattenwagen was not intended to be driven on public roads, it had a proper windshield wiper, headlights and side mirrors. In fact, some Plattenwagens even had a fully enclosed cabin protecting drivers from the rain, but the list of comfort features pretty much stopped there. The loadbed had simple wooden sideboards meant to prevent things from sliding and falling on the ground.

(Hasse A, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

For what it was Plattenwagen was quite quick and manoeuvrable. In fact, when a Dutch importer of Volkswagen cars Ben Pon visited the Wolfsburg factory in 1947 he immediately got inspired by Plattenwagen’s performance. He quickly sketched a new commercial vehicle, which could benefit not only Volkswagen’s factories, but also farmers and small businesses across the world. This simple sketch was the beginning of the history of the Type 2.

(Rhin0, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle division now is very strong, offering its customers extremely high-quality products. And now you know that the beginning of its history was the humble Plattenwagen, which was special enough to become an inspiration for one of the most iconic cars ever.



Other interesting machines:

What is this tractor doing in the middle of a flower field?

Why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has just three wheels?

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

Scammel Scarab – it is not your ordinary semi-truck – it is the mechanical horse;

Goliath GD 750 – three-wheeler truck with a tiny engine was more useful than it looks;

General Motors Bison – a vision of trucks of the future from 1964. Why didn’t it stick?

What is this tractor doing? What was its actual original function?

What is this tractor doing? What was its actual original function?

Farming is what feeds us all, yet, most people know nothing about it. It’s a shame, because farming equipment is more than just some boring tractors – there are a lot of very interesting machines. Some of them are so strange that it is difficult to guess their function. For example, take a look at this picture of an International Harvester tractor – what is this weird machine doing?

We can give you a couple of hints. First of all, the picture was taken in the middle of California, USA, around September. Secondly, those orange flowers are marigold. Finally, the machine you see in the picture wasn’t actually made to do the job it is doing.



So what is this tractor doing? And what was its original function? Take a look at the picture – answers below.

International Harvester tractor in the middle of a flower field. The manufacturer created a quite different machine. (devra, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

This tractor was manufactured by the International Harvester and it is pictured harvesting seeds. It is, essentially, a large vacuum cleaner, sucking in seeds straight from marigold flowers. These plants are known for their strong smell and a bright yellow or orange colour. Usually, marigolds are used as decoration – people simply plant them by their houses. However, some varieties of marigold can be used as food dye, soup flavouring, perfume additive and so on. In fact, marigold flowers are sometimes planted near gardens just because their strong aroma is believed to repulse deers and rabbits.

But, coming back to the tractor, this International Harvester was not actually designed to be a seed harvester. It started its life as 2-row cotton picker – most likely a 612 or 622 model. As you can see in the picture, all the cotton picking devices have been removed to fit vacuum nozzles and a big box at the back. It seems like this conversion was done at home, which would make this tractor unique. Collected seeds can later be processed, sold or planted in some fresh soil.

International Harvester 612 (622) cotton picker is actually a great machine for the task. It is tall, has a lot of ground clearance, its tires are quite narrow and it only has three of them – the rear wheel is steering the machine. This means that flowers are not too damaged during the deseeding procedure. Similar 2-row cotton pickers are sometimes transformed into sprayers, but several remain picking cotton – despite being not as efficient as some of the more modern machines. The International Harvester 612 (622) cotton picker used to look like this (from 2:10):

 

So that is the answer – the tractor you saw at the beginning of the article is a former cotton picker on seed-harvesting duty. It is interesting that people come up with these ideas and still employ these old machines. It is a nice way of preserving these old workhorses.



Other interesting machines:

Why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has just three wheels?

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

Scammel Scarab – it is not your ordinary semi-truck – it is the mechanical horse;

Goliath GD 750 – three-wheeler truck with a tiny engine was more useful than it looks;

General Motors Bison – a vision of trucks of the future from 1964. Why didn’t it stick?

Inflight smoking is forbidden not just for the comfort of non-smokers – there are actually technical reasons behind it

Inflight smoking is forbidden not just for the comfort of non-smokers – there are actually technical reasons behind it

Several decades ago flying was much less glamorous than it is now. Sure, people used to dress up for the journey, but everyone was smoking. Now we can appreciate fresh, even if a little bit dry, air in airplane cabins. But did you know that smoking in airplanes was prohibited not just to make flying more comfortable for non-smokers?

In fact, smokers in the airplanes didn’t bother people too much. They were typically seated at the rear of the cabin, where they could smoke without disturbing non-smoking passengers. Because air inside of an airplane is flowing from the front to the back smoke was evacuated pretty effectively, without filling entire cabin with unpleasant smell. When in 1988 smoking was banned from flights that are shorter than 2 hours, airlines were actually worried that people are going to fly less because of this decision. And now if you do try to light up a cigarette, you are facing a huge fine and/or ban from flying that airline again. Why is that?



Back in a day, you could buy cigarettes from flight attendances. That contributed to revenues of the airlines, which is why they were against in-flight smoking ban. Tobacco companies were also vocal about their disapproval or such decision. And, of course, smokers felt discriminated, especially when the ban included pretty much all longer flights. However, not airlines are very happy that no one is smoking in the airplane.

Smoking in planes was completely normal not so long ago. (Estormiz, Wikimedia)

The truth is that smoking costs money not only to people buying cigarettes, but also to airlines, because it increases the cost of plane maintenance. Smokers unintentionally drop ashes on the carpet, they fill up the ashtrays, sometimes damage the seats and so on. Cleaning airplanes that have been smoked in is more time consuming. Also, remember we said air flows from front to back?

The airplane cabin, as weird as it may seem, is not a completely sealed pressure vessel – it does vent out. The air pressure inside of the cabin is equal to the one at altitude of around 2-2.4 km. Air is constantly pumped into the cabin and so, some it has to be vented out through the main cabin outflow valve. The opening and closing of this valve is what controls the pressure inside. However, tobacco smoke can make this mechanism sticky. Thick sticky tar used settle all over the main cabin outflow valve. Sometimes it became so sticky that the system struggled to open it.

Now smoking in the airplane could result in a huge fine and even a ban to fly that airline ever again. (Kashif Mardani, Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

Furthermore, tobacco tar used to cover all the airways from the cabin, which were a significant hassle to clean during maintenance. Finally, smoking could have posed a safety threat as well, if the tar glued the oxygen mask compartment doors too. Pilots used to smoke back in the day as well, but that wasn’t doing any good for electronics.

And so now smoking in most airlines is forbidden. However, ashtrays in bathrooms still exists. They are there just in case someone breaks the rules. If there were no ashtrays and someone decided to smoke, they would probably put their cigarettes out on the toilet or in the sink, which someone would have to clean up later.



Why this funny-looking tractor has only three wheels? (Video)

Why this funny-looking tractor has only three wheels? (Video)

Most tractors have four wheels. That is a standard configuration and deviations from it can only be found in history. However, there are exceptions – the Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is a modern machine and yet it only has three wheels. Why? What does it do?

Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is a self-propelled nutrient application vehicle. In other words, it spread fertilizer on the fields and does that very efficiently just because of how huge it is. It has telemetry equipment, adaptive suspension, GPS-controlled autopilot and loads of other technology.




The tractor in the picture below is spreading hard organic fertilizer- manure, but some other modifications can be used to spray liquid fertilizers. In fact, one three-wheeled Terra Gator can hold as much as 16 cubic meters of liquid fertilizer – that is more than 16 tons of weight.

Each of the three wheels is in its own track and thus the ground get driven over only once. (joost j. bakker, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Despite the massive size of this Terra Gator, it is supposed to be easily controlled. After climbing a set of stairs, the operator will find a comfortable workplace with a supportive seat, touchscreen, climate control and other equipment. But we are not selling you this tractor – we are more interested, why it has only three wheels.

All three wheels of the Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 are the same size and all are driven. (werktuigendagen, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The reason why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has three wheels is weight distribution. Farmers do not want to compact the soil, especially when they are ready for fertilizing. It is harder for crops to grow in a compacted ground and heavy equipment squeezes out the air from the dirt, essentially reducing the harvest. Four-wheeled tractors may have a better weight distribution, but the rear wheels are following the front ones and, therefore, dirt that gets under the wheels gets driven over twice. It is also the reason why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has such wide tires – they spread the weight of the machine over a bigger area.

Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 at work

 

Other manufacturers apply different solutions to solve the issue of compacting the soil. Some use narrower front axles, while other fertilizers employ dual wheel arrangements. And then there are farmers who simply use lighter machines to not compact the ground too much.

Interestingly, Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is all-wheel-drive – all three wheels are driven. The front wheel, used for steering, is powered hydrostatically. Three-wheel configuration also allows for a better manoeuvrability – the front wheel can be turned by 75 degrees – it would be difficult to achieve that having two front wheels.



Why semi-trucks are called like that? What is so “semi” about them?

Why semi-trucks are called like that? What is so “semi” about them?

We use words without paying much attention to them. For example, words “semi-truck” are used commonly, but how many people know what that means? What is “semi” about these machines? There are actually two possible explanations.

In US and some other countries semi-trucks are simply referred to as Semi’s. It is a name everyone understands and once you mention a semi-truck everyone has an image in their heads of an articulated vehicle, consisting of a tractor unit and a trailer. Actually, the trailer is part of the story why semi-trucks are called like that.



Semi-trucks are, most of the time, hauling semi-trailers. A simple trailer is a wheeled platform, which can stand on its own on its wheels without any support. Meanwhile semi-trailers only have wheels at one end of the platform. The other end relies on the chassis of the semi-truck for support when driving. It cannot stand by itself on its wheels – it needs extendable legs or some other type of support structure. Semi-trailers cannot be hauled by anything else – they need an appropriate semi-truck to move. Even if you took the most powerful agricultural tractor, you could not safely pull a semi-trailer, because the front of it doesn’t have wheels and needs a chassis to rest on when travelling.

Semi-trucks consist of a tractor unit and a semi-trailer. Image credit: PRA via Wikimedia(CC BY 2.5)

But that is just a part of the explanation. Semi-truck is a combination of a semi-trailer and a tractor unit. Not that difficult to understand and it totally makes sense. But there is another explanation for where did this name come from.

The hitch mechanism at the back of the semi-truck is commonly called a “fifth wheel”. There are two most common types of fifth-wheels: semi-oscillating and fully-oscillating. Most semi-trucks feature a semi-oscillating hitch (turntable hitch or fifth wheel – whatever you want to call it). It means that the hitch mechanism is not entirely rigid – it tilts slightly from front to back. Imagine that the rear of the semi-trailer gets a little bouncy and starts moving up and down. The fifth-wheel will accommodate that movement, making the entire truck more stable. But if the trailer is tilting sideways, the semi-oscillating hitch will not move with it – a semi-oscillating hitch does not tilt from side to side. It is not usually a problem, though, because semi-trailers typically have enough flexibility in their chassis to absorb lateral movement without disturbing the balance of the tractor unit.

Logging trucks sometimes use fully-oscillating hitches. Image credit: ChattOconeeNF via Wikimedia(CC BY 2.0)

However, in some situations a fully-oscillating hitch has to be used. For example, in forestry semi-trucks. Because the terrain is so uneven, semi-trailers get rocked quite a lot. A fully-oscillating hitch tilts from side to side and thus allows for more movement in the trailer without disturbing the truck. This is also beneficial when the semi-trailer is very rigid (for example, when it is a tanker). However, fully-oscillating fifth-wheels are more complex, more expensive and typically unnecessary, which makes them pretty rare. That could be why semi-truck name stuck.

The reason why semi-trucks are called this name is probably combination of both of these theories. You should remember that a typical semi-truck is an articulated vehicle, consisting of a tractor unit and a semi-trailer, connected through a semi-oscillating hitch.


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