Well, its time has come. After 100 or so days of being parked up and not turning a cog at -55C and  with winds gusting around it to chill it to the bone, Rover’s dig out time has come round.
We all got stuck into clearing away the snow with shovels, ice axes, pry bars, welding rods and brushes.  Most of the morning (Monday) was consumed with removing the surrounding mounds of drift snow that had already been cleared a week earlier, but as weather had beaten us back indoors with high winds and ever-growing drift in the air, the previous week’s work was barely noticeable.

Brian and Rob cleared down the side of the tracks, track frames and the C-frame, allowing access to the hydraulic pipes which needed to be cleared of any ice before we were able to move the blade. If we tried shifting it without clearing the ice first and getting lots of heat into the hydraulic system we would be running the risk of pipe breakages occurring, and none of us wants that right now.  Cleaning of the sprockets and the pivot points for the equaliser bar also took place at this point.  Ian and Spencer opened the belly plate doors to gain access to the transmission and the lower part of the engine to start removing copious amounts of snow from these compartments.

While all this was going on I was cleaning out the Webasto housing on the front of the CAT prior to starting it up, as snow had ingressed the housing due to high winds and drifting.  After the Webasto was sorted out I moved onto the monotonous task of clearing the snow from the engine compartment, removing it from between all the pipes, wires, sensors and belts to facilitate the start up.  If all the snow is not removed it turns to ice water as the heat from the Webasto is transferred to it; if we had a failure to start, the ice water would then turn to ice and cause serious problems.  One of the most important, but least liked, jobs is the removal of snow from between the fan and the radiator as this is where health and safety clash with practicality.  We could not remove the hand guard that covers the fan as there is wiring and hydraulic pipes that would be damaged from the movement of the guards in the cold, so the snow needs to be hooked out with a welding rod piece by piece to gain movement in the fan. This took hours, and yet it if there was no guards all the snow could have been cleared within minutes.  In the interest of health and safety it was voted to keep the guards in place.

After the snow was cleared, it was a case of hooking up the Cat D6N to the Science Caboose power supply and giving it a few hours on the heat pads to get the heat into the transmission, as this is the only compartment that the Webasto does not heat.  At about 17:00 (on Monday) it was a simple case of covering the air intake with some cardboard and turning the key over for a few seconds. This managed to clear some more snow from the fan and allowed us to see that all was turning as it should be.  With a second turn of the key and a further cloud of snow the D6N’s engine purred into life. As I removed the cardboard guard from the air intake box she gained the remaining few rpm and settled into a steady 850 rpm idle as we checked for any leaks and untoward noises.

All in all, I have to say being in these conditions for the first time I had every faith that these machines would start up with no problems; but to see it with your own eyes after spending a winter down here and feeling how harsh it can be on your own body the machines have performed excellently.  I think it needs to be said that Caterpillar put every effort into the design and testing of these machines for a harsh environment, but to bring them to this extreme environment and operate as well as they have done is a credit to them.  Also a big thank you to everyone at Finning for the time and effort they put into the design and modifications to the D6Ns that made our life a lot easier down here on a daily basis.

So there is only one thing remaining – as we say back at home “keep her fulla the pipe and get back home safely”.