The most popular tourist attraction in Banff, Alberta (Canada) is a drive to the Athabasca Glacier in the comfort of a Brewster “Ice Explorer.” At 12 feet wide, 43 feet long, almost 13 feet tall and boasting a gross vehicle weight of 55,000 pounds held aloft by 6 gargantuan tires, an Ice Explorer looks like a combination of a luxury motor coach and a Mars Rover.
Brewster’s “Glacier Adventure Tour” route follows the aptly named Icefields Parkway, crosses the Continental Divide and gives passengers plenty of time to enjoy the postcard-perfect scenery through the vehicle’s ceiling-to-side windows. There’s a lot of ground—and ice—to cover during the trip. Ice Explorers comfortably traverse the glacier at about 12 miles per hour and are surprisingly quiet inside, if a bit bouncier than your family sedan.
According to Urs Meyre, maintenance manager for Brewster Inc., there are only 22 Ice Explorers in the world. Brewster owns all of them. Each can power over grades of up to 30% and do so delicately enough to protect both the ice and the pristine wilderness surrounding it.
“They’re actually very environmentally sensitive by design,” continues Meyre. “The tires are a special soft compound that we run at very low pressure and are quite gentle on the ice surface. And because the vehicles carry 55 passengers at a time, we’re minimizing traffic from many smaller vehicles that would have a heavier impact on the glacier.”
Brewster’s choice of engines for these unique all-wheel-drive mechanical beasts is consistent with the company’s requirements for productivity in extreme conditions. For decades, Detroit Diesel Series 71 and Series 92 engines have powered the fleet of unique vehicles, with support from MTU distributor Wajax Power Systems’ Calgary branch.
According to the longtime maintenance manager for Brewster Inc., the stalwart 2-Cycle engines have been “incredibly reliable.” When the time came to gradually replace these rugged legacy engines, Meyre was so impressed with their performance that he decided to stick with MTU. Currently, the company is phasing in new 322 BHP Series 926 engines.
“If a problem with one of the older engines arises, we generally can take care of it in our own shop. When on the rare occasion that we’ve had a major repair, (MTU authorized distributor) Wajax has been there to take care of it immediately. I can recall that once they even performed a repair to one of the vehicles while it was on the glacier!” Meyre says.
He credits the sturdy design of the old 2-Cycle diesels, regular maintenance between overhauls and the use of genuine Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle replacement parts and consumables from MTU for the durability of the engines. “Here’s how reliable these engines have been,” adds Meyre. “We have a backup (Detroit Diesel) 6-71 in the shop for years. We’ve never had to use it.”
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