Our fascination with things from the old Soviet era does not stop at looking for a statue of Yuri Gagarin, an obscure poster from Latvia or, during our travels, discovering a beautiful mosaic in an abandoned building... No, we are actually history geeks rather than vintage and antique dealers!
In addition to articles on poster framing, we just occasionally like to talk about 'things from the old days'. We mainly love space-race stuff. But also old war gear, cars, airplanes, ships and of course Cold War spy stories.
A new article in this "Big Gear from The Old Days" series is about the Kharkovchanka (Харьковчанка, translates to "Woman of Kharkov") – an Antactic off-roader from the 1950s. The Kharkovchanka was built by the Kharkov Transport Engineering Plant in the Ukrainian SSR from 1957 to 1958 for the 4th Soviet Antarctic Expedition led by Aleksandr Gavrilovich Dralkin (Александр Гаврилович Дралкин). Check out the Wikipedia page on the Kharkovchanka – link opens in a new window.
We've used a picture of a stamp depicting the Kharkovchanka-1, because finding pictures from this absolute legend within the public domain is tricky.
A tank on the South Pole?!
The Kharkovchanka was based on the AT-T tractor platform which in turn was based on the T-54 tank. The colossal unit was 8.5 meters long, 3.5 meters wide and 4.0 meters high and weighed 35.000 kg. The engine: a 520 bhp V12 diesel, with turbochargers reaching almost a 1.000 bhp at peak moments. The Kharkovchanka was capable of a max speed of 56 km/h but speeding wasn't optional on Antarctica as it was driving at a speed of around 10 km/h down there... So, the scientists basically brought a tank to get through the snow and icy plains of Antarctica.
The Fourth Soviet Antarctic Expedition
The Fourth Soviet Antarctic Expedition (1959) made a scientific trek from the shores of the Indian Ocean to the Geographical South Pole and back, covering a distance of nearly 4.000 kilometers to the Vostok Station (ста́нция Восто́к). Three or five (different sources tell different numbers) Kharkovchankas were built and shipped to Antarctica. Two Kharkovchankas and a AT-T tractor left Vostok Station to drive to the geographic South Pole in the beginning of December 1959, reaching the pole on December 26 1959.
In later years lots of explorer missions through Antarctica have been made with these Kharkovchankas. For almost twenty years Kharkovchanka off-roaders served as the main transport on Antarctica, connecting six Soviet stations on the cold unforgiving continent. In 1975, more advanced Kharkovchanka-2 off-roaders were built. They are the main off-roaders used by the Russian polar expeditions today.
Plans for a Kharkovchanka-3 appeared in the 1980s, but were never realized due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991).
Some sources say one of Kharkovchanka series 1 is still out there. Who wants to find out if it's still there? Vostok Station has the lowest reliably measured natural temperature on Earth of −89.2 °C (21 July 1983).
Above: Panoramic photo of Vostok Station showing the layout of the camp. Vostok Station (NOAA), photo by Todd Sowers, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), Columbia University, Palisades, New York, for NOAA (Public Domain, via Wikipedia).
The striped building on the left is the power station while the striped building on the right is where researchers sleep and take meals. The building in the background with the red- and white-striped ball on top is the meteorology building. Caves were dug into the ice sheet for storage, keeping cores at an ideal −55 °C (−67 °F) year-round.
Read more about the Vostok Station on Wikipedia – the link opens in a new window.
Vintage map of the Southern Hemisphere, Cyrillic writing
Above: An original map of the Southern hemisphere (Южное полушарие), Soviet era, Cyrillic / Russian text. From Russia, Soviet-Union (1974-1979). Printed in Factory No. 5. Scale: 1:25.000.000, size: 93,0 x 96,0 cm.