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The Walking Truck: An American Steampunk Mech
When you hear the word mech, chances are that you think of things like Robotech, Japanese giant robots, Battletech or even the action film “Real Steel.” However the idea of mechs, and of giant machines being used on the battlefield can probably be traced back to England and to the early science fiction writer H.G. Wells. “War of the Worlds” had the alien invaders using gigantic, mechanized tripods that could walk across a battlefield and bring death rays to bear almost anywhere, creating a lasting euphemism for the war machines that would be fielded in the future. However, when it comes to real, working models of steam era tech, America is responsible for one of the earliest examples; the Walking Truck.
This unusual mechanism was designed to take supplies to soldiers no matter where they were in the field, up slopes, over muddy ravines, or even across lakes and streams that even the toughest Humvee would have balked at trying. These trucks, which upon completion stood over 11 feet tall and looked like a metallic quadruped were the perfect beasts of burden. They were able to move at a 35 mile per hour canter (with a talented driver at the controls), haul several tons worth of equipment, and there were even slings that could be stretched between two of these walkers to haul bigger equipment that couldn't be stored in just one truck.
Testing for this unusual device began as early as the 1960s, with the United States military handing the contract over to General Electric. By the end of that decade the pedipulator (a more official, though less illustrative name for the walking truck) was unveiled to the public. The driver was held in a harness, where his hands worked the front legs, and his feet worked the rear legs, allowing him to bodily control the entire walker with movements that could be easily learned or at least assimilated by anyone in today's video game heavy culture. It was all fairly intuitive, and as GE proved in open displays to the public as well as in demonstrations to the military backers, the machine worked. But despite that, these machines have never been fielded and the dreams of an American military where massive walking robots roam the fields to deliver supplies and pick up the wounded is still just a dream.
So why was the walking truck, which was celebrated as a success of ingenuity and engineering in its time, just put on a display pedestal at the U.S. Army Transport Museum? Why is this machine, capable of a 35 mile an hour lope over terrain that no wheeled vehicle could go into and which can kick a Jeep across a room sitting on its legs and being goggled at by people rather than being out in the desert or roaming the borders? That's a very good question... but it isn't one that has an answer.
You could say that it has something to do with the consumption of the walkers, and how introducing them would create a superfluous role in the military. You could also point to a lack of style or imagination, especially since the military is concerned with the practical, and when the days of the treaded tank are numbered a walking truck might be just as much an oddity as a useful tool. However, that doesn't make anyone that has seen one of these unusual objects in action want one any less.
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