341st LRS begins new restoration project

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dillon White
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
Editors note: This is the first part in a three-part series detailing the refinishing of a 1962 transporter erector that has been on display at the Malmstrom Museum since 1991. 

Airmen from Malmstrom Air Force base used four Boeing transporter erectors to transport Minuteman Missiles across more than 13,000 square miles of Big Sky Country from the early '60s to 1989, when they were replaced by newer tractors. 

One of those erectors was set on display at the Malmstrom Museum in 1991 and has stayed there until June 3, when Airmen from the 341st Logistics Readiness Squadron towed it to the 341st LRS allied trades shop to be repainted. 

"Moving the tractor was definitely different than our usual 'wrecker run,'" said Capt. Allen Miller, 341st LRS deployment and distribution flight chief. "The task presented some unique challenges but inherently brought some excitement because it was different." 

The difference was the tractor's brake and suspension systems are charged by an air pump which only runs with the engine. Since the vehicle does not run, the Airmen from 
the 341st LRS made an auxiliary air system they could charge with a mobile maintenance vehicle. Had they not modified the vehicle the move would not have been possible, Captain Miller said. 

"With the systems in working order and having serviceable tires, the tractor separated from the trailer just like it normally would while in service," Captain Miller said. "Two air charges, three tight turns and 45 minutes later the tractor arrived to allied trades to begin its restoration."

The TE is the second vehicle allied trades will repaint for the museum. Last year, the staff repainted a 1963 Dodge Power-Wagon response Ambulance. 

The TEs were built by Boeing and propelled by a gas-powered, 12-cylinder engine made by Chevrolet. 

The TE had enough power to pull Minuteman I, II and III Missiles, but it did not do it quickly all the time, said Allyn Hill, 341st LRS truck and tractor mechanic. 

"They went about 1 1/2 miles per hour up Belt Hill," Mr. Hill said. "If they had to go by [Sluice Boxes State Park] the [341st Civil Engineer Squadron] had to take a D6 Caterpillar out the day before to push the TE up that hill." 

The TEs were not built for comfort either, as they had no air conditioning and as the seals around the engine compartment aged, heat from the motor would come inside the cab, Mr. Hill said. 

Mr. Hill worked on the tractors from 1972 to 1989, performing repairs large and small in the shop and outside in all weather conditions. Mr. Hill even hitched rides with the 40th Helicopter Squadron on mechanical medevac-style repair missions when a TE broke down in the missile field. 

"Getting to fly was neat," Mr. Hill said. "The [ignition system] needed repairs most of the time." 

Mr. Hill even repaired a TE on the 15th Street Bridge once. 

"They were neat in their day, but when the new trucks came in we were happy," he said.

The motor did not get good gas mileage and crews commonly filled the tanks every chance they had, Mr. Hill said. The vehicles also sat low to the ground, which resulted in a unique driving experience. 

"They were real low to the ground," Mr. Hill said. "You would think you were right on the highway." 

The allied trades shop staff expect the side project to take them about a year, depending on how many operational vehicles they are repairing. Right now, they are busy repairing vehicles that are currently in service and have higher priority, said Tech. Sgt. Shane Jackson, 341st LRS assistant NCO in charge of allied trades. 

"This vehicle will be a lot tougher than the ambulance was," he said. "But once we get started on it and start seeing some progress we'll feel a lot better." 

Sergeant Jackson said the TE will require a lot of hand-sanding because of the many nooks and corners they cannot get to with an air sander. 

"The rear end of the tractor will be the toughest," he said. "It's just a lot of work that will take some time to do by hand." 

The TE will not be on display for some time. The allied trades shop staff said it will return, but want people to know it will take time to do the job right. 

"I hope they like what we did with the ambulance, and hope we can do the same with this tractor," Sergeant Jackson said. 

The second story in this three-part series will detail the restoration and painting process.