The Dork-O-Motive Podcast

1.17: How To Mow Down A Forest Like Grass: The Brutal Genius Of Operation Highball In 1950

May 11, 2020

Back in 1940s and 50s America it wasn’t a question if the forest should be ripped down, it was a question of how quickly that pesky forest could be dispatched with and who could figure out the best way to do it. Such was the case when the US Government put out a contract to clear 35,000 acres of forest in the wilds of Montana at the site of the Hungry Horse Dam projects. The mammoth dam would be used to help control the Flathead River and manage water in the Columbia River drainage area by creating a huge reservoir behind it.

The physical dimensions of the forest area that needed clearing were huge, some 34 miles long and 3.5 miles wide at points. Basically it was 35 square miles in total. As you can imagine, clearing that much area in the wilds of Montana wasn’t a job that most people had ever considered completing before. While we’re not sure what they were proposing for a method we know that the two guys who came up with the winning formula were S.L. Wixson and John H. Trisdale of Redding, California. Their idea, never before seen at the time was to essentially tie two big bulldozers together with steel cable and use the the cable as a giant scythe, cutting down and ripping over anything on its path. The men figured that this idea would be the most cost effective and quickest way to get the land cleared within the parameters that the government set for the work to be done.

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