Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

The Crawler-Transporters Begin to Crawl

Events were to reveal a little slack in the LC-39 activation schedule, just enough to recover from a near disaster. The crawler was the prima donna of the Site Activation Board drama of 1965. This gargantuan tractor, designed to carry the 36-story Apollo-Saturn V space vehicle from the vehicle assembly building to the launch pad, caught the public eye; no other facility, excepting the assembly building, got like publicity. Perhaps on account of the public interest, the crawler engendered a series of labor and political disputes, as well as mechanical problems, that nearly disrupted the site activation schedule.

The Marion Power Shovel Company built the two crawlers in Ohio and then took them apart for shipment to the Cape. Under its contract, Marion intended to reassemble the crawlers on Merritt Island with an Ohio work crew, members of the AFL-CIO United Steelworkers. The Brevard (County) Florida Building and Construction Trades Council, citing the Davis-Bacon Act, insisted that on-site construction fell under its jurisdiction. The local unions won a Department of Labor decision in August 1964, but agreed to a compromise that let the Marion crew remain on the job. Although the labor dispute simmered throughout the winter, W. J. Usery and the Missile Site Labor Commission managed to avert a major shutdown. On the basis of the labor difficulties, Marion won a delay in the crawler testing date from November 1964 to late January 1965.23

The crawler moved under its own power for the first time on 23 January. NASA officials observed that "the initial crawler-transporter was not in a state of complete assembly ready for joint testing" and forwarded a list of deficiencies to Marion.24 Additional runs in April tested the propulsion and steering systems. On the 28th Gunther Lehman of Marion drove the crawler about 900 meters at a speed of 1.1 kilometers per hour; this was a "press day" ride with Debus, Petrone, and other KSC and Marion Power executives aboard. The hydraulic jacking and leveling system was ready for testing on 22 June when the crawler picked up its first load, a mobile launcher. Although the test was labeled a success, the launch team noted high hydraulic pressures when the crawler trucks scuffed on the crawlerway during turns. The treads also chewed up large portions of the macadam surface.25