When it comes to avalanche control, Marty Schmoker, avalanche control supervisor for the Washington Department of Transportation's North Central region, says necessity is the mother of...tanks.
The necessity? Ammunition to control avalanches along State Highway 2 leading to the Stevens Pass ski area, 90 miles east of Seattle.
"Surplus ammo for our recoilless rifles had dried up," says Schmoker. So he found an alternative at an Army training center: a surplus M60A3TTS battle tank. After successfully testing to see whether the tank's laser targeting system could accurately lob shells into avalanche zones, the red-tape battle to ensure security began. "The Army didn't want a repeat of that California incident where a guy in a stolen tank cruised around smashing cars," says Schmoker.
Schmoker prevailed, and now, for six years running, the tank has been flawlessly controlling 12 different avalanche zones -- and giving its handlers laughs. "When people ask about the tank," says Schmoker, "we tell 'em it's part of our drunk-driving program."