"I really hope he has shut his door properly.”
In what has been a strange day, it’s an incongruous thought as a giant red off-roader plunges down a steep bank and towards a lake. Surely a damp interior would be the least of the driver’s worries as he enters completely unknown waters.
Two swans are paddling idly by, clueless that their world is about to be rudely interrupted. The water is a long way over the bottom edge of the door, the rear tyres are a foot off the deck and still the machine carries on, edging slowly down the bank until all four wheels are in the water.
For a moment, it just bobs on the surface, like a massive rubber duck. But then its wheels start to power up and it’s off, with the tyres providing the thrust, slapping the water like a modern-day paddle steamer.
This, then, is one of the world’s greatest toys or most impressive search-and-rescue machines, depending on your point of view. It’s called the Fat Truck – no point beating about the bush with a fancy naming strategy – and it’s designed to be the next great thing in getting to places where machines have no right to be.
Built by a Canadian company called Zeal Motor in Bromont, Quebec, it’s now being imported into the UK by Off-Piste Agri and is set to revolutionise search-and-rescue operations here. Fire departments are interested in it, as are wind energy firms, because the Fat Truck will allow them to get to where they need to be, no matter what terrain stands in the way.
Shorter than the Volkswagen Polo yet nearly three metres high and with 1640/640 R24 tyres, the Fat Truck is one of the most single-minded vehicles on the planet. Everything about it is designed to allow people to operate it in extreme conditions with absolute ease. To that end, there’s no clutch. If it had one of those, there’s a danger it would burn out on some of the slow ascents and descents that are required.
Instead, it operates on a hydrostatic system, with a 2.2-litre Caterpillar diesel engine producing just 67bhp and 153lb ft and sending that via two pumps to a pair of toothed belts, one driving each side, with 10 forward and 10 reverse gears in both a high and low set-up (future models will be simplified and offer only four ratios in each direction).