Back in the 1930s my Dad was working for the estate of John A. Roebling II, located at Red Hill, about 8 miles south of Lake Placid, Florida. Dad did the landscaping of the estate, as well as painted all of the signs used on the estate, which contained its own electric generating equipment, various workshops, several residences, and miles of roads through the several hundred acres of gently rolling sand hills. My father also operated a 10 acre experimental farm for Mr. Roebling at a place where the sand hills abruptly ended and the lowlands of south Florida began, about 6 miles from the estate. That was the farm where I grew up and lived for my first 20 years.
About halfway between the farm and the Roebling Estate was Lake Annie, a small lake with clear water and a yellow-sand bottom. This 100 acre lake was a favorite swimming hole for local kids. It was also the
location chosen by John Roebling and his son, Donald, for the first operational test of an amphibious tractor that Donald had been developing for several years. His plan was to use it as a rescue vehicle in flooded areas, as well as a general-purpose vehicle for moving around in the area between “where boats went aground and cars flooded out.”
Dad also was a photographer, which in those days meant both taking the photographs and developing them in your own darkroom. Because of his photography experience, Dad was chosen by John Roebling to photograph the big event. Quite a few locals were at the lake to watch the amphibious vehicle when it entered the water for the first time. Although I was only about four-and-a-half years old, I remember it clearly. The big silver machine slowly entered the water at a gently sloping beach area and swam slowly around in the lake.
At that point dad’s photo taking was over and the Alligator, as Donald had named it, moved slowly across the lake and clambered out the far side onto John Roebling’s Estate.
Although there had been previous attempts to design an amphibious tractor, the Alligator was the first that actually worked well. Because of the looming war and the interest of the US Marines, the Alligator went through a rapid development program, and was eventually developed into the AMTRAC that hastened the defeat of the Japanese in the War of the Pacific – December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945.
This link leads to a .pdf file telling more about the development of the military’s amphibious tractors and the history of the Alligator.