While other motorists might have been white-knuckling it through Thursday's winter storm, Bob Courtney was coolly piloting his 1973 Land Rover Series III into downtown Saratoga Springs as if there were only a dusting on the road.
Powered by a 200TDI turbo-charged diesel engine with an 88-inch wheelbase, the vehicle won't break any records with a top speed of about 45 mph. But with rubber tracks instead of tires, Courtney never has to worry about getting stuck in the snow or losing traction on the road.
"It's always an eye-catcher, no matter what I'm doing with it," he said Friday while navigating the bizarre-looking vehicle through a foot of snow off Daniels Road.
The treads make Courtney's truck look a bit less like a Land Rover and more like the Sno-Cats used for grooming trails at ski resorts. Though they don't allow the truck to turn on a dime, they make easy work of snow, mud and even swamp.
The specially designed tracks fit onto the vehicle just like regular tires and can be swapped out after winter. Having them on in the snow transforms the Land Rover into a vehicle that can maneuver through just about anything.
"It's a totally different truck when I have the tracks on it instead of the wheels," he said.
On the off-chance the truck Courtney rehabbed from the frame up does get stuck, it's equipped with a powerful winch that can pull it to solid ground. In short, there's almost no terrain that will stop the vehicle for any prolonged period of time.
A builder by trade, Courtney is also an off-road enthusiast. His passion for excursions through the high country led him to purchase a $600 Land Rover he spotted rusting on someone's front lawn several years ago and turn it into the ultimate off-road vehicle.
"Everything on here is Land Rover specs," he said of the vehicle. "Heavy-duty axles, interlocking differentials —anything where if you get yourself into a tricky situations you can get out. But it's not exactly off the showroom floor."
That's putting it mildly. Courtney's Land Rover is a prototype of sorts for a business venture he's now growing out of a leased 3,000-square-foot space in a business park off Exit 16 of the Northway.
The goal of Red Barn Engineering is to create vehicles and campers that aren't limited by terrain. He hopes to build them for a variety of clients, ranging from energy exploration companies to aid organizations responding to disasters.
"I could have a niche business," he said. "There a real need out there."
Courtney's concept for building all-terrain trucks and campers started with his love for the outdoors. He began designing campers that could be hauled behind or affixed to the back of full-sized trucks that could being them deep into rough terrain.
The first campers designed by Courtney offer many of the same amenities as a traditional recreational vehicle: kitchen, toilet, sleeping quarters and a shower. Only his campers are made of strong aluminum that can withstand the beating vehicles take when navigating off-road and are condensed enough to be easily hauled into untamed country.
"It basically opens up like a Swiss army knife," he said of the camper.
This concept evolved after Courtney accompanied a team of doctors to set up a medical clinic in Haiti immediately following the devastating earthquake in 2010. As he navigated into the disaster zone, he began seeing broader application for his work.
Courtney has discussed building mobile health clinics for aid organizations —vehicles able to navigate freely into undeveloped areas. He was close to building five mobile clinics for an aid organization working in Malawi until the venture ran into funding issues.
With a new production facility in Wilton, Red Barn Engineering is ready to move from concept to production. Courtney plans to start marketing his products aggressively this year, in the hope of transforming his hobby into a viable business.
"We've got things down to where we're ready to hit the market," he said.