Fonserannes Water Slope Tractor

This is what an abandoned Water Slope Tractor looks like

Nothing makes the world feel larger than finding out about new abandoned vehicles, places, or ships. Like the McBarge, a floating McDonald’s, from the World Expo on Transportation and Communication in Vancouver, BC during 1986. It also was in Blade Trinity.


The Fonserannes Water Slope Tractor is another example of that. This 18-wheeled tractor was used to push a section of water up a slope that also happened to have 1 to 3 canal boats floating in that water.

Why a slope?

The idea of a water slope has been around for 135 years and is pretty straight forward. Instead of using the system of locks to lower and raise the water level to get the canal boats to different elevations, the water slope allowed the boats to be floated to the new height as the tractor pushes the volume of water up or down the slope. When everything is functioning, the canal boats move much quicker to the new elevations.


fonserannes water slope beziers 7


fonserannes water slope beziers 3


Did the water slope work?

For the Fonserannes Water slope, the answer is for a little bit. The physics and the slope’s construction worked, but the tractor itself is the weak link in this system. The slope was built from 1980 to 1983 and was declared functional in May of 1984. Shortly after beginning operations, it became apparent that the tractor was letting the system down. The hydraulic system’s oil leaks were causing the concrete tracks to be lubricated, and the 18 tires were unable to get suitable traction to move the volume of water to the top of the slope. It took several years to resolve the leaks and traction issue, but they never really solved them in reality. For a short period of time, the tractor did move boats from the bottom to the top. Watch this family’s trip up the slope.


There is an account of an accident occurring in 1984. The tractor lost traction. The entire wedge of water moved uncontrolled to the bottom of the slope, creating a canal tsunami that overwhelmed a lock and damaged many boats docked nearby. There may or may not have been a boat in the wedge at the time. Why else would the tractor have been moving to the top of the slope?

The slope officially closed in 2001 and is still closed. Why didn’t they use a cog rail system or a rack railway? Those rail systems have been around since way before the 1980s, like the 1860s…

Either way, abandoned stuff is neat and creepy.

Fonserannes Water Slope Tractor

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9 responses to “This is what an abandoned Water Slope Tractor looks like”

  1. Sjalabais Avatar

    I have to admit, never knew this was a thing. Odd to have it on tires, yes, but also: How was it propelled? Is there some sort of energy regeneration on the way down?

    1. Not Bathsitbox Avatar
      Not Bathsitbox

      I assumed the leaky hydraulics mentioned were the drive system. I don’t think it needed them for steering, anyway. Hydraulic wheel motors are used in some 4WD / 4-wheel steering forklifts I’ve operated.
      I had no clue this was a method for getting boats up a hill, either. I think the Falkirk Wheel is still my favorite, though. I can’t post a picture, but look it up.

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        The Falkirk Wheel is definitely great, ironically there is still a lock just upstream because the canal has to go under a railway before it reaches the main canal. Apparently the wheel uses the same amount of energy as boiling 9 kettles to do a half rotation.

        Can’t imagine the water slope would work very well for long, sealing the moveable gate has to be an issue. It turns out that only two have ever been built!

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          The Falkirk Wheel is a directly sexy solution to an age old problem, super cool. Using hydraulics to move the tractor above still requires some power source, doesn’t it? I mean, there is a loss here somewhere.

          1. amoore100 Avatar

            This is exactly the curiosity that I have! The Tim Traveler Video mentions some hyper-complex self-propelling (i.e. regenerating) mechanism and there is absolutely no documentation on the internet anywhere I can find. I’m about to fly down there and rip the damn thing apart myself!

  2. Lokki Avatar

    That seems…how to say this? Like such a French Engineering solution to a problem…

    Here’s a variation on the theme that I kind of like; it’s a Polish Engineering solution to the same problem.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Loving the sound of the strained metal wire and wheels.

  3. Pinkerton9 Avatar

    I see somebody else watches the Tim Traveler channel on YouTube.

  4. peugeotude505 Avatar

    I remember the McBarge.. Always hoped they would find a use for it instead of just letting it rot.