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Pioneering through the world of vintage sleds

Feb. 4, 2008

by Jesse Menden

In the past, the last weekend of January was always about TwinsFest for me. It was the first chance to eat Dome Dogs since September, and a great opportunity to get a few autographs.

But then, a few years ago, I was put on to something else that takes place on that very same weekend: one of the world’s largest vintage snowmobile gatherings, held annually in Waconia.

The weekend consists of many things. There is the banquet that features a keynote speaker. There is the trail ride along the lake that had almost 500 snowmobiles in it this year (although a few less than that finished).

There is the swap meet, where you can start your own Arctic Cat Cheetah collection or just get that reflector you have been looking for. And there is the drag races and the loudest snowmobile contest – the winner this year was over 129 decibels, which is louder than airplanes on a runway and a pneumatic jackhammer.

Oh, with all of that going on it is easy to overlook the highlight of the weekend, the judged snowmobile show. With 45 classes split into restored, survivor, and original, there is something for almost everyone.

The jalopy/home-built class is always good for a laugh. Whether it is the two snowmobiles put together or the sled with a couch mounted on it, that class gets a lot of looks.

The show brings out the common Arctic Cats, Polaris, and Ski-Doos, but also those more obscure sleds like Viking, Harley Davidson, Johnson, Sears, Rupp, Brut, and others. Almost all of them have unique qualities.

Some sleds have twin tracks, some have one thin track. Some were designed for racing. There are some with an enclosed cab. And of course, there are the miniature snowmobiles.

If you ask the owners, you’ll find out that every sled has its own unique story, too. Some will talk about the origins. For example, the Chrysler Snow Rabbit is rumored to have been built for the Marines, but it didn’t perform well in deep snow and was then sold to the public.

Others will discuss how they got their vintage snowmobile. They knew the owner of a dealer who closed up. Or their grandpa kept it buried in the barn for years.

How about the 1975 Raider Double Eagle that has just 5.3 miles on it? Or the AMS Ski-Daddler that was still in the crate.

You think there were a few good stories behind those sleds?

There is so much that can be learned in the two short days, but if there is one thing to take away from the weekend, it is that the world of vintage snowmobiles is a thriving culture that goes way beyond the events at Waconia that I never knew about until recently.

Just like vintage cars, there are many books and magazines specifically catering to vintage snowmobile buffs. There are web sites full of pictures and information on everything to do with vintage snowmobiles. Collecting various memorabilia related to the sleds in also a big deal.

Vintage snowmobiles, in general, are a big deal.

Other than the weekend’s festivities at Waconia, there is another example of just how healthy the culture is. Just take a look at eBay, or “evilBay” as it is known in some circles.

Items on the auction site regularly go for ridiculous amounts because everything is in demand.

Need some molding for that 1970s sled? That will by $100, please.

Need a rare gas tank? That will be $200.

Want a vintage sled that is in good shape? Just write me a blank check.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can find good deals on older sleds in person at an auction or through the classified section of the newspaper, if you know what you are looking for.

No matter how you acquire a vintage sled, once you get it, you are entering the year-round culture of snowmobiles. And it just might be one of the most interesting (and addictive) things you will ever do.