By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN At first glance, the two air-sleds owned by Winsted Airport hangar owner Rick Stodola look like small aircraft with the propeller on the wrong end.
But in reality, they are two very rare, fiberglass, air-sleds manufactured in Crosby, MN in the early 1960s by three men who owned a company called Trail-A-Sled (TAS).
Stodola owns a two-passenger and a four-passenger TAS. After doing his research, he realized what unique machines he owns.
A total of 50 air-sleds were made by TAS between 1960 and 1963. By 1964, the air-sled design was abandoned, and the company had set up its first production run of tracked snow machines.
Only 15 four-passenger air-sleds were made in 1960, featuring louvered ventilation slots, and a 125 HP Lycoming Power Plant. And there were only 35 two-passenger TAS air-sleds made in 1963, featuring a steel prop guard, removable sliding canopy, interior gas heater, and the firm’s standard Power Plant, the 125-HP Lycoming.
Of the 35 two-passenger air-sleds, 25 were sold to Polaris.
“I talked to the fellow that built the original up in Crosby,” Stodola said. “He said that Polaris contracted them (TAS) to build the two-passenger, but only four of them were ever sold. The rest were destroyed.”
The two-passenger TAS Stodola owns is one of the four.
One of the reasons the air-sled was abandoned was because the propeller was too much of a liability Stodola learned from his visit with the TAS company owner.
The air-sled, which was designed for easy towing, was sold for commercial purposes and required relatively ideal conditions to achieve maximum performance. Operation in tight quarters was out of the question, and deep snow and drifts posed serious problems. However, in the proper environment, the TAS air-sled ran like a dream and approached speeds of 100 mph or more.
The TAS’ 125 HP Lycoming Power Plant is not, as is commonly believed, an aircraft engine.
Stodola found his first two-passenger sled three years ago, while he was working for Don Stodola Well Drilling Co of St. Bonifacius, of which he is president.
It was at a job site in Medina.
“I asked the owner where he got the air-sled from. He didn’t have any idea where it came from,” Stodola said. “He told me he was going to put it in a garage sale, so I offered to buy it.”
Two weeks after he bought the two-passenger, Stodola called a man in Prior Lake who, he had heard, might have a part for his air-sled.
That was when Stodola learned of a four-passenger air sled that was a complete machine.
The four-passenger had been stored in a barn for 30 years and the owner was considering donating it to a museum, but agreed to sell it. The original owner of the four-passenger TAS air-sled was Wally Karbo, of American wrestling fame.
For about a year, Stodola and his neighbor and employee, Denny Cathers have been working on the air-sleds’ restoration.
When the sleds are finished, which should be this week, one of the first things Stodola is going to do is ride it in the Midwest Vintage Snowmobile Shows Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 30 and 31 in Waconia.
Then, the air-sleds will be kept at his home in Minnetrista.
“I live right on Lake Minnetonka and have a ramp in my backyard that goes right down to the lake,” Stodola said.
The frozen lake will be the perfect environment for an air-sled.
About Rick Stodola
Ten years ago, Stodola became interested in flying and learned about the Winsted Airport from his neighbor, the late Alan Reay.
Soon after he got his pilot’s license, he built a hangar at the airport to keep his plane and bought a home in Winsted to be close to his investment.
“The Winsted Airport is a great spot. Very good people and good town,” Stodola said.
Besides his well drilling business, Stodola owns a second business called Mustangs Unlimited, which makes weather vanes.
“I purchased the business about two-and-a-half years ago from a friend up in Hallock. He had started the weather vane business approximately 25 years ago,” Stodola said.
“We sell weather vanes worldwide.”
“D&H Auto Body in Winsted does the painting and the detail work on my planes,” Stodola said. “Harvey Rehmann does the painting, and his wife Lucy, and daughter Michelle do the detail work and the shipping.”
The planes are made in Thief River Falls.
“We ship about 25 down at a time, depending on what our orders are.
One of the Mustang weather vanes called “Old Crow” can be seen at the Winsted airport. Other models are available through the Mustangs Unlimited web site at www.flyingvanes.com.
The Mustang weather vanes wing span is 7 feet and the fuselage is 6 feet. Each plane weighs around 30 pounds.
Stodola is married to Diane and they have two children.
Scott lives in Newport Beach, CA; and Jennifer is married to Dean Roerick and they live in Chanhassen.
The Stodolas have two grandchildren Nick, 12, and Kate 9.