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The Last Windrow: Early days of snowmobiling were exciting times

Snowmobiling has changed since I purchased my first sled in 1972. It was an Arctic Cat with a motor large enough to propel me over hill and dale at whatever stupid speed I wanted to go.

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Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Let's see now. I have two spare spark plugs, a spare belt, an extra tank of gas and a toolkit.

I'm ready to go snowmobiling in 1972.

Rupp, Scorpion, Brute, Polaris, Arctic Cat, Skiroule, John Deere, Sno-Jet, Mercury, Johnson, Evinrude and other brands speckled the white snowfields in that year. The heavy snow we received last week brought back memories of those early days on the snowmobile trails.

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Close up of an old snowmobile air-cooled 2-stroke engine without it's cover. Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

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Our part of Minnesota just received what in terms of snowmobiling is a million dollar snow. As I look out my kitchen window I see close to a foot and a half of the white stuff covering the trail that leads to the woods behind our house, and in that scene sits my snowmobile, covered now with a blanket of white.

It's ready to go.

Snowmobiling has changed since I purchased my first sled in 1972. It was an Arctic Cat with a motor large enough to propel me over hill and dale at whatever stupid speed I wanted to go.

I managed to blow two engines out of that sled, and it ended up being stolen off a Canadian lake on a winter lake trout fishing trip.

The engine blew up while I was pulling a loaded cutter sled behind in deep snow. My friends and I pulled it over to the shore of the lake thinking we would pick it up on our way out. When we showed up several days later, my "Cat" had disappeared, never to be seen again.

With a blown engine I really didn't mind a bit that it disappeared.

Those early days of snowmobiling were much different than today's sleds, as those who ran the old sleds know. We mixed enough oil in the gas to leave a trail of smoke wherever we traveled. Spark plugs fouled on a regular basis, and occasionally a drive belt would fray and give up the ghost.

One never knew which of these would happen first, but happen they would. The riders always came away from an excursion smelling like a leaking gas can.

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There were other things that developed during those early days. I had never heard of Snowshoe Grog until I was offered a sip from a fellow snowmobiler one cold midnight. He said it would warm my insides in the freezing air. I guess it did, but I had a hard time seeing what was in front of me after that sip.

Bar hopping was in vogue during those days. Places like the Salty Dog Saloon on Lake Hubert, the Loon Lake Tavern, the Breezy Point Four Seasons nightclub and the area American Legions were all packed with gas and oil smelling sledders. Those were the days before modern DWI rules were in place, and one needed to attempt to avoid any oncoming snowmobile traffic if possible.

I don't remember there being many more accidents then versus today's sled traffic, but I may be wrong.

My first acquaintance with a snowmobile came while fox hunting in Iowa. A fox had been spotted lying in a fencerow at the midpoint in a section. It was decided by the group of hunters to walk out and "jump" the fox and the chase would follow. A member of our group pulled up with a new Sno-Jet snowmobile and offered to run it out to get the fox up and running.

Deep snow covered the fields that day and Fred took off in a cloud of white fluff. We watched as he traversed the landscape toward the fox when suddenly he disappeared in a cloud of snow.

Little did Fred know that there was a deep, snow-filled gully in the middle of the field. Fred found himself and his snowmobile 20 feet below the landscape with only steam rising to show us where he was.

The fox trotted off and we spent the rest of the afternoon extracting Fred and his sled from the gully.

I decided that snowmobiles can get us into trouble.

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Today's snowmobiles are modern works of art and other than skis and tracks, they don't resemble those old smoking, plug fouling, belt busting sleds from 1972.

It was an exciting time. Just watch out for the Snowshoe Grog. It can hamper your vision.

See you next time. Okay?

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