As a kid in Northern Maine, snow sledding exploded in popularity in the 1960’s, early 1970’s with a variety of colors, styles, flavors of snowmobiles.
During a better than average Maine potato year, my parents bought a Johnson Skee Horse which was some kind of fast on hard packed surfaces. But venture out in to a Maine field of drifting white new powder and suddenly the snow sled was lost on radar. Dropping out of sight. Thoughts of leaving the sled in the middle of that field until spring surfaced in our heads as kids not built like Hercules or Ajax.
The horsepower was around fourteen. Skis were a narrow stance because there were no groomed wide ITS snow trails. You had to be narrow enough to squeeze between trees to travel any great distance.
It was catch as catch can with field riding and the Maine railroad beds were active, not available like today’s “Interstate” to get through a Maine County, clipping off townships pretty quickly.
I was always in awe of hardcore Maine snow sledders who would take off to Quebec or other exotic sounding places when hearing the stories as a small child. My appreciation grows even today knowing no network of connected trails to and from that Canadian province existed then. And riding on earlier model snow sleds that were not the most dependable mechanically.
My Uncle Carl Hagan took on the Sno Jet snowmobile franchise. Soon we had a new blue sled parked in the chicken house to replace the green hernia heavy Skee Horse.
The Sno Jet built in Thetford Mines Quebec was nimbler, lighter but with its own quirks.
As a kid, to pull the recoil to start the 13.8 horsepower Hirth engine, required a couple of cans of Popeye’s spinach. And a little anger to throw your whole weight of frustration in to the pull cord. Compression was high and usually getting pulled back bloodied a kid’s knuckles.
It also had a metal gas tank that would get condensation, causing rust on the inside which clogged the gas fuel filter. I had lots of neighborhood mechanics who helped suggest a side gas tank like the early Artic Cats used, bungie corded in to place. Crude but effective so weekends the neighborhoods around the farm kids could go round and round fields. Utilize the few woods trails that existed or make our own.
The suspension was a series of bogie wheels, not the slides, shock absorbers like today. That and the narrow ski stance so it could go between trees when breaking a woods trail meant a Maine snow sledder was on his knees alot. Not just praying to please God avoid a breakdown. But to maneuver and lean, twist, turn to help the machine go around obstacles by shifting your weight. Your passenger if you had one had to do the same “bobsled” lean, like the Olympic luge routine too. Otherwise you could go in to a tree from skis not responding, not runnered with carbides and more balanced like today.
Modern snowmobiles are way way more sophisticated, more expensive, only come in four not fifty flavors. Under the lifted fiberglass cowling you see lots of belts, tubes, multiple cylinder tuned exhaust canisters. Meaning barnyard mechanics with whatever you can round up for replacement part days are over. I remember the early Kawasaki Drifter, Skiroule RTX, Rupp Nitro snow machines were ahead of their time. Have you ever seen Maine on a snow sled?