Monday, June 11, 2018
Happy Memories Riding the Bumblebees
Sunday was a day of mixed feelings. Where have all the years gone? You may also ask why did I let them go?
I was back home cleaning up my grandmother's estate and Sunday was the day that Cousin Steve came to pick up his inheritance, a pair of 1972 Ski-doo Olympique snowmobiles, and one very cool snow-tow trailer.
I can remember it like it was yesterday, those family outings and to be honest, it was only a couple of times a year that we went out on the sleds to go fishing or just joy-riding. I feel like the guy in the movie the "Good Year." Those times were grand...just grand..
These two sleds were the last two purchased by my grandparents. Grandmother Lucille's sled was a 1970 Ski-doo Nordic (Was it Nordique?), a machine with twice the horsepower of these two and was heavy and fast.
Here is the model in front of an ad, it was like riding a bumblebee, it even buzzed.
personally I liked the ad for the 1969 version a little better
but somehow, it is hard to think of snow looking at that advertisement. I just don't think Grandmother Danielson was influenced by those types of ads, but who knows?
Despite USA being in Vietnam, the end of the Sixties and early Seventies, The period was the pinnacle of American life to a large degree. The WWII generation was at peak earning power, jobs from the space race's technology boom were plentiful and we were the manufacturing center of the world. That 1970 snowmobile cost $1059 for my grandparents who were not well off by any stretch of the imagination but a business deduction for a trapper/ logger would be worth $6300 today, and with the twin 1972 machines, they were quite an investment.
It was a time of snowmobile clubs, snowmobile trails connected all of the rural bars and every winter weekend, people did the "bar runs" or "poker runs" across the northern tier of my home state of Wisconsin and I'm sure many more. You could get anywhere on a sled, you didn't need cars. We drove them to school, through towns....Here is a snapshot of Williston back in the day, I can remember over 100 speds parked on my mainstreet on a Saturday in Wisconsin
My hometown still hosts the Summer National Waterskipping Event, a sport that was invented nearby and led to the development of the Jet-ski
They have long since stopped the winter event in nearby Clam lake Narrows near siren due to insurance concerns.
As a family, we watched the I-500 snowmobile race, quite a grueling affair from Winnipeg to Minneapolis through the fields and woods of the great while north. It was for us northerners more of a spectacle than Daytona, held in the same month. It was even televised when I was a kid. It is still held but now due to paranoia over 9-11, it doesn't cross the border, and it is even hard to find out when it is held as the results are never published, or so it seems to me. Not that i care much any more
Our fair grounds had winter races. I rooted for Sno-Jets for some reason, I like the blue with white trim color. They were fast but never seemed to win. It was just a wonderfully fun time. It seemed wee could not get enough snowmobiles until I guess we had. Many always say the old times were better but I think in this case, they truly were. Yes, drunken snowmobile crashes killed many, but drinking and driving something has always killed, they always have, even during Prohibition. We went outdoors and enjoyed life, sadly unlike today.
In 1971, the peak year, Ski-doo sold 212,000 sleds and there were over 30 manufacturers. I can think of 7 dealers within 10 miles of my house. Which was easy to do since for about 1800 dollars you too, could become a dealer buying three sleds and you'd just have to guarantee purchasing $30 in parts. It was something you could set up in your garage. The Sno-jet dealer as in Trade River, at the Trade River Oil station, a place that you'd never figure was much of an oil company let alone a snowmobile dealership. The ZZZ Arctic Cat dealership was in basically a garage, out in the woods a few miles west of Frederic Wisconsin.
It was a great time and even as a little kid, i can remember the fun and happiness we all had each winter, and then like a thief in the night, first two mild winters came in 1972 and 1973, followed by the Arab Oil shock of 1973 following the Arab-Israeli War of the same year threw the economy in a tail spin. We ended the space race in that time frame and by the time Nixon resigned in 1974, the US was no longer on top. By 1976, the number of snowmobile manufacturers were down to 6, and then after the second oil shock of 1979 due to Iran, things got even worse
In 1970 575,000 machines were made, at the end of the Seventies, sales fell off a cliff and bankruptcy was filed or threatened by everyone left, in 2005 the sales number was back up to 180,000 by just 4 manufacturers.
My grandparents bought the snowmobiles to spend time as a family but when they bought them, the family was leaving to start their own lives. Isn't that just the way things go?
I last rode the old Ski-doo snowmobiles back in 1984 when grandpa sold off the Nordic and in helping him get it out, and I refound the the other ones in the shed, I filed them with gas, and they ran! We got them licensed and it was a glorious revival. I became jealous of the by-gone days before but it was a great winter of snow, and I took the sleds out with the cool trailer fishing. But that was it, by that fall I was in college, in a hurry to get on with my life, maybe in too much of a hurry. Along the way, I nearly forgot my past, and what I was and where I was from. Without a break, I was in medical school, I found a wife, and grandpa died both in 1990, and afterwards, I was too busy making my own go of it to comeback and celebrate with my grandmother that she had made it. I hope my own kids see this as my daughter is 18 and is off registering for classes at Hamline University today and my twin sons turn 23 on Wednesday. We are always in too much of a hurry to get somewhere that we forget to enjoy where we are.
My grandmother, as it turns out was very sentimental, and I knew she loved the old days on the snow cruising fast, and thought if she sold them, she'd lose the memory. It makes me sad to think I never got them going. They were there waiting for me and grandmother was waiting to go, now she can't she is in a different place, one we cAn't imagine, and can only hope
Maybe I should have kept them myself? Although they'd just sit in my garage....no....Steve will get them fixed up and will show them some attention they long deserve. Unlike me, just another opportunity lost and a memory cut short for reasons I just don't know...why? Why did I let those happy times go?
I sit here with tears in my eyes thinking of what could have been, what should have been...and truly wonder if it all was worth it.