By Steve Pierce – Antique Snowmobile Club of America There has been much ado concerning the first powered flight of the Wright Brothers in...

By Steve Pierce – Antique Snowmobile Club of America

There has been much ado concerning the first powered flight of the Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903, marking the beginning of air travel, but what about snow travel?

No, Joseph Armand Bombardier did not invent the very first snowmobile. Nor did the Hetteens or Carl Eliason. Who actually first traveled over the snow in a tracked, motorized vehicle may forever be a mystery.

The first U.S. patent awarded to a power sled came on March 24, 1896, to Moses, William and Joseph Runnoe of Crested Butte, Colorado. Their power sled had an endless track of chain and eight steel crossbars supported by spring straps. The cleats had spurs on the outer edges for traction. Bear in mind that 1896 was only one year after the first U.S. automobile patent was issued to George Selden in 1895. This was 21 years before U.S. involvement in World War I and merely 20 years after Custer’s Last Stand!

In October 1921, Charles H. Young of Norway, Maine, filed for a patent on a motor- driven sled. His machine had an endless belt on an independent rear suspended power unit and a curved front with skis for steering, forerunning Eliason and others. He received his patent on March 17, 1925.

In the early 1900’s, Ski Kits, chain-driven paddlewheels and track conversions of various configurations were appearing on various automobiles and motorcycles.

In 1914 Frank and Howard Sawyer of Jackson, Minnesota built a snowmo-cycle with skis and side-by-side seating. The rear wheel was positioned between the passengers and it was powered by a twin cylinder Excelsior motorcycle engine.

In 1917 Iver Holm of St. Paul, Minnesota built a similar machine powered by a four cylinder Henderson motorcycle motor.

Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin began experimenting with his idea for a motor toboggan in 1924. His vehicle used a front- mounted, water-cooled outboard motor for power. He obtained a patent on November 22, 1927 on a vehicle for snow travel.

In 1928, while exploring the Antarctic, Admiral Richard E. Byrd left his base on the Bay of Whales, Little America, in a converted Ford Model T. It was later abandoned about 75 miles out of camp. He did not fare much better in 1939 when, on an expedition from Little America III, he abandoned the “Snow Cruiser”, a very large twin-tracked vehicle designed expressly for Antarctic travel.

The late 1920’s and early 1930’s saw the Tucker Motor Company of California develop a most unique method of over-the-snow propulsion – an auger! The “Spiral Over-Snow Vehicle” was sixteen feet long and steered with one ski. (The auger concept was resurrected years later by Polaris, with little success.)

Bombardier moved from wind-powered machines to large tracked transport vehicles. It would be late in the 1950’s before he would produce the light and nimble front-engined sled that became Ski Doo.

Eliason had metamorphosed from wooden, front-engined toboggans to rear-engined steel models by 1951, influencing later manufacturers.

Roseau, Minnesota saw Hetteen Hoist and Derrick become Polaris Industries in 1954, and they began work on their own rear-engined design. It would be 10 years until the ill-conceived Comet, their first front-engined offering, would cause financial disaster and nearly bankrupt the company.

Howard Schraeder’s single ski rear-engined Snowbug emerged from Sudbury, Ontario in 1957.

There were a flood of manufacturers from Quebec who stormed the snowmobile scene. In 1958, Hus-Ski, from Pointe Claire began testing an unusual design. A twin-tracked front-power unit towed a passenger sled behind it. Not in production until 1962, the company was purchased by Food Machinery Corporation in 1965. The Hus-Ski became the Bolens Diablo Rouge.

Bouchard started Moto Ski in 1962 and produced 10 machines in La Pocatiere.

Rejean Houle of Wickham made 20 Skiroules in 1963.

Thetford Mines was home to Sno Jet and 25 units in 1964.

In the United States, Edgar Hetteen would leave Polaris and found Polar Manufacturing in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. In 1962 Polar became Arctic Enterprises and would produce the first front-engined sled in America.

Trail-A-Sled of Crosby, Minnesota also made a front-engined snowmobile in 1962. From a plywood and fiberglass prototype, the soon to be Scorpion design was unique in that the hood and tunnel were fiberglass, and one piece at that!

Mick Rupp, experimenting with an aluminum tunnel, would produce about 200 sleds in 1965.

By 1966, most of the rear-engined snowmobiles had melted away like the spring snow, giving rise to a sport-minded era of prosperity in the industry that would create nearly 200 snowmobile manufacturers by the mid 1970’s.

  • Randy Ketchum

    February 18, 2007 #1 Author

    I have a Moto-Ski Mustang Model 100 I’am trying to find out what year it could be. Planning to restore. I have orginal book and parts list for machine

  • Jesse

    June 3, 2007 #2 Author

    hi i’m 16 years old i live in Superior, MT i’m really interested in snowmobiles. you seem to know your stuff i was hoping you might be able to help me in my search. i would like to find out what the first brand of sled what year and who made it. thank you for your time i would really love it if you could give me a reply but if not well i guess i’m SOL for the day.

    Jesse D. Chapen

    polarisfourwheelers_144@hotmail.com
    Thanks again

  • BILL C.

    September 21, 2007 #3 Author

    My buddy was given a scorpion sled thats in great shape.
    On the sled there is a 400TKK decal, does anyone know
    what model it is and where could I find a manual for
    scorpion sleds. Thanks

  • zack m

    November 27, 2007 #4 Author

    I am a 14 yr old sled head that cant stand being away from snowmobiles. I love them soo much that i have to create this magazine for my english class and i am doing it on snowmobiling. My main story is on the first snowmobile and you guys helped me alot. Thanks. If anyone is ever looking to join club in Genesee County,NY then sleds of stafford is the club to join. We just had a huge dinner raffleing off a brand new 2 sled triton trailer. We also had many of door prizes.

  • Jim Hanke

    November 29, 2007 #5 Author

    Gentlemen,

    I have a friend who has a 1964 or 1965 Ice King “sled” which is powered by a rear mounted propeller. One ski on the front and 2 skis on either side in the rear. We are trying to figure out how rare this thing is as we’ve never seen another one before.
    We know it was built in Harrisburg, Indiana. I will get some pictures soon.

    Jim Hanke
    jghanke@comcast.net

  • dwayne dewetter

    January 22, 2008 #6 Author

    hi im 16years old i have two old 89 wildcat 650’s one modded and on stock. also two old 1969 panthers that have the rotary Sacs wankel engine in them. im tying to find parts for them

  • Dave Berlin

    March 2, 2008 #7 Author

    Is this true? The first United States patent for a snow-vehicle using the now recognized format of rear track(s) and front skis was issued to Ray H. Muscott of Waters, MI on June 27, 1916 with U.S. Patent # 1,188,981. Many individuals later modified Ford Model Ts with the undercarriage replaced with tracks and skis following this design. They were popular for rural mail delivery for a time.

  • Chuck Lesko

    August 16, 2008 #8 Author

    I’m looking for a lake in the upper midwest that is at least 6 miles long and freezes over to at least 10 inches thick. This lake I’ll be using to set a speed record of approx. 250 MPH on a propeller powered ice sled. If anyone has any suggestions I’d greatly appreciate it.
    Chuck
    GreatLakes45@att.net

  • Nate

    December 8, 2008 #9 Author

    hi im a seventeen year old sled maniac i love polaris sleds and i have a 1999 Xc 700 that is all modded out and is proably the fastest sled in central Ny my dad took the title of having the fastest sleed in New York with a 1996 XCR 600 and i have wanted one ever since he got rid of it in 1998 so keep me posted if ya find one

  • Sledder AL

    January 5, 2012 #10 Author

    The Antique and Classic Snowmobile Club of Canada will be at PolarFest again in 2012 – Sunday February 05, 2012 –
    with a display of snowmobiles from days gone by.
    All vintage snowmobile enthusiasts are welcome to come out and display their snowmobiles.
    Runs from 10:00 am until 3:30 pm at BEL Rotary Park in Ennismore, ON – at the Corner of Bridge Rd and Robison Rd.

    NEW this year – People’s Choice Award – $25 Gas Gift Card –

    THIS IS A FREE EVENT

    Contact Alex at 705-775-0141, by e-mail alamore1@cogeco.ca or
    visit the ACSCC on the web at http://www.ACSCC.com for more details.

    Also see http://www.PolarFest.ca – video of last year’s event at the bottom.

    Map – http://g.co/maps/jmtsg

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