It sat in the window of the Denslow Equipment Company, a farm machinery business in Boonville, New York, a few miles from my hometown. It was a circa 1960s Ski Doo snowmobile. The sled was manufactured by the Bombardier Corporation of Canada and it helped lead the way toward making winter a whole lot faster and more fun for families in the northern United States. The restored sled is bright yellow with the words Ski Doo printed in red on the cab. The engine requires the user to mix gas and oil together. The sled is ideal for one, but can seat two comfortably, three with a little snuggling, and four if you really try and if two of the four are young children.
I asked the manager at the store about the restoration. He told me it took over a year to convert what was once destined for the junk heap and rejuvenate it into something he is very proud to show to customers and the curious like me. He told me it is for sale, but I did not ask him about the price. I don’t need to buy anything. I have childhood memories of a snowmobile just like the one in that window.
The Ski Doo I saw that day during a vacation visit this fall was restored to the showroom beauty that captured the imaginations of many. It sure took me back to the days when an afternoon of family sledding on a toboggan and long walks up a hill would soon be replaced by a vehicle that carried people over the snow.
There’s a picture from my family’s many photo albums of my brother, sister, Mom, and me on the snowmobile. As you can see from the red and white wool hat I was wearing, style was not critical on that winter day. Fun in the snow was the goal, and we had a lot of fun. I share a story in my book Growing Up, Upstate about the time when my Dad let me drive the sled. I was barely seven years old as I plowed through a hedge bush in our front yard before coming to a stop in a snowbank across the street from my house.
Over the years as we got older, my brother and I would each get our own snowmobile. Used sleds were relatively cheap in the early 1970s as dozens of older snowmobiles from the previous decade were traded in for newer and more powerful models.
The community of Boonville would have annual snowmobile races at the County Fairgrounds. My friends Jerry and Dan would go the races, and the pre-race speed trials for a couple of years. Speed was becoming a piece of the action as the engines became more sophisticated.
I stopped riding my sled after I left home in the late 1970s. My dad sold his snowmobile once he and my mom started going to Florida every winter. My brother kept up the tradition with his son up until recent years. Snow machines today are heavier and much, much faster. It’s not at all uncommon to read in my hometown newspaper about a serious snowmobile accident caused in part by excessive speed every winter.
I prefer my outdoor fun to be a little bit slower. While the novelty of a motorized snow sled may have worn off a little with the passing of years, it’s nice to have returned to a different era and remember all the fun I had when the first snowmobile arrived in our backyard. I haven’t been on one in many years, but I still have the memories from a time when the family snowmobile was the center of attention during the winter in upstate New York.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced