Taming The Cheetah

Jeff Porter aka eltigre81 has sent us a recollection from his childhood and it is pretty much what this website is all about. Enjoy.

Cheetah

The cold wind stung my cheeks as I made my way from the house out toward the barn. The sun was barely visible behind an icy curtain of haze, and snow crystals blew in sheets across the path ahead of me. I reached the corner of the barn and saw my father talking to a man I did not recognize. The man was very tall, and to my eye bore a striking resemblance to Chuck Connors, the famous television actor. He had a broad square shaped face, high cheekbones and sharp steel blue eyes. Definitely a tough guy I thought to myself as I observed his grease stained overalls and plaid flannel shirt. He finished the last couple of puffs on a cigarette and flicked the butt into the snow with his massive, oversized hand.

A red pickup truck pock marked with a shotgun blast of rust holes was backed up to a nearby snow bank. In the back of the truck was a machine that I had never before seen the likes of. I knew immediately that it was a snowmobile, but it was not like the motorized bumblebees that I had seen the neighbor boys buzzing around out on the lake with. This machine was starkly different, low slung, angular and black, with scooped vents on the hood that gave the impression of a carnivore ready to take a bite out of anything that crossed its path. The seat was covered with a curious leopard print fabric which reminded me of the lingerie featured in the dirty magazines hidden under my older brother’s mattress.

At that point in my life, snowmobiles had not made any more of an impression on me than being noisy, pollutant spewing, dangerous contraptions ridden only by he-men who possessed the desire to die a horrible death. The images of that Saturday morning six years ago flashed into my brain. A man standing blue skinned, shivering violently and dripping wet in our kitchen after the machine he was riding with a buddy went through the ice in front of our house. The State Police frogmen in their fish eye masks and skin tight suits sent to recover his friend’s body. The shrouded corpse being carried up the hill to a waiting ambulance. I quickly dismissed the notion of ever riding a snowmobile, and turned to go back in the house.

“Hold on a minute son”, my father called out. “Can you give us a hand unloading?” Unloading? Why on earth would that deathtrap need to be unloaded in my yard I thought? Had my father gone mad? I reluctantly commenced tugging on the chrome plated rear bumper and together we dragged the machine out of the truck and down the backside of the snow bank. The man produced a key from his pocket, inserted it into the ignition, flipped a lever on the glossy black dashboard, and then said “Always give her some choke to get her started.” I would later learn that “choke” meant cutting off the air supply to the carburetor and richening the fuel mixture for easier starting, but at that instant the word conjured up more images of suffering and death. Wrapping his oversized hands around an oval shaped handle on the machine’s right side, the man jerked his arms backward and pulled the snarling animal to life. A cloud of blue colored smoke fanned out from somewhere underneath the sled and the motor roared a lion’s roar telling us that it had been awakened from its hibernation. The man then smiled a tobacco stained smile and said “Once she fires up, take the choke off and let her warm up before you give her hell.” He then straddled the machine and using a small, thumb sized lever on the right handlebar, he urged the machine forward. As he pulled away, I caught a glimpse of a chrome nameplate on the side of the hood that read “Cheetah”.

The man crossed our plowed driveway, drove the machine up over the snow bank and into the soft deep snow, creating a swirling cloud of snow dust behind him. He traced a path around our house and I followed in the sled’s tracks long enough to see him descend the hill behind our house and head out onto the lake. As he became a tiny black dot on the white horizon, I went back into the house, not wanting to witness a tragedy unfold. The man must have returned safely because the machine stayed, taking up residence in our barn.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the Cheetah became the object of neighborhood adulation. The neighbor boys came buzzing over on their bumblebees when they saw my older brother playing chauffer with my younger siblings aboard and the machine was the talk of the morning bus stop amongst the local adolescent population. While my three brothers would fight over who was going to get to ride the snowmobile first, I abstained, preferring instead quiet time outside on my snowshoes. I cited the righteous pursuit of keeping the air clean and the snow free of petroleum pollutants as the reason behind my refusal to accept the Cheetah, but the simple fact was that I was scared. Afraid of dying, intimidated by a machine that promised dismemberment if operated incorrectly, and petrified of the guilt I would feel if something terrible happened while carrying one of my siblings as a passenger. At first, no one made too much of the fact that I would not partake in any festivities involving the snowmobile, but as winter ebbed and flowed it’s snowy course people began to take notice and the taunts began. “He doesn’t like the snowmobile, either that or he doesn’t like us”, my oldest sister Paula would jeer. “Are you going to ride this weekend Porter, or are you still afraid?” became the refrain at the morning bus stop. My mom even got into the act, telling me “I think you should at least give it a try.”
She went on to explain that it was not the snowmobile that cost a man his life six years ago, but a lack of common sense in that the lake had only been frozen over for a couple of days when the men decided to take a vehicle out on what was probably only a couple of inches of ice. She suggested I see if they had anything in the school library to research regarding ice formation and pointed out that if cars and trucks were driving around out on the lake, then I could be pretty sure that it was safe for a snowmobile. While I felt somewhat reassured by her explanation, I wasn’t convinced.

After some reflection, I decided to take my mom’s advice and began looking into how to properly and safely operate a snowmobile, and tried to research snow conditions and ice formation. The school library did not have much to offer, and the librarian suggested I head over to the police station, which was within walking distance from school, and talk to someone there. I was able to find a snowmobile safety manual, talk to the officers on duty and I learned that a snowmobile should never be operated on less than six inches of ice, that ice depth should always be tested in several places prior to going out onto any frozen body of water, that slush and soft spots around the shoreline and around any pressure ridges or cracks are to be avoided. I learned the importance of wearing the proper protective equipment, and used the money I had saved from my paper route to purchase a purple metal flake helmet. I began reviewing the safety manual that came with the Cheetah, and made secret visits to the barn to familiarize myself with the sled’s controls, find the proper seating position and perfect mixing the gas and oil that went into the fuel tank. It was a slow process, and I continued to endure being ridiculed by my siblings and by my peers. What I did not realize at the time was that I was learning to build confidence and take the needed steps to accomplish my goal on my own terms, a pattern that I have repeated on many occasions throughout my life.

By the time February vacation arrived, I felt ready to put fear aside and take my first ride on the Cheetah. I waited until the first weekend of vacation was over and picked a day in the middle of the week to try my hand at snowmobiling. I lucked out and got a day with bright sunshine and comfortable temperatures. I turned down the opportunity to go on a family shopping trip so that I could have the sled to myself. I donned the gear that I had laid out the night before, my honeycomb long underwear, snow pants, boots, jacket, gloves and my candy purple helmet. Normally my father started the sled up for my brothers and sisters, but I insisted on doing this myself. I did as the man who had delivered the Cheetah had said and flipped up the lever on the dash to give the sled some choke. On the third pull of the starter rope, the Cheetah rumbled to life, as she warmed up a bit I returned the choke lever to the off position. I buckled my helmet chinstrap and heaved a sigh as I thought about how I should approach this first ride. I decided I would take the sled down to the lake where it was flat so that I could just get a feel for how to operate this beast. That meant that I had to descend the hill behind the house, but had familiarized myself in theory with operation of the sled’s brake and knew I would have to hold and release the brake lever as the momentum of the machine carried me down the hill.

The snow was pretty deep this last week in February, and if I strayed from the trail that had been packed from continuous use, large plumes of snow would waft up over the hood and windshield and sugar coat my helmet and face shield. I made my way around the house and jerked my way down the hill, squeezing the brake pucks against the rotor and stopping the sled when I felt like I was gaining too much speed. I stopped at the bottom of the hill, turned the handlebars to the right, and gave the sled enough throttle to move toward the lake through a break in the trees. Fortunately there was a path already defined and packed so I didn’t have to guess as to the best route onto the ice.

The snow on the lake was windblown, the peaks and valleys whipped like meringue on a pie. I eased the throttle lever toward the handlebar and off I went. Though the chrome-rimmed speedometer went clear to eighty miles per hour, I found that my comfort level was about one quarter of that and decided to stay under twenty mph. I practiced my turns, both right and left, learning that on a sled of this vintage that you either had to slow down or lean heavily into the turn in order to keep the sled on its line through the corner. Once I began to get comfortable, the realization set in that I actually was enjoying the wind buffeting my helmet and the sun making the snow sparkle like a diamond encrusted moonscape. I had conquered my fear and discovered a new way to enjoy winter.

I began to make regular practice runs, never going too far, never exceeding my comfort zone and always focusing on safe riding technique. I am proud to say that I have been a fairly regular rider since that winter of 1978, and have never had an accident or a breakdown on the trail. I always smile when I think of that time in my life and all that I learned taming the Cheetah.

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A Victim of the Habit

Vintagesleds.com member toocheaptosmoke tells a familiar tale of the thrill of the hunt, the art of the deal and the hazards of wrenching on old sleds….

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If you’ve been into old iron for very long then you might be able to relate. The
scenario seems to play out over and over again. You’re just minding your own business,
tending to practical matters and being financially responsible, when out of nowhere some relic from the past appears and you’re forced to buy it. I swear it must be a medical condition, at the end of the day you’re bewildered as to how you’ve come home with empty pockets and a full trailer. Old snowmobiles in particular seem to trigger this disease.
 
This particular adventure all started one night while I was on my way to an evening class at the local college. The cell phone rang, it was a member of my reconnaissance team (i.e., a local friend) with a hot tip, he said there’s an old sled for sale less than half a mile from my house, sitting in a front yard! The cell phone reception was sketchy, and so was the description of the sled, but it was just enough to trigger a relapse of my UJAD. (Useless Junk Acquisition Disorder) What I gathered from the informant was that it looked like a 1970’s Ski-doo, black, with a red stripe on it. So now I had to suffer through three hours of Art History, trying to concentrate on paleolithic cave paintings with that carrot dangling in front of me… It wasn’t happening, too busy racking my brain over what type of Ski-doo it could be. Citation SS? 1981 Blizzard?? 1975 245 RV?!?
 
Little bit after 9:00 PM the class ended and I decided to do a nighttime fly-by to scope out the situation. Got into the vicinity and couldn’t see much from the dim head lights of the Jeep, but finally I spotted some reflective red tape down behind a big tree. Didn’t look to be a 245 RV, dang it… Couldn’t really see what it was, but had a feeling it was a Merc of some sort securely chained to that old tree. So the next morning I get up and decide to go check it out better in the light. Didn’t really want or need one of those big Mercs, but hey, you never know if the price is right. Head on over and there it sits, surprisingly no one else tried to buy it during the middle of the night. I drop down a gear and ease on into the driveway, which thankfully wasn’t very long. First thing I notice is BEWARE OF DOG signs clearly visible, in multiple locations. A few broken appliances and lawn tractors accent the property, but who am to talk, my back yard isn’t much better… Weave my way over to the flimsy screen door and get greeted by a couple of large german shepherds, I mean, we’re talking police grade dogs here! Eventually some guy corrals the canines and comes out to show me the sled. Turns out to be a 1972 Mercury Hurricane 644, with a seized engine, majority of the bogie wheels missing, and some amazingly decayed wiring. A real prime example of (s)crap. Of course, I figure it might be something worth picking up. After all, I didn’t drive a whole two minutes just to come home empty handed.
 
So negotiations begin, I ask how much for the sled, and the guy starts at $100. Ain’t happening I say…He rolls down to $50, I say it still ain’t happening… Then he counters with the classic “I could sell the hood on ebay for $50” line. Finally he asks me what I think it’s worth, I say 20 bucks is about it, the guy says it ain’t happening… I said that was cool, I understand, and we BS’ed for a bit, and it was brought up about how I like to wrench on old sleds. That’s when he gets an idea, and asks if I know anything about clutches, more specifically aligning them. I said I know a little bit.
 
So he tells me how he bought his son a Polaris Indy 600 the previous year but the thing eats belts, wants to know if I could help him get the clutches aligned in it. He says, “How about this, if you help me get those clutches aligned I’ll give you this sled for 20 bucks.” By that point I was in a weak state of mind, the allure of cheap junk mixed with the aroma of seat-foam mold just got to me. I said “Sure, sounds like a deal, I even have the actual Polaris clutch alignment tool for that sled!” We shook hands, I thought it was all good, the guy was happy that he found somebody to work on his son’s sled, and I had a new lawn ornament.
 
But that’s not the end of the story. I went back a couple days later to work on the
“Indy 600,” thinking it would be a breeze. I know the Polaris clutches well enough, no
big deal right? But, it turned out that it wasn’t an Indy 600 anymore… It had some sort
of early 70’s Yamaha fan-burner engine thrown into it, a primary clutch of unknown
origin (with only 3 out of 4 flyweights still intact), along with a random Arctic Cat belt
two sizes too small. Still had the original Polaris secondary clutch, but of course that was seized firmly onto the jack shaft. I was starting to get concerned about how I was going to pay my remaining debt. The sled was located out back in part of active chicken coop, where I had to worry about a lightly tethered dog pacing behind me, and a hornet’s nest about six feet in front. Now things were getting interesting. If that Merc didn’t weigh 700 lbs.(give or take a hernia), I would have seriously considered loading it back up and trying to return it for a full refund and then some. Long story short, through a mix of perseverance, penetrating oil, and possibly some black magic, that monstrosity of an “indy 600” came through with perfectly aligned clutches at the end of the day. The rest of the sled might not have run very well, or have run for very long before self destructing, but those clutches were in proper alignment… I even threw in a free used belt close to the right size for good measure.
 
Lesson learned: Sometimes the smallest price tags comes with the biggest headaches.
P.S. In a case of trying to make a right from two wrongs, I eventually combined another
sled (also purchased in a moment of bad judgment) with that old Merc to create the “Slo-Pro.” But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

victim2

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Waconia Charity Build 2016

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As the 2016 Waconia Charity Auction approaches, Everything
is coming together. With a great effort by all involved, the
dirty work is almost done. Time for you to warm up that
checkbook and make the project a complete success.

Waconia Charity Build

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Happy Holidays from VintageSleds

Thanks to Chris R who provides our holiday themed photo this year.
Wishing you a safe and snowy winter season. May you find smooth
trails and friendly rest stops in all your travels.

ChrisR

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The Great Circle of Life, and Snowmobiles.

The Great Circle of Life, and Snowmobiles.

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Part One.

My part in this story begins with an email from my son, Levi. He frequents “cafe racer” motorcycle message boards and, like the vintagesleds forums, the discussions veer off into other things people are interested in. One of Levi’s “message board friends” forwarded a Craigslist ad searching for old snowmobiles. Since his friend knew that we had plenty of those laying around he thought we may have excess inventory (is there such a thing when it comes to old sleds?) and might need to get rid of a few.

When I looked at the ad I noticed one of the pictures was of an old, blue Sears 309. My first thought was that I had a couple of those, and it seemed a shame that they were just sitting in the pallet rack so maybe I’d see if the guy might be interested in them. As I looked closer I noticed that the Sears in the ad looked an awful lot like one of the sleds I had, as a matter of fact it looked EXACTLY like one of the Sears sleds sitting in my barn!

My journey with the Sears sleds began at the A1 show in 2005. I had taken a few sleds up there and had sold or traded them all. I ended up trading one of the sleds on a Skiroule S-250 so I’d have something different to bring home. Shortly before I left someone came up & really wanted the little Skiroule. We agreed on a price and the sled went off with its happy new owner. This presented a problem; I was at the A1 show, I had an empty trailer and I had cash in my pocket. I think there is an unwritten rule that you are not allowed to leave a snowmobile swap meet under these conditions. Since everyone else was packing up or leaving we made a panic trip around the field and came across a couple guys standing by their trailer looking a little frustrated. It seems that they had the trailer full but still had one more sled that needed to go in… a Sears 309. They seemed happy to make a deal and I was happy to have a different sled to stare at in the barn.

Over the next few years I picked up another Sears up around Kalkaska, MI. I also picked up a parts chassis on the East end of PA. Like most of my projects the Sears sleds sat on the pallet rack waiting until I got motivated to get something done with them. Like most of my projects, that day never seemed to arrive.

So, when the wanted ad for an old Sears showed up, and not just any Sears; the Sears I actually had, I was pretty intrigued to hear the rest of the story. When I made contact through Craigslist the person that had placed the ad seemed pretty interested. It was cool to hear the story of how the sled was found and was brought back to operational status again. It didn’t take long to make a deal that we were both happy with. It ended up being being a great story and a lot of fun to be part of it.

Normally this is where the story would end. During the conversation I realized the guy I was talking to was named Marc and he lived somewhere close to Grand Rapids, MI. This caused a few of those long dormant neurons to fire somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain. On a hunch I did a search on the Internet for Marc Sebright and, BINGO. You see this story actually started many years before…

Our first family snowmobile was a 1973 Boa Ski Mark 1 292. We beat the tar out of that thing & eventually it went the way of all things that are not taken care of. Years later I started messing with old sleds and had the lingering urge to own another Boa Ski. I think around this time I searched the old VSCA classified ads page and found an ad for a pair of 1974 Boa Ski Mark 1 292’s. You guessed it, back in the late 90’s I had been to Marc’s place and got the first “hit” on my new Boa Ski addiction. I should have known it was coming – I was looking for ONE Boa Ski and bought two. I think since that time I’ve bought at least 20 more. As a result of buying those two Boa’s I also became acquainted with Jim Wanasek (Boa Brother 1, AKA the Grand Potentate) and the rest of the Boa Brothers.

When I told my wife and a friend of hers this story, they didn’t seem impressed. They seemed to think that there were only about a dozen people in the US that were dumb enough to drag home derelict snowmobiles, so it would only stand to reason that we would run into each other again. I told them how many registered users the vintagesleds website has, but they think it’s a made up number.

So, I guess the moral of the story is you never know what paths may lead you back to people you met along the way. I hope the time your paths cross again with an old vintage snowmobile acquaintance it is a great event for you as well.

Todd Retterer  “Boaski”

Part Two.

This is the story of P8841, a 1969 Sears 309. In 1997 I was seventeen years old and a junior in high school. I was a budding vintage sledder, having only been in the hobby a couple of years. Gas was 99 cents a gallon, so I spent ever moment I wasn’t sleeping or in class roaming the back roads of lower Michigan, looking for old snowmobiles. They were everywhere back then, a seemingly endless supply, and most of them were free if you had the guts to knock on a few doors.

On this particular trip however, I hadn’t seen a single sled all day and had only managed to get myself lost about three hours Northeast of the Grand Rapids area. As I attempted to get oriented and find the highway, I spotted a pale blue machine sitting in tall weeds along a fence row. When I stopped, the owner gave me the same puzzled look I usually got, as if to say “Why would a young kid like you be interested in that old thing?” but granted me access anyway.

Wow! A Sears snowmobile! Who knew? This is common vintage knowledge now, but at the time my only resources were my dog eared Intertec snowmobile manual and the old VSCA website. I had heard of various ‘department store’ sleds but had never actually seen one. Unfortunately this one had seen better days. The skis were rotted and mangled, the tunnel bashed, the windshield broken, the seat was completely missing, and so were many of the primary clutch parts. An aesthetically challenged artist had rough stenciled the registration number P8841 onto the hood.

Even so, I had to own it. The owner, in addition to helping me gather my directional bearings, gave me the sled for free and helped load it. What a great guy. When I got the sled home, I drew on my limited knowledge and growing supply of old sled parts in the loft of my parents’ barn to resurrect the old machine. The skis and springs came from a ‘71 Ski-Doo Olympique. The 309 made way for a good running 335 Kohler single from a 420 Gilson.

By mid summer I had the sled running well on a Sprite bottle of premix, rigged to the running board. I had a blast zipping the Sears around on the grass at the farm. However by fall, under pressure from my folks to clean up some of the junk (mom’s words not mine) laying around the barn, I gave the machine to a friend. He gave it a quick spray can makeover and only rode it once or twice. I lost track of it after that.

Fast forward to 2015. I was in the market for an old single cylinder bomber as a backup machine and placed an ad on Craigslist. As an example, I used a faded photo of the Sears sitting in our barn. I never could have anticipated the response I got! I came home one day opened my e-mail to find a question, asking me if I’d like to have the exact same sled in the photo. I was blown away and asked for more details. Todd, the owner, sent me a half dozen photos of a 309 wearing Olympique skis, a 335 Kohler single, and a hood with P8841 stenciled on it. How the sled managed to survive intact almost twenty years since I had last seen it was beyond me.

Apparently, after it was sold by my friend, it ended up at the A-1 New Lothrop show, where it was bought by Todd. He then collected parts from two other 309s with plans to restore one. Seeing how much the sled meant to me, he made me a deal I couldn’t possibly refuse, and everything was soon on a trailer back to Michigan.

I was beyond giddy to have the sled back in my garage, and immediately began preparing it for winter 2015. Since the few old photos of the machine show it wearing the faded original color, I chose to retain the current ‘patina’ and only rebuild what was necessary to make the Sears a rider. A few chassis cracks have been welded, the front-end rebuilt, the fuel system gone through, and the Kohler engine given new crank seals and a carb kit. The only modifications to the original build are a set of carbides, a windshield, and an actual seat. Otherwise it’s 1997 all over again, only this time it’s not leaving me in the fall!

Marc Sebright “69MarkIII”

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