The Great Circle of Life, and Snowmobiles.
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”
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”