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….











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…


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