Contributor Tom Rowland sent in this story of the early Minnesota trail grooming – a part of the sport I don’t normally hear about, but am always thankful for when I get a chance to hit a trail. Tom was good enough to write this story and dig up the old photos… so here it is – and thanks for sharing the memories Tom!
My dad and grandpa were involved in the some of the earlier trail developments in our Kanabec/ Mille Lacs county (Minnesota) areas. They would create new or improve existing trails in the summer/fall.Usually they did this with one of their small dozers, my grandpa was always buying or selling these as a hobby. Normally he had a Caterpillar D4, IH TD-6/TD-9 or an Allis Chalmers HD-5. When snow fell, they began grooming.
During the first rideable snow, dad would get our entire family out for a trail ride (we were only way too happy to do this!), and instruct each of us to drive our snowmobile in a slightly different path than the sled we were following. This, he said, would help pack the snow on the trail prior to the first trip out with the grooming drag.
Their first grooming equipment (around 1970?) consisted of a home built drag 5 feet wide and around 8 ft long. They pulled it with 2 panthers hooked to the front via a horse-type evener system. After a season of doing this they replaced the Panthers with an OC-3 Oliver crawler. This worked a little better except in deep powder. They then bolted hardwood boards to each steel track grouser pad in an effort to give the little crawler a bigger footprint.
The next season, they bought a new Arnold Ranger track-type “tractor”. This was powered by a twin-cylinder 18hp Kohler engine, had twin 12″ wide tracks and a 3 speed transmission. These were produced in Pengilly MN and were fairly common in the early 70s for agencies like the MN DNR for their various tasks.
In 1977 they bought their second Ranger, now called a Ferret Tractor, except this one had wider 18″ tracks. By this time my brother and brother-in-law were working with my dad each winter for grooming and they were getting paid a small amount by the DNR for some of the trails they groomed. Also by this time they had built a second grooming drag.
During average snow conditions they would go out with one Ranger each hooked on a drag. After a heavy snowfall, the would have to hook both Rangers together on one drag to get through the trails. By about 1981 or so, they all moved on to other things and the grooming tasks in this area was picked up by the Mystic Riders snowmobile club of the Princeton MN area. This club had a (at the time) very modern Bombardier trail groomer and really took this trail system to the next level. This very club not only still exists but thrives today.
I know I got a little off from Pauls original topic of looking for early grooming pictures, but I kind of enjoyed jotting down some of these memories from a part of early snowmobiling that I had not thought of for a long time.
This image shows Art Rowland (Tom’s grandpa) operating their 1974 Arnold Ranger with a home-built drag. This picture was taken NE of Woodland MN in the winter of 1975-76.
Tom’s dad Wayne, and Thomas, next to their 1977 Ferret wide-track. Brother-in-law Don snapped this picture, something must have been quite funny! They were taking a break from grooming in the Chengwatonna Forest, Pine County MN. Taken winter of 1978-79
Tom on the Cat D4