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Old Snowmobiles Don't Fade Away
By Dan Gunderson
February 5, 1999
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Snowmobiling is big business in Minnesota. About 70% of the 200,000 snowmobiles sold last year were made in Minnesota. The sleds are sleek and fast with hi-tech suspension and built in handwarmers.

It's a long ways from the humble roots of the snowmobile industry. 30 ago, snowmobiles were little more than a motorized metal sled. Those early machines are now in great demand. Collecting and restoring antique snowmobiles is becoming an industry all its own.

BUD HOVELSON FIRES UP one of the high-performance sleds sitting in his shop near Lake Park. The 1998 arctic cat is top-of-the-line, the Porsche of snowmobiles. It can fly across the snow at more than a hundred miles an hour.

Bud could be out enjoying the new sled, but instead he's spending his day off tinkering with what he calls the model-T of snowmobiles; a machine with a top speed of 35 MPH.

Hovelson : This one's a '68 Panther. It has a 372 engine which was the biggest engine they had in this year.
Bud Hovelson will ride the old Panther this weekend in a vintage sled run near Lake Park. He's hoping the old machine will survive the 40 mile ride.
Hovelson : (With) the new machines, a 100 mile ride is probably no big deal to most people, but to these old machines a 25 mile ride , that's a big deal.
Hovelson says interest in old sleds is growing rapidly. The American Vintage Snowmobile Club has more than 6,000 sleds registered. Bud Hovelson expects about 150 vintage sleds to run this weekend in Lake Park, with hundreds of people coming out to watch.
Hovelson: What people really like to see is they like to see them run. They like to hear what they sound like and what they look like, ride like , and I could give rides on it all day because people would like to take it for one little ride, you know.
Bud Hovelson is one of several thousand people across the United States and Canada who've been bitten by the antique snowmobile bug.

In the 1970s there were more than 40 snowmobile manufacturers. Today three companies control the market.

But thanks to those who remember the past fondly, long forgotten names like Sno-Prince, Fox Trac and Viking are back on the trail.

Lowell Ness will be reminiscing this weekend at the Vintage Snowmobile run, but only as an observer. His back is too bad to ride, partly from years of abuse riding sleds with little or no suspension..
Ness : On real rough snow it just wore you out. (It) felt like you'd been run through the ringer. It just took everything out of you. But it was fun, and I was younger then too.
Lowell Ness bought his first snowmobile in 1967, and was a charter member of the Midnite Riders, the snowmobile club sponsoring this weekends vintage event. He remembers snowmobiling as a labor of love; often, more time was spent repairing than riding.
Ness : You had to carry a pocketful of spark plugs and carried a full line of tools along. If it wasn't belts or rewinds, plugs or mufflers would vibrate loose. It was something all the time.
Ness says despite the hardships there was a thrill in having a new freedom to challenge the elements. He recalls getting lost in blizzards; and once falling through a creek in the middle of a bitterly-cold night.
Ness : I had to get inside for about an hour and a half before I could get the coveralls and boots off. It was all froze solid. Surprisingly enough, I didn't freeze any toes or anything. So it wasn't all bad; never even got a cold out of that deal.
Lowell Ness is pleased to see old snowmobiles making a comeback. He says they represent an era of adventure; a time that changed the winter recreation scene forever.

Bud Hovelson says a lot of people, like Lowell Ness, come to the vintage snowmobile run, mostly to watch and remember and pick up the broken sleds along the trail.
Hovelson : The old guy knows the machine. His children or grandchildren drive the machine and he rides along in his pickup. "I'll meet you over here. And if I don't see you by that time, I'll come back and see where you're at." Put her in the pickup You're done. Try again next year.
The annual old-timers classic fun run is Saturday in Lake Park. There's also a vintage snowmobile club gathering this weekend in Waconia.