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Mark Twain once wrote, “A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” I would like to think that on July 4, 2014 when my father passed away at 83, he was prepared because I don’t know how much more full a life could be.
I know this is a column about snowmobiles and that’s usually on the happy high road, but the reason I am using this space to eulogize my dad is because he is the primary reason I ride and why I do a lot of other things. I commented recently that everything useful I ever learned, I learned from my dad and I can confidently stand by that statement.
My snowmobiling Dad was a classic self-made man, growing up in a sometimes hardscrabble world in northwestern Minnesota. He learned to be mechanical from being around his father who worked in his own shop fixing just about anything with a motor, or without. At 17 he realized his immediate future was in the military, so he climbed on a bus bound for Illinois to become a Navy man. While in the Navy, he became a ship’s mate and learned how to do plumbing and pipe fitting.
Everything he learned in the Navy led him to the plumbing and heating business. In the late 1950s he and a partner bought out a local plumbing business in Grand Forks, N.D. and for more than 40 years my dad’s company provided quality work and endured the ups and downs of the contracting business.
Being addicted to all things mechanical, Dad went through the obligatory ‘car phase’, as many his age did. Mom bought him a 1967 Pontiac Firebird for his birthday, back when a wife could afford to do this, which he later traded in on a 1971 GTO. Later on, when he grew out of muscle cars, he got into Lincolns, owning a 1979 Mark V two door and a couple of Town Cars, the most recent being a 1993 Jack Nicklaus Signature edition with white leather seats and emerald green carpet.
As was also so often the case in the late ’60s and early ’70s, dad was bitten by the snowmobile bug too. Dad’s first sled was a 1969 Arctic Cat Panther he bought from one of his employees. He used it for a winter and then sold it to his younger brother. After I got to see this sled in later years I wished he never would have sold it. The look and styling of this machine captivated me for some reason. When I was in my preteens I saved up Christmas and birthday money to buy a Panther just like it out of a neighbor’s back yard to fix up. I wrote about it in an AmSnow article entitled ‘Venture Capital’ a few years back. The sled is still stored away in my garage at the lake.
Then dad and his business partner decided to step up and take the big plunge. They purchased a pair of brand-new, 1972 Ski-Doo Nordics at the local dealer. Dad got the 440, all yellow model with a matching Ski-Boose tow-behind sleigh. Dad’s partner bought the mostly black 640E model, which my dad always lovingly referred to as a “pig”. I was just a baby when he made the purchase, but my brother and sister tell stories of being dragged behind the Nordic on many a Sunday afternoon. My sister particularly enjoyed the swivel hitch on the Ski-Boose, because when dad would tip the sled over, she would remain completely upright, laughing as dad tried to right the ship.
When my brother and sister were about old enough to handle a snowmobile themselves, dad went out and purchased a 1973 Ski-Doo Elan 250 twin. I can still remember when my brother walked outside after a sleet storm and started it with the throttle iced wide open. The sled took off across the yard, bounced off the house and got hung up on the chain link fence in the back yard. Never put a scratch on the sled!
Then there was a 1975 Arctic Cat Jag 340 for my brother, which was basically a single carb 1973 El Tigre. Very cool! Later on there was a 1980 Jag 3000 F/C for me and an extra 1980 Yamaha Enticer 340 Deluxe which was supposedly for him, but I logged plenty of miles on it too.
I like to joke that my dad was an enabler because he got his kids into some very expensive hobbies like snowmobiling, hunting and fishing. We often took dad duck hunting and he could fall asleep in a rock pile while guns blazed around him! But my dad also spent many hours in the saddle of a sled. However, like many fathers who provide well, my dad was too busy running his business, but he didn’t mind filling up the garage with toys and getting them running for us when necessary.
In reference to me, Dad used to joke, “He’s had a motor under his butt since the day he was born.” After lots of sleds, ATVs, go carts, mini bikes and motorcycles, I’ve come to realize that he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. There is the typical feeling among dads of wanting to provide kids opportunities to do things they couldn’t. But more than that, motorized vehicles are interesting and dad was always curious about interesting things.
Lots of people liked my dad, which was really annoying when I was a punk teenager, but it’s become the lasting impression I received from him. I wish those reading this could have met him, because I know you would have liked him too. Rest in peace, dad.