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PLAYING IN THE SNOW
In 1927, the first patent for the ''snowmachine'', was issued to Carl Eliason, (1899 - 1979), a mechanic, steam engineer, blacksmith and general store owner. He lived in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and suffered with a foot deformity that kept him from using snowshoes or skis on his ventures into the back country. While there were track conversions for early automobiles and wind sleds available in the 1920's, they were too large and heavy to follow the narrow trails cut into the woods by his friends and neighbors.

At age 25, Eliason began trying to build a machine that could propel him through those narrow trails and over the deep Wisconsin snow pack. The machine was built on four snow skis and fitted with a curved front section similar to a toboggan. The two small skis mounted at the front were used for steering with a rope while two longer skis extended to the rear of the machine and served as a platform for the seat which held the track drive system. He used bicycle chains, sprockets and wood slide rails to guide the endless track that was fitted with wood cross links and conveyor belt webbing to provide flotation and traction.

Mounted on the front of the sled was a 2.5 hp outboard motor. A section of a Ford Model T radiator cooled the little engine and there was no transmission. The operator simply cranked the track drive system up off the snow under the seat and warmed the engine, then slowly lowered it back down onto the snow to get moving.

In 1958, Joseph-Armand Bombardier, (1907-1964), designed the modern snowmobile and is considered the father of snowmobiling by beginning commercial production and marketing of the Ski-Doo snowmobile. At age 19, Bombardier opened a garage in Quebec and made a living repairing tractors and automobiles. However, in 1935 at age 27, he developed his rubber covered drive sprocket design which led to the development of many successful track drive systems, to more than 40 Canadian, US and British patents and to his financial success.

Using this technology, his oldest son was working on a seamless, wide track machine for grooming ski trails when Bombardier hit upon a design of what would become the original Ski-Doo. While his son received the patent on the seamless rubber track, it was the father who designed and built the vulcanizing mold that made production of the seamless rubber track possible. Two hand-built ''Snow Dogs'' were unveiled in 1958 and full production of the Ski-Doo began in 1960 with 225 units being produced.

The ''sleds'' of 2011 are a far cry from the ''motorized toboggan'' of 1926. And while necessity may have been the mother of Eliason's invention, snowmobiling today appeals to those who have become skilled riders, to those who are always looking to engineer a better ''ride'', as well as to those who just enjoy a day playing in the snow.
 
Source Unser Racing Museum
Author Susan Unser
Date 2011-01-21
Features Archive | Current Features