While millions of snowmobiles were produced by hundreds of companies in the 1960s and '70s, early manufacturers struggled to peddle their wares.
Regarded as folly, curious stares and ridicule often greeted entrepreneurs as they traveled to promote their merchandise.
Glen Gustzman of Trail-A-Sled headed cross country in the mid-1960s with a Scorpion snowmobile strapped to the back of a Volkswagen Beetle exemplifying the initiative required to create a market where none existed. His efforts secured a contract with mail order giant Sears and Roebuck.
By the end of the 1960s, this emerging winter sport was erupting into a lucrative industry, and bandwagon manufacturers were begging for outlets to market then-products.
A drive down main street in any snowbelt community fast revealed that the variety of businesses selling snowmobiles equaled the diversity of the brands being sold.
Unlike present day convenience stores, gas stations of the era sold service, not groceries. An attendant would pump your fuel, wash your windshield and check your oil. Most employed a full-time mechanic and many had a line of snowmobiles for extra income during winter months.
Sinclair, Skelly, or Standard stations may have a SnoJet, Ski Doo, or Polaris dealership. At Texaco, you could "Trust your car to the man who wears the star" and purchase a Ski Daddler or Sno Prince. Major oil companies pushed their own brand of oil.
The hometown marina selling Johnson, Evinrude, or Mercury outboards also sold their snowmobiles.
The local farm implement dealer had perhaps a John Deere or Massey Ferguson franchise.
Welding, motorcycles and chainsaw shops provided sales and service for Arctic Cat, Suzuki or Homelite.
Hardware stores and Fleet supply centers dealt Bolens or Wheel Horse to complement their established line of power equipment.
With a basic set of tools, individuals could set up shop in the garage and sell sleds right out of their home!
Auto parts stores began to stock common bearings, drive belts and spark plugs.
There were few mega dealerships featuring large showrooms for machines, clothing, and accessories. More likely, the showroom was a warehouse out back, or a row of crated machines along the side of a building.
The sheer number of snowmobiles viewed on a weekend outing was astounding, a cornucopia of different designs and makes.
Brand loyalty was associated with color. Arctic Cat was black. Ski Doo yellow, Moto Ski orange, Rupp red, and Polaris red, white and blue. Color was the only standard on early machines.
Stocking parts became a nightmare with the many engine choices and changes made each model year. Parts availability depended on the size of the dealer and was limited to stock on hand. There were few aftermarket companies and no same day shipping.
Chaparral, Scorpion, and Polaris offered an abundance of engines and models.
Arctic Cat alone in 1970 had six engine suppliers and a staggering 29 model and horsepower options.
Clutch and performance parts became essentials as racing grew in popularity.
A trip to a larger dealer, distributor, or factory was often the only alternative to a long wait for parts.
Some dealers tried renting snowmobiles, hoping to increase profits. Breakdowns and inexperienced riders combined for expensive repairs and high retrieval costs.
As the industry began to decline, small dealers were strangled out by factories imposing standards for shop, showroom, and inventory.
Dealers of today have diversified to survive in a fast-paced, competitive market.
Meeting environmental standards with increasing production costs has nearly priced the industry beyond the reach of the common man.
In 1969, you could have purchased a snowmobile and trailer for the cost of a helmet and riding leathers today.
It's no help that rampant and unregulated fuel pricing by the American oil cartel is rewarded with tax breaks and record profits, amounting to legal extortion at the point of a gas nozzle.
We can never return to the way things were, but we can at least escape to the past on occasion by attending an antique or vintage snowmobile event. Even in these times of economic challenge, we can still enjoy an affordable family sport.
So, fire up the old sled and load the kids in the cutter. Shove a spare belt and a six-pack under the seat, grab a handful of spark plugs and head out on the trail.
I'll be waiting for you.
Reprinted with permission. More of Steve's work can be found in Iron Dogs Tracks the official newsletter of the Antique Snowmobile Club Of America.