The following story was submitted by Eric Rylander, a native Minnesotan who now resides in Georgia. The article first appeared in the Sept issue of the Vintage Snowmobiler Magazine, the official publication of the V.S.C.A. Thank you Eric for sharing it with Vintagesledders.com.
Virginia is not a state thought of as a snowmobiling hotspot by any stretch of the imagination. However, as a displaced Minnesota guy living in the south, I have found that with the right timing to seize rare opportunity and a couple vintage machines, adventure is to be had!
My inlaws live in rural, southwestern Virginia. The tail end of the state sandwiched between Kentucky and Tennessee, in Appalachian mountain coal country. My family resides much farther south, on the Georgia seacoast, and it is a 7 hour drive from our door to theirs.
Having resurrected a 1971 Ski Doo Elan and assembled from many parts a ’68 ten horse Ski Doo Olympique, we’ve had some fun riding at the wife’s families property with some decent and some not so decent snows around December and January in the last two years.
A good 10” to a foot of white gold was draped over the area in mid January this past year. Now, this happened early in the week, and though I was itching to call in sick and make the drive, minor and annoying details like the need to support my family and keep my job kept me home. The day it snowed up there, I received a text that the “Lo Buck 68” coughed and died after hours of being ridden by a 9 year old in the household, so until I arrived and applied my Rotax single physician skills, it was dead in the yard.
On that Thursday after work I decided to take a look at the $100 1969 Oly 320 I brought back from “Meccasota” on a marathon road trip over Labor Day weekend in 2009, along with a tractor and anything else that could be crammed in the truck and trailer. That same adventure had also brought the jigsaw puzzle of the previously mentioned 1968 Oly to Dixieland.
This ’69 had been resting in a pine grove just north of Minneapolis for who knew how many years. It has ’72 and ’75 Montana registration decals on the dash. The track is ratty to say the least and it’s missing half the cogs from the left rear track idler sprocket. There are rust holes under the seat, no rewind starter and some varnish like goo that may have been gas in Reagan’s first term in the built- in tank, that later was found to be incapable of igniting on dry leaves. In other words, I decided “It’s the perfect thing to try and get running so I can haul it seven hours to ride it!”
I wound a rope around the recoil hub and gave it a hearty yank. Compression felt respectable. No spark, but ten minutes with some emery paper between the points and a blast of brake kleen later we had bright blue spark. It fired on a shot of pre mix in the Tillotson’s throat, but would not draw fuel from a jug. A quick carb tear down later and some fresh diaphragms from a previous carb job, a bit of WD40 on the sticking needle and it was good to go.
Within the hour, it was roaring on a jack stand. I spent a couple more hours and cleaned leaves and crud from under the hood, used some Wal Mart bicycle cables for throttle and brake, added a tad of 90wt to the chaincase, and found a gallon oil jug to serve as a gas tank wedged in the running board. My neighbors are so lucky to be treated to the cacophony of a Rotax single with a rusted can muffler along with the whir and thump of a flat spotted, dry rotted track wailing away on a jackstand at 10pm on a Thursday night.
After I rushed home from work Friday night, I got it loaded in the back of the truck. Weather reports showed the temps had warmed above freezing in Dixie and my glorious snow was going fast.
Once family got home from work, departure finally came an hour later than we had hoped to be on the road. A couple interstate exits later we left Georgia and crossed in to South Carolina, where we drove the length of the state east to west to east on I-26, up into western North Carolina, and across Sam’s Gap mountain pass at the TN border. We finally achieved our Virginian destination at 3am.
Under moonlight and after carrying sleeping children from truck to house, I just HAD to try the rope on the dead in the yard ’68. It had compression! Now I could sleep.
Saturday morning (well, the daylight portion) arrived a few hours later and I was up despite little sleep and a caffine hangover from slugging energy drinks and candy bars to stay alert driving the night before.
I first tinkered with the dead in the yard ’68 ten horse, and found it had weak spark. Having left my flywheel puller at home, I just unbolted the entire engine to take back to GA. As it later turned out, the seemingly tight stator screws were loose enough to allow the plate to rotate and retard the timing.
The 1969 Oly was unloaded, I wrapped the rope around the hub more than once and some choice words later it was popping away. A few rips up and down the 1/3 mile or so hardpacked drive proved it was the fastest Ski Doo in Wise County, VA that day. Well at least it was faster than my ’71 Elan 250!
Me and the mom in law’s old man Chris tore up the yard and took turns giving my kids rides for an hour or two. Their property is about an acre of open grassy yard, and the hardpacked drive which has another house lot at the end, but is otherwise hemmed in by houses and thick, steep wooded area.
Unlike the central Minnesota of my youth which has open, legal roadsides to be ridden, and actual snowmobile trail networks with nice signs allowing you to pass through towns as well as frozen lakes, the terrain in this area is often steep with jagged outcroppings of rock. Gentle sloping roadsides are few and not connected. There are some valleys and farm fields, but unless you own the property or have permission to ride it you would be doing a lot of trespassing.
Chris knew there was a logging road the next county south right down the road from my wife’s aunt Debbi’s country place. To get there, you make a right off the four lane on a narrow paved road and follow that until the pavement ends, hang another right on to a gravel and continue as the road narrows and twists. Another mile of slushy, rutted lane (dry and dusty in the summer) brings you to a bullet hole riddled END COUNTY MAINTANENCE sign. It then becomes an old logging company road from years past, frequented now by Jeeps and ATV’s.
We thought “Why not’? and loaded the Elan and the 320 Oly in the back of a 4x4 pickup and drove on down until we reached the point where we could barely turn the truck around and unloaded. It’s a good thing we did not have a trailer or we would have had a jackknifed mess to deal with trying to get out of there.
After unloading the machines in rapidly disappearing snow we fired them off and away we went.
The “trail” was rutted and rocky under the snow, and an ATV or two had passed before we came along. The snow was thick in low spots and lean on ridges. Not advised for cleated tracks or slide rail suspensions for sure!
The trail climbed about 800 feet in elevation over the 5 or so miles to the top, and there were switchbacks every couple hundred yards or so. I rode in a half kneeling position and shifted my weight frequently to keep an even keel, getting a workout the whole way, past the pond and up the hills. The views were spectacular! I can positively say we had the first snowmobiles of any type on the scene. Too bad we did not hit it three days earlier when the snow was better, but temps in the 40’s and bright sun made it go quick.
At the summit you could see for miles including a mountain range locally known as Wallen Ridge, where Daniel Boone is said to have walked. I could not decide to take pictures or ride. We rode on down, I had to re fuel my 1 gallon jug supplying the Oly from another jug on the other side of the running board. I think I lost ¼ of my gas sloshing out the hole in the top where I poked the gas lines through on the rough terrain.
I had to turn back as I realized Chris was no longer behind me, which meant stopping and lifting the back of the Ski Doo around as there’s no room to turn. I came around a turn to find him dragging the Elan from the briars on the downhill side of the trail. Seems that just when I didn’t have the camera primed and ready Chris decided to re create the ABC wide world of sports promo by getting bucked off on a rut and a rock and doing a spectacular belly flop. Try as I might I just could not get him to do it again for the camera!
Farther down the road, we met some good ‘ol boys on a Polaris side by side UTV. They were about half was into a 12 pack of Bud and were rather surprised to see snowmobiles. I was wearing a ’70 vintage helmet as well with a smoked, bubble half shield. I told them I was lost and which way was Wisconsin…. Wasn’t good enough to coax a beer or two out of them though!
Meeting up with Debbi where we unloaded, I took her two uppin’ it on the Oly with me and off the three of us went again. She knows where some other finger trails fork off this one, and we can wind the way up to a long forgotten cemetery the next time it snows and we get to the area… I figure I need to put another old ‘Doo together for her now! And bring a chainsaw next time to clear some deadfall!
Debi is involved in a local trails initiative, working to expand multi purpose recreational use, so one day in the hopefully not so distant future there could be a whole lot more area to run in future trips if there’s snowcover.
By the time we decided to call it quits, I was beat, greasy, smelled like pre mix and chaincase lube, and felt wonderfully happy. We heaved the two yellow beasts into the truck, a bit more slushy than when we started out and headed back to the house an hour north.
The next morning, the ’69 refused to start- I later found the original plug wire was so corroded inside the coil beneath the flywheel that it was a miracle it ran at all.
The Elan spent its day on the dwindling, slushy snow pulling kids and adults alike around the yard on an old Camaro hood. Check out “Redneck Winter X games” on Youtube!
Though the area does not get consistent, reliable snow coverage we have found that when it does, an untapped resource of riding exists. And we are going to take it every chance we get!
Eric also included some great pictures from his trip: