March Musing - Snow Cats and Snow Tracks

Mar 01, 2018
Good day all,

As February draws to an end I always start to feel that winter is coming to the beginning of the end. As I have grown older I have come to enjoy the heat more and the cold less. Despite the cold, I have enjoyed playing with old skidoos, something we never had in the UK, but I never had what I would call a fast reliable machine. When I was running a trap line on the farm here and in the Assiniboine valley my old Skidoo could be a real pain. I always had an interest in the big Tucker Snow Cats after I had seen that classic photo of a Snow Cat stopped over a crevasse, Antarctica in 1955. I would love to know the details of how she was recovered, she now resides in a Museum in the US. It is not like the crew could call their neighbour to bring the John Deere 'round. At least one other Snow Cat crashed to the bottom of a crevasse tragically killing the driver.

Photo Source - Click Here

One day I found a Snow Track for sale in BC, this was maybe the first of my blind purchases, like pay for her unseen. Not a Snow Cat but still looked like a fun toy. She was pretty scruffy and well worn, she got parked in the barn and seldom got taken out, I had plans to restore her but just never got started on it. About 2003 Matt and I decided to take her for a drive up the valley, we planned to visit a farmer friend about 7 miles north of home, this would mean we had to cross the Assiniboine river but she was well frozen, or so we thought. Matt’s daughter, Jordyn, who was three came along with us as our wives had gone to Brandon to do their Christmas shopping. About two miles north of home we drove through our neighbours farm, nobody at home. We carried on another mile and came to the river, we stopped, the ice appeared to be thick enough to hold us but Matt and Jordyn got out, just in case. The old girl was just about on her nose going down the steep bank but at this spot the other side was a gentle slope up to the field. I crossed over with no problem. I turned round and retraced my tracks. I told Matt I wanted to see if I could climb up the bank, if the Snow Track could not climb the bank we would know that we had to take the long way home by road. Bottom gear is really low due to reduction in chain to track drive, the VW 1600 cc was a gutsy little engine that I had fully serviced. Three times we almost made it to the top of the bank but it was just too steep, right at the top the steel track cleats would spin out on the frozen ground. Then we would roll backwards down the bank onto the ice. Once more I said and this time Matt sat on the hood as I needed a little more weight up the front, Matt sat Jordyn down in the shelter of a big tree and climbed on the hood, shaking his head with a grin.

I backed across the river to give me a good run, we flew up the bank, this was the fourth attempt and we almost made it, but just as before we spun out. I put the clutch down just as she jumped out of reverse, she still has a habit of doing that. She had no brakes at that time, we never needed them in snow. We free wheeled down the bank crashing onto the ice faster than before. Matt was clinging on for dear life his nose about 12 inches from mine but the other side of the windshield, on the outside. Then there was a loud crash as the front right hand track broke through the ice. Lots of things happened at once. Matt went backwards off the hood like a scolded cat, yelling at me to get out. The engine died as the engine compartment started to dip below the surface. Water started rushing into the cabin. Lots of steam rising from the front. Now I realized we had a strong current starting to pull the front corner lower into the river. This didn’t look good, the right corner was going under, the current was coming from the right? How deep was the water, was I going to lose the old girl, would the current roll her over? At this point I decided to abandon ship and vowed to always carry an axe with me in the cabin, just in case. There is only one door, at the rear in the center, fortunately the large tow hitch on the rear was sitting on the ice holding the bottom of the door above the ice allowing me to scramble out. I grabbed the tow rope and securely knotted her to the hitch and laid it out on the ice. Tying it to a log just in case she went under, we would at least have a marker.

Time to take stock of our situation, Matt put Jordyn inside his work suit so he was walking around like a Kangaroo, then I think we starting laughing like a couple of idiots, well I guess it was that or cry. Sorry no photos, I had taken my camera with me, an early digital that used a floppy disc, but when we broke through and lurched over the camera fell on to the floor and went under water. To cut a long story short, with the help of friends and neighbours, who all showed up to have a look and a giggle, and a front wheel assist tractor with front end loader - we got the old girl out and home before she froze solid. I was very pleased with myself that 24 hours after we sank her I had her running again and no serious damage was found, but that was a long hard day.

Photo: Snow Track after restoration.

I decided that after that adventure the old girl was worth a full restoration. The restoration and the arrival of her amphibious sister is a tale for another time.

Keep your powder dry,
Mr Wolverine

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