By Jennie Zeitler
Different snowmobiles work well in different stages of life, and Jay and Connie Petermeier of Melrose are very pleased with their vintage Johnson Skee-Horse 30 sled and the cutter they pull behind it.
Things were different during their growing-up years, when Connie remembers the frustration of getting stuck in the snow with old sleds.
“It was about speed, and it didn’t matter what the temperature was,” she said.
Jay recalls riding friends’ snowmobiles and just having a lot of fun.
“It’s one way to enjoy the outdoors,” Connie said.
Connie never had snowmobiles growing up but was able to ride a neighbor’s Arctic Cats.
“At that time, a Cat was at the top of everyone’s list of snowmobiles,” she said.
Jay bought his first machine in 1989, a Ski-Doo MX.
“I rode with a group from Melrose; we went out to the Black Hills a few times,” he said.
He bought another in 1994 and rode it for a couple of years, but then the snow quit falling for a while, and he sold all of his sleds.
After a few years, he was encouraged by a cousin who had quite a few sleds.
“I got into it again and bought a 1971 Rupp,” he said. “I blew that motor out and found another sled to replace it.”
Later, he found a 1972 Rupp as another replacement, but it wasn’t running at the time.
“I had to do quite a bit of work on it,” he said.
Connie really enjoyed a 1981 Arctic Cat they rode for a while, relishing the good, fun memories it brought to mind.
“It reminded me of my youth,” she said.
But when Jay had an opportunity to trade it even up for a Johnson that was 10 years older, he took it.
“I liked the style of the Johnson; it had more character,” he said. “It’s got reverse, one of the first ones to feature that. I was always looking for that style of sled.”
Jay took several trips to the Dakotas where there was “lots of snow and we drove 200 – 300 miles a day on good sleds.”
Along with the thrill of adventure when riding snowmobiles can come some scary moments. Connie remembers a harrowing fall.
“I was trying to keep up with the guys and was going too fast,” she said. “They knew the area and a sharp turn coming up, but I missed the turn and flipped into a tree. I had a few guardian angels there. I wasn’t hurt and there was no damage to the sled, but it was pretty scary.”
The Petermeiers and their friends set up a ride so that experienced drivers ride behind newer drivers.
“It’s a good safety feature,” Connie said.
Jay recalls a ride across Little Birch Lake where he hit an ice heave.
“It launched me probably 35 feet,” he said. “I came down hanging onto the sled, laying over the back bumper. My leg was bruised up but nothing was broken.”
Things have changed over the years.
“Our priorities aren’t as fast now,” said Connie. “Now we slow down and enjoy the scenery. That’s what these old sleds do, and they’re perfect for us at this stage of our lives.”
One of Connie’s snowmobiling highlights was a trip with friends to Canada.
“The high for the day was 0 degrees so we had to bring in the spark plugs and warm them on the stove,” she said. “It was simply breathtaking to be outdoors and experience it that way. It will stay in my mind forever.”
Jay’s most memorable experience was in the Black Hills at a time when there was deep snow.
“We rode about 50 miles a day,” he said.
At one time there were upwards of 100 snowmobile manufacturers. Now, there are only four major manufacturers in North America — Arctic Cat and Polaris in Minnesota, Ski-Doo in Quebec, Canada and Yamaha headquartered in California.
“Four-wheelers have taken their place,” Jay said. “They’re not just for recreation, they’re often for a purpose too.”
But the Petermeiers are not alone in their fondness for classic machines, and they join many others at vintage runs and shows around the area. One of the biggest is the annual Classic Sno-Machines Rally in St. Anna.
The 2014 rally will be Saturday, Feb. 8, at The Landing in St. Anna.
Highlights include a trail ride (weather permitting), silent auction, games and swap meet. This year’s feature is “race” sleds.
For more information, call Allen Theisen at (320) 685-9874.