1970 - The first Snowmobile Ride of my life was in West Yellowstone.
Dad, myself at 3 years old and Mom. My older brother was towed in the snow cart.
This holiday season and trip toYellowstone is where my first memories
start in Life. When I went to school as a young boy, every week for "show and tell"
I stood in front of the class and shared a snowmobile story. I bored most of
my classmates with all of the details. This era of sleds still cranks me up.
The cackle of the two stroke engine and the sweet smell of it's exhaust.
Hold on to your passions, they never go out of style.
We road to the summit of South Baldy up in USK Washington most weekends 1971-1982.
Boyer Mountain was close, so we rode there on the logging roads to tune up in the early season in the late 70's.
Priest Lake was our December Holiday break riding area for a few years. It was incredible to have so many days of riding in a row. Wake up, go outside, pull the cover off the sleds and ride.
Wolf Lodge and the Fernan Lake area in Idaho was another place we rode a couple of times. Heavy fog and dense wet snow made for rough riding.
Here is a great photo taken in January 1972 when we were up riding at Nordman.
Loud and out in front of the rest of the sleds is how I remember the blue Sno Jets.
1978-1982 we rode Mullan Pass, 4th of July and Roman Nose in Idaho. There is some incredible scenery in that area. Early spring riding with a little bit of mud to avoid from the afternoon thaw and run off made for an interesting ride back down to the rig and trailer. The early season clay and mud makes a real mess on your sled. It only takes one time cleaning up after it to inspire you to shoot the snow bank high to avoid the mud. Shooting the bank was something we did to leave our "mark" on the trail for others to see. The thrill to see the rider ahead of you hit the high mark.
South Baldy was always our main spot to ride. The winter of 1979-80 we would ride from South Baldy to North Baldy. Dad would pack gas on his new white Polaris and I was riding a 1974 Ski Doo F/A TNT 340. That sled really handled great. Going to both summits made for a very long day, and a night ride back to the rig and trailer.
South Baldy Summit holds lots of memories. Eating lunch at the Washington Forest
Ranger's look out tower with family. Some weekends included my Grandparents on their
Arctic Cat's. We would run into few riders on the summit. One time we watched to fellas
play "chicken" on the summit, and they both turned the same way and crashed into each
other. That day we towed one of the fellas Arctic Cat's down the mountain to the parking area. That is tough on belts and clutches.
I can not think of a time we rode South Baldy without going to the summit. That last 100 yards of no trail, riding side saddle gunning the throttle to plow to the top was always
a rush. The view down the mountain was never ending and the thoughts of rolling a sled
on that 100 yards to the peak was a possible fact. I have seen it done. Sometimes if
conditions were rough with heavy snow fall, we would ride grandma up to the top and
then ride back 100 yards to her sled and my brother or dad would ride it up for her.
The view is awesome to capture in your mind and the fresh air is overwhelming to the spirit.
November 1972 Sherman Pass Washington 5 Years Old - Red White & Blue
Howard Wheeler hill climbing on his 1973 Ski Doo Silver Bullet 440.
We had some favorite spots on South Baldy up north in Usk Washington.
Climbing hills and an occassional drag race took place at these spots.
A great break from the instense trail riding to the summit.
Now at 6 years old this was a much quieter sled to be riding in between
Dad's arms. Everytime he stabbed the throttle we shouted, "High Ho Silver"!
Shooting the banks and grinding on trails at over 50 mph, I was hoarse
after 6 hours of mountain ridding. Clutching the gas cap ducked down
with the responsibilty of reading gauges as Dad had trained me.
Breaking trails at high speeds through the mountains, leaving gaps in your trail
from all of the air you were catching.
Howard Wheeler, 1973 SKI DOO 440 Silver Bullet: November 1972
Dad's new 1974 Ski Doo F/A TNT 440, the 1971 440 TNT and the 1973 Silver Bullet 440.
My brother rode the 71 TNT and Mom rode the Silver Bullet with the Ski Doo Flag whipping.
This was the season I began riding on my own at age 5 on the 1971 440. I rode that sled
up until 1976. My next sled was a 1974 Ski Doo F/A TNT 340 that matched Dad's 440.
1978 Dad switched to Polaris, and I was still riding the Ski Doo F/A 340.
Pulling the rope on his 1974 Ski Doo TNT FA 440.
In the year 1975, you could ride right out the back door all over the top of 5-Mile Prarie.
In this photo my Dad is shouting "ONE PULL" !
He had just worked over the carbs and was stoked that his sled
started on the first pull consistantly. Prior to this photo we had spent a dreary afternoon
at Mica Peak with the hood up on this sled, trying to keep it from fowling plugs.
The snow and wind hit hard, and by the time Dad got the sled running, we couldn't tell
which way we came in from. My Father was reassuring the family
in the photo with a big grin as he pulled the rope that we would not be put
in that situation again.
We rode around the prairie that day shutting off the sled and restarting it.
Dad riding the 1974 Ski Doo TNT 440 on Boyer Mountain.
When you look North from Spokane
this mountain has a giant diamond patch where the trees were harvested.
When it snows the diamond shape is very visable.
I still look at this diamond patch
and know that I have broke trail zig zagging on this diamond
to the summit many times. Then eat lunch and head back.
At 8 years old, I was still riding in front of my Dad on his sled. Boyer had
logging roads that led to the bottom of this diamond shaped spot.
Boyer Mountain is where I started driving the snowmobile solo.
We would reach a wide open spot, my parents would park and have coffee,
and my I would ride the 1970 440 TNT that I was practicing on at home.
Priest Lake, Idaho - December 1974
Dad looking at his 1974 Ski Doo FA 440.
First sleds out on the groomed trail riding.
Taking a break in the Sun.
71 Ski Doo TNT 440
73 Ski Doo Silver Bullet 440.
This was the beginning of the
high speed riding. Over 80 MPH and the windshield
would crease in the center and lay down on the 74 Free Air. I remember some serious speeds
over 80 grinding when we would run into this Arctic Cat El Tigre that had painted,
"The Fish" on it's side. Our first encounter with "The Fish" [Williams Seafood owner]
was up at Boyer. This iced logging road experience as the El Tigre walked away from
our sled sparked the competitive flame in my Dad. Each week parts from Elliott Bay
became the Friday night lesson in tinkering on your sled before riding for the weekend.
The following year "The Fish" was up at Priest Lake.
One evening coming back from riding "The Fish" out of nowhere like a Mig Jet
passed our family of 3 sleds. My Dad stabbed the throttle exposing the cable
full distance on the right hand grip. The wide flat ice trail as we neared the lodges
echoed the slap of skis and High RPM 2 stroke tones. Side by side now with the Black and Green Cat,
both sleds slowed down to about 20. The El Tigre let out a cry and that very second, the TNT
launched like a rocket as the track Dad and I cleated up grabbed the ice.
The windshield layed down and I ducked my helmet glad to know I had fresh pants
at the cabin. As we skated at 90 on the stretch the temp gauge Dad installed climbed
into the red on once side. Uneven heat balance ! I tapped my Dad's leg as instructed
but he never let off the throttle. Side by side with both sled's headlights glowing the trail,
neither rider would back off. The wind, the noise, the knowledge of knowing this fiberglass
isn't going to hold up, nor will we in good fashion if we fail. The tone of the engine darkened
as the heat on one cylinder climbed higher. The distance between our sleds increased, leaving
"The Fish" a red tailight to chase like a lure. Impossible to read the gauges at this point,
as we shook on the ice. The tone of the engine got deeper as a burning fragrance
came from under the hood. The Cat was beat and Dad backed off the throttle
as we neared the entrance to the road leading us to the lodge. The Ski Doo didn't sound
good as we pulled up to the cabin. We popped the hood and there was a burn mark
on the hood's insulation. The gauge for cylinder #1 was still pointing at the top of the red.
My Dad looked at me and said, "We skinned that Cat at a cost".
We closed the hood, and put on the cover and as "The Fish" pulled up my Dad said,
"Thank you Bird Dog, your added weight made us stick to the ice tonite."
My Dad knew the score, we won, but roasted the motor to do it. It was not a complete
victory and "The Fish" knew it. The motor was pulled, and came back more hopped up than ever.
January 1975 - 7 Years Old and learning on the 1974 440 TNT
My brother left on the 1973 Ski Doo Silver Bullet, Dad next to his 74 Free Air 440
and the 71 TNT 440 with our lunch strapped on the back.
This was the typical weekend growing up. Up early, then drive North to South Baldy,
ride to the summit, eat lunch, and get back to the bottom before the key fob
was glowing bright on your dash. Elliott Bay's Ski Doo key fobs were glow in the dark.
Comin' Down the Mountain !
Howard Wheeler playing on the mountain with his 74 Ski Doo TNT F/A 440.
Nothing like having fresh powder flying over the hood as you cut a fresh trail.
February 1982 at Roman Nose Mountain, Idaho.
Dad on virgin snow riding the 1980 Polaris Centurion 500 Indy.
Dad's secret under the hood was a well machined 3 Cylinder 605cc
engine built by Buzz Rodseth at Motorworks.
The sound of it alone said "back off".
Myself on the 1979 Polaris Cobra 440.
This photo was taken in late February. It was a warm day
in the mountains, and the trees had a magical smell to them.
Lower on the mountain the trails had run off and big tan dirt spots
of clay like soil. The efforts we would make to shoot high on
the banks riding side saddle to avoid getting our sleds dirty.
I was 15 years old, and already had 12 years of sledding under my suit.
During the summer I rode motorcycles and raced BMX bikes.
You have to do something to pass the time until it snows...
Primus Pilus !
Howard Wheeler, Commanding his 1980 Centurion Indy.
Our last ride together, January 1983 on top of South Baldy, Usk Washington.
Howard E. Wheeler
August 26th, 1937 - February 1, 1983
The sled was broke in
that season and then in May of 1980 Dad and I pulled the motor
and took it to Buzz Rodseth. The engine was modified into a 605cc with 78-79 RXL Porting.
This sled had an incredible
pull to it when it hooked up to the snow and ice.
We had alot of good times riding together from 1979-1983 with this sled.
I was riding a 1974 Ski Doo TNT 340 or a 1979 Polaris Cobra 440 during this era.
We rode hundreds of miles of groomed trails all over Washington, Idaho and Montana.
After Dad's crash on the
first day of February 1983 in Yellowstone the sled was rebuilt
as shown in the photo with me riding it in December of 1983.
It was a serious bonding
time with this sled & snow that year.
We had an incredible snowfall then it dropped to zero degrees with full on sunshine.
I would come home from school do my homework then go ride until 7PM.
Way too much sled for a 15 year old at 120lbs. Full throttle through fields
and riding over and over on a 1/2 mile oval in the field. It was good therapy.
This daily practice became a ritual and commitment to excellent performance.
Snowmobiling was a fever for my Dad and we shared it, so I continued with passion.
The belly pan and hood
was replaced due to the massive damage
from the Yamaha SRX that rammed up onto the left side of the chassis and out through
the hood creasing the clutch cover with it's ski.
New nose cone and front suspension parts and the lower cog and suspension
had to be changed too.
The new belly pan had
the "gold" 3D logos on it and the hood had a giant windshield.
I rode this sled until the winter of 1985-86.
It was sold and then many
years later I was able to find it again and pull the motor.
1979 Polaris Centurion 500 Engine with SLP Big Bore 605cc MOD and 78-79 RXL Porting.
One day I will put this engine in a sled.
The Passion for this era of
Snowmobiles lives on and I am excited to share them with you.
We are always posting more photos, stay tuned.
During the years 1970 - 1983,
I had been to the top of 12 different Mountains
in Washington, Idaho and Montana on a snowmobile. It was right up there with Nasa for me.
Thanks to the world wide web,
enthusiasts can shorten the gap between them coast to coast.
The chase for parts to restore, and rebuild vintage sleds is catching on.
Ebay and other great sources like VintageSleds.com in Elk River, Minnesota
and the people at Al's Snowmobile Warehouse in Newport, Vermont USA
are keeping this era of sleds alive in good fashion.
If you need race or restoration parts, Wahl's Racing has it all.
Also, you can check on our list of resouces here:
Vintage Snowmobile Specialty Vendors
If you are looking for a Vintage Sled check out this new site:
and share this American Dream on Snow!
The Wheeler's Father and Son - March 2011 Yellowstone Montana.
Sharing the experience with my son Robert the way my Dad shared with me.