Campbell on his
1965 Bolens Hus-Ski 444
Click image for larger size
I say odd, because when you stop to think about it, it has
to seem pretty
strange to the modern day snowmobilers, or anyone else for that matter, that a
group of men would climb on 36 year old iron and expect it to get them into
the North Woods and back. Why would they want to do this? Well it goes back a ways.
Let me start there.
I'm going to touch briefly on the history of the modern day snowmobile to
explain how it relates to sledding in our area. Back in 1954 David Johnson
built an over the snow machine at Polaris Industries in Roseau, Minnesota.
Prior to this, Polaris had built mostly farm machinery. David was in business
at this time with his brother-in -laws Alan and Edgar Hetteen. that machine
was not real popular with Alan and Edgar, but after much to do about it, they
realized there might be a use and a market for it. So Alan Hetteen built a
second one. That created the first race, and initiated some excitement.
Obviously there is a lot more to this history, and it was a great achievement
and a new start for the Hetteens and Mr. Johnson.
and Bob Erickson
getting ready to leave
Third Debsconeag Lake
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here is where we flash forward to the Maine Connection. Polaris was setting up
a dealer network in 1957, and my father, Earlan Campbell, was set
up as the fifth or sixth dealer, as near as I can find out, in Millinocket.
This is where my brothers and I got introduced to the snowmobile. But it
wasn't the sled of today. It was heavy with steel cleats, wooden skis, and a
cast iron engine. After attempting several excursions, my father felt that the
Polaris Sno-Traveler, as it was called, needed several improvements. Maine is
a lot different territory than Minnesota with hills and slush. My father
convinced them at Polaris to do some of their testing in Maine. The first expedition
took place in 1961 when Alan Hetteen showed up with several prototype Sno Travelers.
Subsequent trips took place through 1967 with my father as their guide and
mechanic. Much of the development of the machines evolved right here in Maine.
Well years fly by and sometimes we get nostalgic. It was 1984. Alan Hetteen
and my father had both passed away. Bob Brodeur of Millinocket decided to
honor all those early sledders with a reunion in Millinocket. This got me
started toward a reenactment of those early expeditions. I had already found
and restored many of the original sleds. Allot of the original riders were interested.
Thus, "Allagash 85, the E.B. Campbell Memorial Expedition" took place.
It retraced the early voyagers into the Allagash exactly. It stirred a little
something in all of us. They say you can't go back in time, but we did. We
really lived like the early rides. We took another similar ride in 1987 and
that served as an opening to the museum at the Northern Timber Cruisers
Snowmobile Club House in Millinocket, Maine.
Again, once more, as years fly by. Brian Wiley came up with the reinvention
of the Katahdin Family Fun Festival of the 1980's now called the Katahdin Area
Winterfest. I had already been itchy to dig the old iron out, so it fit right
into my plans. David Johnson and Edgar Hetteen had both attended my early
trips and were pleased to come for the '99 run. They also served as the parade
marshals for the Winterfest snowmobile parade. An old friend however, would be
missing on this trip. Jack was the chief fisherman on my fathers trip as well
as my trips. Jack passed away at the age of 86. Jack rode his old snow traveler,
Nellie Belle, right up to the last winter of his life. The '99 trip also
included some old stand bys like Frank Scott, Gene Nice, Bob Brodeur, Tony
Cesare, Dr. Bob Erickson, and my brothers Reid and Wayne. We also had a couple
of newcomers, Jerry Barker and Frank Lowell.
To describe these trips it would be very hard. Every trip is special. You
do live the past. The '99 trip was an honor having two of the founding fathers
of snowmobiling with us. Its even more than that. These machines rattle along
at the great pace of 8 or 9 miles per hour. Its nostalgic. Every time I
ride today's snowmobile its fun. Every time we head out on the antiques its an
adventure. If you've ridden an old Harley or flown a J-3 cub, you know what I
mean. Most of these guys have done both.
The line up
Third Debsconeag Lake
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The 2000 trip, which took place February 13th through the 15th was
different than all others in recent history for one big reason. Snow. And lots
of it. Back in the early days they had all kinds of snow which meant all kinds
of difficulty. From plain old hard going, to slush, to whiteouts. In recent
years, especially last year, snow was slim. We rattled along on a lot of ice
and in fact shortened our trips those years.
This years ride included 11 sledders and 9 antiques. I guess most of us are
antiques for that matter. I'm going to mention each as well as the sled they
drove. If you're not into antiques it might not mean much, butt if you are you
can appreciate these sleds. Ed Carr, a retired postmaster from Millinocket,
drove a 1963 OE-16-D Polaris Sno-Traveler, the same one he drove in 1963. We
call it a Bull Cat, some people call it an early mountaineer. Frank Scott from
Alfred, Maine is an old friend and has been on all trips since 1985. He drove
a 1964 12 horsepower Polaris Voyager. Frank Lowell is from Newry, Maine and
drove a 1965 16 horsepower Polaris Voyager. This machine was awarded best of
show at the Antique show the day before. Jerry Barker of South Weymouth, Massachusetts
drove a 1963 K-95-C Sno Traveler. We fondly call it the rat sled. Its all
original, never been painted, and you can tell its been around for 37 years.
This was Paul Rioux's first year with us. He 's from Monmouth, Maine and he
drove a 1963 K-80 Pacer. Dr. Bob Erickson has a beautifully restored 1965
KE-24-H Polaris Mountaineer that he drove. My Brother Wayne, drove a 1965
Bolens 444 Hus-Ski that he did an excellent restoration to. We didn't think
much of the Huskies in our youth, but it certainly proved to be an agile
machine on our last 2 trips. My nephew, Jeff Campbell, drove a 1963 Polaris
K-95-D. He was the youngest on our trip but a true antiquer at heart.
Dr. Bob Erickson has a beautifully restored 1965
KE-24-H Polaris Mountaineer
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I drove a 1963 Polaris Bull Cat that my father put a Volkswagen engine on
in 1964. It was given to me by Hazen Blanchard, the machines original owner.
Reid Campbell played scout again this year on a modern day sled. Gene Nice
rode with me and Bob Brodeur rode with Edgar Carr.
Lets continue with this
trip. As usual when Sunday morning came, it was about 12 degrees below zero.
But we fooled mother nature this year by getting all the machines in the
Northern Timber Cruisers Museum the night before we left. We planned on a 9:00
am departure from the NTC clubhouse in Millinocket with a destination 20 miles
away at our camps on Third Debsconeag Lake. We didn't do bad. Everyone was
packed and running by 9:30 am. Its a great sound in the cold crisp air with
all that old iron chugging away, raring and ready to go again. I'm always
apprehensive at this point as to how many will really make it on their own
So we are off in a cloud of snow dust at 9:30 am with family and
friends wishing us luck. Our plan is to take the I.T.S. trail from the
clubhouse only about 5 miles to Smith Pond. From there we cross the pond, then
take a system of trails maintained by my brother Wayne. Those trails will
bring us out to Deep Cove and Pemadumcook Lake. we were doing great. It's a
beautiful sunny day and we're making break neck speeds of six to eight miles
per hour. For once we were operating these old sleds on what they were made
for.........snow. Because of the deep snow though, my major concern was slush
on the lakes. If you put one of these machines down in the slush, it literally
can be there for days. I got a little nervous on Smith Pond when Frank Lowell
and Edgar Carr decided to drag race on each side of the beaten path. I still
don't know which one won, but luckily there was no slush.
We continued on
through the Wadliegh Pond Trail to Deep Cove on Ambajesus Lake with no problems.
Now we're facing about ten miles of lake before we get off at White House
Landing. My son, Steve, was home from college that day so I sent him out ahead
with Reid to see if there was any slush. the only problem with that was that
the newer get into it anyway. As it turned out we didn't
see any slush and we arrived at the camps at about 12:30 that afternoon. Not
bad, 20 miles in three hours. The only mishap we had was one bad plug in Paul
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That night Gene cooked up a great bunch of steaks and everyone
reminisced about the old times and looked forward to our ride the next day.
our next day, Monday, is a ride to Buckhorn Camps for lunch. That's a distance
of roughly ten miles from third. I figured that was a good days ride.
morning the 14th dawned and it was considerably different than Sunday. It was
already snowing hard, and the radio was predicting 10 to 16 inches of snow
followed by sleet or rain. Gene cooked us a gourmet breakfast. We all sounded
like Tim the tool man as we agreed us macho outdoorsman could still go on with
our trusty machines with no problems. The funny part of it was we did. It was
like those poor old machines had been waiting 30 years for a day just like
that. We left camp at around 10:15 am to head across the western end of
Pemadumcook Lake to pick up a trail to Middle Jo Mary Lake. Man, it was
snowing hard and their were six to eight inches of new snow then. When we got
on the Lake at Whitehouse Landing you could barely see the next point. My sled
was running real ragged with carburetor ice. For the first time, I felt like
we were operating under the same conditions as those early sledders. I can remember
my father saying they went the week and never saw any tracks but their own. Here we were-no tracks and whiteout conditions. Reid started started out and
we followed. we had 2 1/2 miles of lake to cross. I remember my father telling
me that they would take compass readings and stay in a straight line. he would
go up and down the line to make sure it was straight, because you can't see
the entire length of it. we were out there probably a half mile when Reid
broke ranks and went back to check the line. Deja Vu. He was using a G.P.S.
but it sure put me back in time.
After probably a half hour during that
short distance we pulled up to Steven's landing on the other side of the lake.
Once again we beat the slush. from their we proceeded down a logging road for
a while and I noticed that we had broken pack. I was missing a few sleds so I
took a break. It seems that Paul Rioux had lost both front motor mounts out of
his sled. He said," this is great, what are we going to do.?" Reid and
Wayne said "lets tie it down."
'Tie it down?', Paul said.
did. They tied the front of the engine down so it couldn't flip up and the
machine made it all the way to Buckhorn Camps that way.
Now, we're running
again. As we scream toward Jo-Mary Stream bridge at about four miles an hour
in what is now about a foot of new snow. As I approach the bridge, I see Frank
Scott and Jerry Barker waiting for us on the other side. Now Gene's been
pretty quiet all this time, but he's getting anxious. He and I both know that
my sled is not running well. and we really shouldn't stop if we can help it.
Frank pushes his starter button and he's on his way. Jerry sees us closing
the distance as he wraps the starter rope around the pulley. He
pulls,.......it barks,.......it dies. He frantically wraps around the rope
again. He pulls, .......it barks, .......it dies. By now Gene and I are getting pretty close
to the bridge. Once again Jerry tries to start the machine but to no avail.
Gene remains quiet and I am thinking there's no way I'm shutting this bugger
down. I really think I can get around Jerry. As we go across the bridge, I
decided to go around the left side of Jerry. As we cleared the bridge and are
headed around him, I'm yelling at Gene to lean. We were actually in enough
snow for it to make a difference. However, Gene failed in his effort and we
were headed for the pucker brush. I kept saying to myself," I'm not giving up
yet". About then the machine came back my way and back onto the road. I
said "Wow, we made it Gene!" But Gene wasn't there. I looked back
and Jerry was trying to help him out of the ditch but they were both laughing
to hard. I had to shut the machine down anyways.
After that, everything was
quite uneventful and we got to Buckhorn Camps for lunch around 12:30.
and Linda Jones are the owners of the Buckhorn Camps and they put on a great
lunch. Leon also helped Paul come up with parts enough to fix his motor
mounts. The return trip to camp that afternoon was a great ride in deep
powder. Those old machines really performed well and the visibility was better
by the time we got to the lake. The local game warden, Andy Glidden, helped us
across, and we reached camp at 3:20 pm.
Gene once again out did himself that
night with barbeque chicken, and we once again decided to re-invent the sleds.
It always amazes me how much we get into it and try to improve things
that have already been done. we wear all the old clothing too, and someone
mentioned the sleet hurt on the face later that day. I said,"Ya, but
they're going to invent helmets and face shields for that someday."
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last day is always the hardest. no one really wants it to end. But we were
sitting on a lot of new snow with no tracks and it being Tuesday that probably
wasn't going to change in a hurry. after another great breakfast, we broke
camp at about 10:00 am. My real worry now is slush. There's better than a foot
of new snow, and its drifting. There's no way to tell where the old frozen
path is. As we left White House Landing and headed down Pemadumcook Lake, I
really figured we were in for a long day. I headed her as close as I could to
what I figured to be the old trail and hoped fro the best. we were not only
breaking trail in new deep snow, but there were fresh drifts up to 3 feet
high. Gene once again remained silent. Every once and while we could tell we'd
hit an old track and picked up speed. Then the machine would fall off and tip
sideways. But the visibility was clear at least. I'm going to guess that we
were probably an hour and a half crossing that lake, and we encountered no
slush. I was amazed. Once again we're up on land and headed for Smith Pond,
but it was not quite easy. I had burned allot of gas breaking trail and ran
out just before cresting a hill. When we refueled and started again, down she
went, but it came out with a push.
I'm getting excited. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. All the
machines are still running and we're within 8 miles of home. I'm just about
counting all my chickens when we came onto Wadliegh Pond, a tiny little pond
half way between Deep Cove and Smith Pond. We're cruising right along nicely
when I feel that dreaded sinking feeling that I had expected long before now.
Down she went tin the slush. That's got to be one of the worst feelings known
to man. Gene still remains silent. I got off, Gene got his camera out. I said
boy, this is going to be fun." But as it turned out, we unhooked my
toboggan, which was loaded with all the gas and pushed it right out. I then
got up on high ground and backed close enough to hook a rope to the toboggan.
make a long story a little bit shorter, we got back to the Northern Timber
Cruisers club house at around 1:30 pm. All of us, all under our own power. Now
that's an accomplishment. We all discussed along the way as to why they seem
to stay together better now that they did when they were new.
Earlan B. Campbell
with a 1964 Voyager
on image for larger size
Some guys gave
credit to the invention of lock nuts and loctite and because we were maintaining
them so well. I don't think so. I think we've got a few guardian angels. Allan
Hetteen, Jack Sevigny, and my father Earlan B. Campbell.