Northern Wilds Magazine
At the end of the trail with some vintage sleds in the 80s. | GORD ELLIS
Northern Trails

(Mis) Adventures on a Snowmobile

The very first snowmobile that I have any memories of was also the first one that made its way into our family. It was an early 70s Ski-Doo Elan, a two banger as I recall and gifted to my father by my grandfather Ora Ellis. The sled arrived out of the blue on a flatbed truck from southern Ontario. Its sudden appearance was very exciting to me, as it meant new freedom to explore on the ice. There was a catch or two, however. The Elan had a very short track and a seat that sat one person uncomfortably—two people on the seat was a disaster. Then there was a power issue. The Elan really didn’t have any power. It did very well on flat ice, but hills and deep snow were challenging. That said, the machine got used. For reasons I don’t recall, that Elan got the nickname Miss Piggy. Many trips onto Lake Superior were made with Miss Piggy and we would then “dry dock” lakers, as Grandpa used to say. Oddly enough, I don’t recall Grandpa Ora ever riding on Miss Piggy, even though he bought it for us, but maybe I’ve forgotten.

Since there was often a few of us who wanted to go out on the lake, and only one Miss Piggy, Gord Senior came up with a solution. He built a sleigh that could hold some gear and that a third angler could stand on while holding a hand grip to stay in place. A great idea and workable, but perhaps not the best for a 250-cc sled. One time, Dad and I were sitting on the seat, and a friend of ours named Dave was standing on the back of the sleigh. We went out to the fishing grounds on Bays End, had a good fishing session, then packed it up. Dave got on the back and Senior pointed it towards home. Except for a few bumps off the top—and a pressure ridge—the ride back was smooth and fast; maybe too fast. When we got to shore, I looked back and there was no Dave. Off in the distance, there was a single black dot on the horizon. Our friend Dave had been tossed off the sled by the pressure ridge and he was trudging back, not in the best of moods. I went back and saved him, and all was well. We looked back a lot more after that incident.

Another classic adventure with Miss Piggy that did not go as planned involved two sleds, which required breaking trail and going up hills. Gord Senior was driving her when a front connection to the ski broke. This was not good as we were well back in the woods. Using a little bush ingenuity, Miss Piggy’s ski was (barely) secured with a stick, some rope and prayer. We made it home, but just barely.

Gord Ellis ice fishing beside the 70s Ski-Doo Elan nicknamed Miss Piggy. | GORD ELLIS

The first snowmachine I owned was bought used in the late 80s. I went to look at the late 70s 340 Ski-Doo Everest and to say it was in rough shape would have been an understatement. That, however, didn’t put me off. Neither did the fact that the owner could not start it. After about a half hour of pulling it finally coughed to life. “Sold!” I shouted with glee, proving yet again that P.T. Barnum was right. That machine was nicknamed Sno-Pig by my primary fishing partner of the time and it was nothing but headaches. Yet, thanks to a substantial amount of work, it ran well if it didn’t get too warm. If it was warm out, it died. This happened at the most inopportune times, like in the middle of a sea of slush. Another habit this machine had was running a little nose heavy. In deep powder, it would disappear like a submarine into the white stuff. Occasionally I’d re-emerge, but more often than not the machine would stall, choked out by snow.

The Sno-Pig was finally retired when it caught fire and had to be doused with snow. It was sold for parts and unceremoniously hauled away.

The snowmachines that have followed were far more dependable and less prone to mechanical failure. That didn’t mean the adventures ended, however. One classic time, a group of us took some sleds well north of Thunder Bay to break trail into a pair of stocked brook trout lakes. It was the dead of winter, cold and, as we soon discovered, the snow was deep and fluffy. We began breaking trail, but the snow was so deep the machines kept bogging down. This meant we all had to get off our machines, struggle through waist deep snow to the floundering sled, and yank it out. Do this enough times and you get hot, sweaty and tired. That, however, was not enough to turn us around. Oh no, we had to push on. As the day got later, we knew it was prudent to retreat, but we didn’t. The decision was made to send the lightest member of the team on my sled—a Ski-Doo Long Track Tundra—to see how far he could get. He did indeed make it to the lake and came back saying he had seen two moose on it when he broke through the trees. The convoy finally made it to the lake, and we decided to pop a few holes down and fish the last hours of light. I pulled the power auger out, fired it up and dug a hole. About halfway down the second hole, the auger died. It never started again. Dejected, hungry and cold, we got back on our sleds and went back to the trucks. Sensible people would have chocked it up to experience and slept in the next day. Nope, the next morning, in the cold and dark we all headed right back there, with two power augers. We even caught a couple trout.

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