There is a birthday party going on in Valcourt, Quebec as a new exhibit was unveiled at the J. Armand Bombardier Museum to mark the 50th anniversay of the of the Ski-Doo, the personal snow vehicle that inventor Joseph-Armand Bombardier unveiled in 1959.
Bombardier wasn’t the first person to make a ‘snowmobile’ It seems the very first one may have been called a “Lombard Log Hauler,” a machine designed and built in Waterville, Maine in 1908. It was a large machine that resembled a steam locomotive, only it had a half-track design and front skis with the driver sitting in front of the engine just above the skis.
In 1913, recognizing a need for a machine that could travel over rural areas in snow, a fellow by the name of Virgil D. White, who invented a conversion kit for the Ford Model T car.
White owned a Ford Garage in West Ossipee, New Hampshire. He had been a logger before becoming a Ford Dealer but he also took people on tours around the area where he lived. Trying to make his tourist business a year round venture, he needed a vehicle that could travel over snow, so in 1910, he created a Ford Model T with wooden runners on the front, and tractor treads on a double set of wheels on the rear.
White patented his ‘snowmobile’ and began producing complete kits and conversion kits in 1913. Eventually his company became a going concern until the late 1920’s when snowplows started clearing the roads and the need for his snowmobile kits declined.
In the meantime, Joseph Armand Bombardier had been inventing and building tracked snow machines all his life in one form or another. He produced his first production run model, called the “B7” around 1935. The early models were essentially cars with tracks to propell them and skis on the front, sound familiar?
Bombardier wasn’t the first person to put tracks and skis on a car and drive it in snow, that had been done for years, with vehicles like the Ford Model T. However, although Bombardier can’t take credit for the very first snow machine, Joseph Armand Bombardier can take credit for really starting the snowmobile craze, it was his little yellow snow machines, called “Ski-Doos” that really took off.
The little snow machines he developed quickly caught on with missionaries, trappers, prospectors, surveyors, and other people who need to travel over snow in isolated regions. From there it wasn’t long until the snowmobile was in everyone’s mind and people started buying them for recreational purposes.
The company, Bombardier Inc, has grown into an international affair, producing all kinds of transportation vehicles, from planes to trains and beyond. It’s Bombardier Recreational Products who continue to make snowmobiles, four wheelers and other recreational vehicles today.
As a young fella back in the 1970’s I remember watching the snowmobiles or ‘skidoos’ as we referred to them collectively, cruising up and down the frozen lake in front of our family cottage and thinking how much I wanted one….still do….but I have never actually owned one myself.
I have driven them on many occasions, but I never owned one myself. Snowmobiles gave cottagers the reason and ability to use their summer cottages during the winter. The first one I drove belonged to a friend of my Dad, it was a 1975 Arctic Cat Panther like the one shown below in the picture. It had a small engine by today’s standards, but it cruised along through the woods behind our cottage quite well, certainly fast enough for us in those days.
Since his first Ski-Doo rolled off the assembly line, Bombardier has put millions of folks behind the handlebars of a snowmobile, providing endless hours of enjoyable winter recreation. In fact, I believe he did more for getting folks outside in winter than anybody else.
Love them or hate them, as many do, snowmobiles are a great way to get outside and enjoy winter. Bombardier not only invented a machine, he invented a winter lifestyle.
You can read all about the history of the Ski-Doo at the Bombardier Museum It’s fascinating.
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