Sunday, March 4, 2012

BRAAPFEST 2012! Insane vintage snowmobile fun in Iron county, Wisconsin

Starting in 2008,  vintage snowmobile enthusiast Craig Crowl, owner of the Springstead Lake lodge (  has hosted a vintage ride, an event offering enthusiasts to get together and enjoy some of the finest scenery and riding Iron County has to offer. It has come to be named "BRAAPFEST"   Just pronounce "Brap" as in "crap"  and say it loudly and drag the letter "A". As in the sound a crisply tuned exhaust on a screaming two stroke snowmobile engine sounds. And if I have to explain that further, well, you'll just never understand......

Each year the event has grown. This year I was able, with the "help" of some arm twisting, to attend and I can say I was not disappointed would be the understatement of the century.

Now, a bit of a refresher 'bout me. I was born and raised in God's country, central Minnesota. I have been residing and working (gotta make a livin' ya know) in coastal Georgia for a number of years. Now it's a nice place but the opportunities to partake in the winter rituals enjoyed by blue collar gear head midwestern hicks like myself are limited to say the least.

I was not planning on attending this event. The midwestern winter had been very mild, with abnormally warm temperatures, minimal snow coverage and the like. In years past I have made the trip back to visit my folks and do some riding on the 70's iron I keep up there. But this year I was going to sit it out. I planned on going up to New Jersey via Amtrak to meet my friend Joe, a Ski Doo enthusiast, and together with his son we were going to drive several hours upstate in to New York to attend a gathering and do some riding. But the weather forecast was dismal, and there was minimal snow cover.

On the website (also a sponsor of the event) had a running thread about who was coming. I made a joking comment "where's the nearest airport?"  and the next morning there is an email from my friend Jeff telling me how glad he is I am coming.  Now it was noon before I got an opportunity to reply and tell him I was just kidding!

Later that day I came home to a message on my cell phone I had forgotten on the kitchen counter from my friend CP in North Dakota,  I called him back, he had been bugging me for months to attend Braapfest. He said to me "Before you say no, just listen to this..."  He had made some calls, found relatively inexpensive flights from Georgia to Minneapolis, and arranged for another friend of his to pick me up if I could be in Minneapolis on Wednesday.......  I paused a minute, and told him that IF I made this happen he was not to tell anyone about it.  So I went home, and told Kristy "Honey...... uh, ya know how I was going to go up to New York and see my friend Joe? Well I'm going to Wisconsin!"   Actually I had already gotten the days off work, I was spending a bit more money and going to a different destination.

So Wednesday the 23rd I boarded a plane in Savannah, and after a transfer in Atlanta arrived in Minneapolis shortly after noon central time. I got to the curb and pulled my vintage Ski Doo helmet out and put it on. Chad aka "69mod" whom I had never met before met me at the curb in his truck.

We ended up at his place where I met John "Johnny Homelite", Chad's brother in law and fellow vintage snowmobile enthusiast, who was just finishing loading the trailer for the trip to Springstead in the morning. We spent the rest of the afternoon bs'n.  Chad has an old "Trailmaker" rear engine machine I just could not resist tinkering with. He said it had died on him.  I wrapped the rope around the hub, gave it some choke and the old cast iron Kohler popped to life.  However when I moved the throttle it sputtered and died. John just happened to see a spark, seems the throttle cable was a tad too long and was shorting a bare spot on the wire to the kill switch. Cutting the excess off and taping the wire took care of the problem. So around the yard I went.  You can clearly see how pitiful the snow coverage in Minnesota is from the shot.

That night Chad and I went to a place called the Blacksmith, where I had an excellent burger. However, when ordering I forgot I was back in the midwest.....the waitress asked how I wanted it and I said "all the way"... now she didn't whisper to me to meet her in the ladies room in five minutes nor did she hit me with a right hook! Chad laughed, he had dated a gal from the east coast years back and recalled that "all the way" means lettuce, tomato and mayo. 

The next morning Paul (CP) showed up with his truck and trailer loaded. I hopped in and Chad followed with his rig,stopping and picking up Johnny on the way.  Everyone in a jovial mood and after we crossed the St.Croix river and headed in to Wisconsin the snow on the ground got thicker. Soon we arrived. We drove right to Craigs house where I was going to be staying with a bunch of other "homeless" attendees on the floor space in the finished, unfurnished basement. Just then my pal Jeff came riding up on his Yamaha....he wasn't exactly expecting to see me!  We shot the shit and had a beer from the cooler in his camper parked along side Craig's garage, then I got on an immaculate time capsule of an '87 or so Yamaha Phazer of Jeff's wife's that he had brought along, and rode around.

 We rode from Craig's house down along the roadside to a narrow trail through some pines, along a powerline path, and back in to the pines a mile or two where Springstead lodge is located. Several had gone on late model machines for a fast, long run towards Lake Superior (made it via the trail system within a mile or two of the shoreline when the snow ran out) and Jeff had stayed behind in case anyone called to drive a rescue truck and trailer for broken machines. Nobody had called, so we rode over a few miles to another resort called the Birches and along with use came Warren "Skiwhizzer" Nelson,  from Schaefer, MN who was riding a late 80's Polaris Indy.

The Birches is typical of northwoods lodges, lots of woodwork for the log cabin effect, and taxidermy! Several black bearskins are on the ceiling. Big walleye and Northern Pike mounted on the walls. We enjoyed the scenery out the windows, had a "Spotted Cow"  from a Wisconsin brewery. 
We rode over to another place, Chico's north of the Border, which was not yet open as we discovered. Several attendees are staying there in a duplex they rented out for the weekend. Paul swung by on his son Ben's 1968 Evinrude en route to the Birches following Johnny and Chad on their machines.

 Chico's is at one end of Springstead lake, and the lodge at the other, so about a mile and a half of open lake and you are back at the lodge. Jeff checked in with the bartender and found nobody had a breakdown needing a tow, Later, we found one of the riders had crashed and broken a suspension part on a Polaris that they bashed back in to shape with a tree limb and spliced with a fish scaler and duct tape! 

 Anyway, back at the lodge and on the lake Jeff had laid out and plowed with Craig's truck a "LeMans" course of about 1 mile (I may be wrong) on the lake for the "one lunger" races on Saturday. Jeff and Todd (more on Todd later) race a series for vintage single cylinder machines, and the class they are in is "relic".  Jeff has a 1973 Yamaha SM292 set up for this, and I took a couple laps on it. I had never ridden a machine with carbide runners on the skis and sharp picks in the track, and it was a workout to steer the thing and guide it around. More on this later, but after a couple laps I came in and Jeff told me "Your form is good, you're racing Saturday!"      Now the races in the group are 100 mile endurance races. The courses are generally 5 miles to a lap on frozen lakes, plowed down to hard pack, straightaways as long as a football field, then a series of turns left and right from long sweepers to switchback 180's. You are allowed team drivers, but if you "ironman" it, there's extra award. After a few laps on this relatively tiny course, I can't imagine doing 100 miles on a Saturday afternoon! Here's a pic of the sled, with Jeff riding it-

  Then that afternoon, Todd "Toad" showed up with his bubblenosed Scorpions in tow. The black one is his vintage racer and the red white and blue is a custom he rides in the winter and with an engine swap he grass drags it at summer events.  He made the drive in a borrowed pickup and hails from Sturgeon Lake, MN
  Later that evening, Jeff and I were pouring over local trail maps to plan a night ride. The web of trails can make it easy to get lost if you don't know the area, and Todd would be riding the red white and blue Scorpion which had a much smaller capacity gas tank than the later model 80's to newer machines Jeff, myself and Skiwhizzer were going to be braapin', so finding a destination within range was important. At the lodge we struck up talk with John Nutter, another member of the Chisago County Vintage Sled Crew (as is Skiwhizzer and a score of others) and despite having logged many miles that day on his 2010 Polaris Rush, he said "Ok, let's go!".  John also had a TomTom type GPS on his sled with trail maps loaded in.  Obviously this pic was NOT taken of John's Rush before the ride, but here you can see the difference in a modern machine vs a vintage for sure.
Below is Jeff's Yamaha I was riding, and below are Warren (skiwhizzers) Polaris on the left and Toad's little single cylinder Scorpion on the right before the run.  

 Off we went, nine or ten machines? Nutter, Jerome "Snojas" on another Rush, Warren "skiwhizzer" on the Polaris Indy, Todd on his '71/'72 Scorpion conglomeration, me on Jeff's '87 Yamaha Excell III, and Jeff on his wife's Phazer. The trails ranged from running along side road to down into some narrow twisty stuff in the pines. Jeff decided not to make the full trip when we were a few miles from the lodge and turned back. Nutter was a good leader as he knew he had a high tech rocket but knew the rest of us didn't, and he would stop and let all catch up and do a "headlight count" to insure nobody was missing. We ran across some frozen flowage (back waters of a dammed up river) for some time and arrived the the tavern at the other end of our route. I still don't recall the name of the place. Here is a shot of the inside-

After getting back to the Springstead Lake Lodge, we found we'd logged 76 miles! See, Toad had never really ridden a long ride on the Scorpion before and it holds a tad under 5 gallons. Old two stroke powered snomobiles generally don't get much more than 10-12 MPG especially when ridden hard, later stuff like the Yamaha I was riding get about 20mpg, and have 7-9 gallon tanks. So we were astonished when we made the lodge with no issue on the Scorp. There is no gas gauge, only a dipstick of sorts on the fill cap and hard to see in the dark. Shaking it after shut off gave us the sound of very little left! 

Beyond that, Todd the Toad had about 2" of suspension travel, and a single cylinder Sachs engine of 16 rated horsepower. The machine has been shortened and runs a track from a late 70's Scorpion "Lil Whip" that is about 10" shorter and much lighter than the original. Now this looks neat and is great for grass drags (when he doesn't get tossed for entering a "stock" class with something that never existed :) but it makes the ride a tad harsher.  Let me tell ya, in addition to being a nice guy,  the Toadster is an iron man.  I was behind him as he has no working tail light and he was bouncing around like a bobblehead doll but just kept that throttle to the bar. I was getting tossed a lot on the '87 Yamaha, as it and the Scorp were the only leaf spring front ended sleds on the run, but I had nice rear suspension.  Nutter in front kept slowing down on the flowage to let the older and slower sleds have a break and Todd just hammered it to the bar and passed him! 

Back at the bar, Todd and I had a couple...... shots, couple beers... eventually we noted nobody else was left. Friggin' lightweights  We threw the coats and helmets on, added some gas from Todd's jug of mix (trailers had been left on the lake parked by the lodge) and rode slowly on our respective machines back to Craig's place. It was 3:12 am when we came in. In the basement sleeping on mats were Billy Kasten and his son Cody. The wood fire had died down, Billy sleepily told me there was a big chunk of wood in the utility room (they have a chute from a basement window wood gets tossed down) that he could not split due to his shoulder, and asked me to split it. What the hell, those native northwoods skills are still sharp after a long day right? Fortunately I didn't truncate my toes and the fire got fed. 

About 3 1/2 hours later I was up and running. Snow was coming down seen through the glass of the doors. A lifeless Toad snoozed in his cocoon.

      Upstairs? More bodies. Pooch (not sure his real identity) from the Twin Cities area was upstairs, Craig "Addicted to old sleds" Crowl, our host, was on the couch having given up his room to Don Soukup (Dr Mario,  purveyor of vintage Polaris parts) and wife Eileen, and Jamie Henrikson and wife had the other bedroom. Coffee was brewed, tall tales told, and I warned all not to believe anything anyone said about what we did at the bar last night.........
Hopping back on sleds, we rode over to the lodge for the breakfast buffet. Mmmmmmm, suasage, bacon, gravy and biscuits, hash browns and all the important food groups. Some partake bloody marys, frankly I think liquor is fine as long as it is brown (or clear) and served after noon. Unless it's a shot of Red Stag in my Sunday AM coffee and I have no where to go for a few hours.

Shortly we lined up some machines for a ride, a 60 some mile loop through forested trails and along flowage. I selected the '68 Evinrude, and fell in to line. Prior to the lineup I had ridden it about a four mile loop to the Trading Post down the road and topped off the tank with fuel mix and had no issues, except you had to be very ginger on the recoil as the dogs that engage were worn when starting.  Well along the ride I went, and a few miles later it started to loose power and booooog!  I had to run it partly choked, indicating something was lean and clogged up. Now with 16 horsepower from it's 362cc opposed twin and about 400 lbs of OMC built iron, wide open is 25-30mph. Considerably slower when not running correctly!

Faster machines ranged ahead and directed traffic at the road crossings, and waited for the slower, older and lower powered stuff to play catch up. Shortly after one of the crossings, Paul on his '76 Mercury Trail Twister came alongside and could see something was not right- I slowed to signal this and the Evvy died. Well tinkering revealed the fuel primer was sucking air, causing fuel starvation. The sled had not been run last season, and in standard North Dakota storage practice one leaves the old gas in. Well, new was splashed in and the machine ridden around the farmstead by Brutal Ben, the 11 (12?) year old son of Paul and owner of the machine and it was deemed good. Well, some riding stirred up some goo and it lodged in the fuel screen. It was scraped out, some gas siphoned from the tank with a tube found in the tool box, and squirted in to the carb, I could not get the rope to engage so Paul had to show me how it was done-
Click for video!

However, success was short lived, and a few miles later it died again.....   I was given the helm of the Merc while Paul nursed the Evinrude to it's final resting spot.

The route was spectacular! And the Trail Twister I rode was pure 1976 muscle for a fan cooled machine!

Below see Chad "69MOD" on his nice 634 Hirth powered Arctic Cat Puma and his partner in crime John "Johnny Homelite" on his '74 Polaris TX done as a "what if" Polaris continued to badge machines for Homelite as they did in 1969!
We arrived at a place called the Idle Hour resort for a short break. Toad found a nice photo spot for the Scorp-
A pair of 634 Panthers next to the trail sign, the sidepiped one has electric start.
Ski Zoom "Rebel Sport" anyone? Skiwhizzer's ride for Friday, he bought this sled for ten bucks about ten years ago, dragged it from the weeds it sat in all that time... some recoil repair, a staple and fold job on the seat and some fuel line, off and running! I bet he logged 100 miles on that thing in a couple days. I rode it on the lake, not bad and the little 340 Sachs twin runs sweet. 
 Now, once at the destination resort Paul found a treasure!
A Phazer was borrowed from someone owning the Idle Hour, host Craig knows everyone so this was easily arranged. Off Paul rode holding rocky raccoon in one hand and the other on the loudflipper!
Once on the lake, the taxidermided fellow decided the log he was posed on was just not his style and tried to throw himself to freedom at 40 mph or so... I was following and rescued him, my efforts at CPR failed and he remained lifeless yet the life of many parties the rest of the weekend......

 Later seen up at the lodge living it up-

That night brought the ugly sweater contest.....

I didn't win, we all had fun, the winner got a $300 bar tab, donated by Springstead Lake Lodge.  There are sooooo many more pics I could post but there are more stories to tell so I will move along.
That night more showed up, the Chisago County Vintage Sled Crew (CCVSC) was in force! 

Nutter is in white in the foreground of the pic, 69Mod to his right in maroon, SnoJas to his right, and I'm not sure who some of the others are so I'll let them figure it out!

SATURDAY!  Another ride! Bigger and more machines! I rode a borrowed '68 short track Polaris Colt (looks like a '67 Colt as it was Polaris using up leftover parts that year) with a 277cc Sachs single, in this pic I am standing next to it being interviewed by the guy in the red jacket with the helmet cam, I never got his name and don't know where or if he will post some video or pics from the affair. 

Here is "Trusty Johnson" AKA Skinny on "The Barnacle" as it is known in the CCVSC... runs great, and Skinny's never seen without a big smile.

A shot of me center with Todd to the right and Jeff to my left in blue, I think he wins the award for most vintage patches on a vintage suit!

A few Ski Doos belonging to a Arbor Vitae (Wisconsin) Brushwhackers -  they have a site,

A couple of their machines at the lodge. They show up every year according to Craig, stick together and then peel off from the group and run their own route and meet back up. Speaking with them I found they are from a bit farther west in Wisconsin and ride together every Sunday when there is snow.
Here is GrassinTXL (Jamie Henrikson's) Polaris Cutlass, given to him by someone who wanted it out of his yard, he has exactly $58 dollars invested.  Who said this is a high dollar hobby?

But all things must end, and it was back to the lodge and lake for the blindfold races......plowed out loop inside the lemans track. Driver blindfolded, passenger gives instruction....
Just some random shots.......


That Massey was a fifty dollar parts sled until the decision was made to see if it could pass as the ugliest machine there, what do you think?

This lady who goes by the message board name of "Recoil" is married to "Spraygas" who does all the tuning on this Massey gem. Here is Skiwhizzer who left his Whizzes at home trying it out!

Now for the one lunger races! I won the three lapper. Toad had experience and the Sachs powered Scorpion had a couple horses on the Yamaha, but the Scorp had dull studs. When we lined up I was worried about the '80 or so Yamaha Enticer, as it has about 8 horses and a lower center of gravity on the SM292, but they had no traction at all and had to ride the edge banking off the sides to turn. In the first pic I am trying to hold the #68 Scorpion off. 
Next, some shots of the other sleds. It was a run what ya brung affair, the Lynx was studded up but not running as fast as we thought it should, John Nutter's Ski Daddler was set up for the long lake series but had no testing or tuning time. He paid top dollar for his race mill at Princeton's swap this last August. :)

And some 'Daddler action! Ski Daddler was a brand built by the AMF corporation. When AMF bought Harley Davidson, they took the Ski Daddler engineering and added engines built by an Italian company Harley owned that made the Harley dirt bike engines, and re badged the machines Harley Davidson from '72 or '73 until '75. 

Now some videos Jamie H. posted-
And this one makes my kids think I'm the greatest snowmobile racer in Georgia!
After the races were done, anyone and everyone ripped around the track on what ever they had.  Also, a drag strip had been plowed, marked in 100 foot intervals to the 500 foot mark (but plowed about 1.000 feet for shutdown) and someone had a radar gun out. A few fast ones showed up but since it was happening in conjunction with the other races, I was busy while this was going on. HOWEVER, Don "Dr Mario" brought his grass dragger along. Now I am  not a Polaris guy as I tend to know more about early 70's Ski Doos, but this is one bad mama jama! A 1970 TX set up to run 350 foot grass drags. It is, I "think" an 800cc? Not setup with ice picks, it does not hook as well on a snow or ice course. And it tops out in speed at about 350 feet, and isn't geared taller. But man oh man what a ride! How do I know? I was wandering around the area of the track and Don yells out "Hey Georgia! Wanna try this on?" I was hesitant when another guy said "I just rode the thing. You really need to try this! Don explained that there really is no easing in to the throttle, the clutch is set up to grab at the best launch point for dragging, sort of like when I had (briefly) a 4000 RPM stall converter in my V8 powered S10. It just was not happy going to walmart and back.

In this pic Don has the megaphones on it, the pipe sticking out of the bellypan is the tuned pipe for the recoil side cylinder, it can't come out without unbolting the engine. I don't know the power advantage or disadvantage with the megs but either way it sounds purely wicked!

Here is a youtube vid of the machine running on grass-

Anyhow, I got on it, Don started it via rope (no recoil) and I rode it up to the line, and did exactly as he said, I grabbed a handful of it. MAN WHAT A RUSH! On the return run I hammered it a bit, and they say the pipes sound sweet, I had to agree. 

Afterwords, I took random pics of the area- some folk enjoying the bonfire-
Team TFU had the mobile beverage situation at hand-

Johnny Homelite striking a pose-

I'm the guy that came from Georgia, what is this guy doing with a rebel flag helmet?
Don and Eileen's trail riders, I watched her just put the hammer down when we hit the lake stretches and disappear in a contrail of snow. Don kept the JLO single in the '70 Polaris Charger hammered down on the trail ride, keeping up with the faster machines was no problem for that Wisconsin farm boy.

This is a creation of Paul (CP) and his son. The rear engine Panther that Arctic Cat never built, a custom made with period correct parts to look and ride like something the factory made. What a nice ride! The headlights worked fine, I rode it across Springstead lake and back twice Saturday night from the ladge to Chico's on the other side barhoppin' with Jeff following on his Yamaha. Top speed maybe 20-25 on this. 

Here is more on the build of the machine- 

That night at the lodge everyone was having a great time- 69mod had the barmaids at flank-

Toad and Johnny hanging at the lodge-  

Dr.Mario armwrestling Matt "Jags" Campo as his wife Eileen "Sunshine" looks on-

More random shots-

Our host, Craig

After leaving that evening I went back to Craig's to crash out for the evening after Todd and Jeff had already gone ahead. Having the munchies, I found some sort of leftovers in Tupperware in Criag's fridge, and nuked them and ate. Don and Eileen came in, Don asked what I was eating and my reply was "I don't know, it was brown..."  Later in the borrowed sleeping bag of Jeffs I got horrible gas. The next AM, I rolled up the bag for him, and said nothing. Hopefully he does not pull the drawstring in presence of open flame any time soon. 

Awakening Saturday morning, it was time to load. Craig, CP and I drove over to the Idle Hour resort to return the borrowed Yamaha Phazer CP and his pal the stuffed raccoon rode, CP wanted to buy the machine but they did not want to part with it. We unloaded the Yamaha which I had loaded with assistance driving it up to a snow pile right in the bed of the truck, and loaded the Evinrude. Since it was "dead" we had no means of riding it up a ramp. Dead lifting a '68  Skeeter is not easy. I thought I'd have a hernia getting on the plane later for sure. Back at the lodge we dragged the rear engine Panther (it's recoil would not engage) in to Paul's trailer, rode the Merc Twister and his Moto Ski ultra sonic up inside. Said good byes to all and hit the road. 
As tired as we were, we spent the four hour drive chuckling about the weekend as one story after another came out. 

Then, as we passed a small town on Wisconin highway 70 just a few miles from the St Croix river border with Minnesota, we passed a place called "Mistys" on the left side of the road. I said "I want to get a picture of that!" and CP hit the brakes and found a place to U-turn the Chevt Avalanche with the enclosed four place trailer in tow! 

You see, last August, Kristy and I took a drive to go canoeing and on the way back we passed the same establishment, at that time the sign had a missing letter so it only read "EXOTIC DANCER SATURDAY NIGHT"  we thought "Just the one?" but sadly they were not open so we could not check it out. The establishment appears to be a single wide mobile home with additions sprouting, and a gravel parking lot. Could there be a rusty pole inside? 
Now I know the banner is referring to the Miller Lite, but perhaps they have dancers for every taste?

This STAGED pic insures I will never get elected to public office. :)
I nearly stepped in this by the steps-

 Laughing even though our voices were shot from three days of it, we got back in the rig and drove on. An hour or so later, I was deposited at the Delta airlines curb in seemingly plenty of time.

At check in, the lady said "Oh you'll have to hurry, your flight is at the gate now!" So I went to security. No line! However, there was a tiny pocket tool in my carry on back pack I didn't even know was there....they examined it carefully, taking their time. Well I do NOT wish to rush TSA agents but the clock was ticking. I had flown international to the island of Antigua last month and it must have been in the bag then!

I ran like the wind to get to my gate, and found I had plenty of time.

Later in the week, I heard from Paul- there was some drizzle in the cities and they had to de ice the plane I was on before it took off, but as he continued towards his North Dakota home traveling northwest up I-94 he hit heavy snow, and by the time he was at Alexandria, a full on whiteout. He said the last 40 miles he was locked in 4 wheel drive at about 35-40 mph with the trailer trying to pass him again. He got home, went inside and all he wanted to do was plop his butt down on his side of the couch. But his mother in law was there. In his spot. And snowed in. :)  

This concludes my tale. I want to apologize to anyone I left out of the stories, or photos I should have posted but didn't, and thank all involved including but not limited to Craig and Sheryl, the Springstead lodge, Jeff Z, Paul, Chad, Johnny, Dirtman, Toad, the entire CCVSC and anyone else who loaned me a sled or made me laugh all weekend long. I hope to come back again some day!      

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