Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A 50 mile solo on the John Deere 300 snowmobile

It was a sunny day in early February. I was on my last day of my trip home to snowy Minnesota to visit my folks and do some riding.

The 1976 John Deere 300 was purchased by my dad in 2008 at a farm auction estate sale. It had last been registered in 1991 and was well coated with barn dust, for at least it was kept inside.  Gone over mechanically by a guy that knows JD machines well, it is a nice running and riding sled.  

I left the folks property which intersects the trail, and headed south towards the town of Grey Eagle, where I stopped at the Junction and topped off my tank with 2 1/2 gallons of gas. The tank is I believe 6 gallon capacity and there was a room for half a gallon at the top, if I fill it all the way it tends to leak around the cap seal.

    A guy stopped while I was fueling up with a late model Polaris. Amazing how far design and technology has come.

South I headed from Grey Eagle, a couple miles of open field and road side freshly groomed, then the trail hooked back north and west into woods, very tight and twisty with lots of off camber turns. The JD was a blast, just throwing my weight around in the turns with the right amount of throttle would allow a controllable drift.

The "uphill" in the pic was steeper than the pic looks. I stay to the right and stand up going up these so I can see if someone is coming the other way!

Several miles like this, across some state WMA land, very pretty with a few ponds and lots of deer tracks.  The trail comes out alongside Todd County 103, then a half mile down, crosses the road and comes past "Shipwrex" formerly the Golden Eagle. Hung out there as a kid quite a bit, many times when I shouldn't have!

Deer have pawed this up, I saw corn cobs they found that the combine missed in this snow covered field, one of many the route crossed.


And on in to the town of Burtrum. In places the trail there was very steep road ditch, good thing I wasn't carrying a passenger or we would have gone over.  Many times in the wooded sections I stopped to clear branches etc from the trail, knocked down from the foot of snow that fell two days earlier . In one spot, I saw a rock the size of a large dog someone had glanced off of, just off trail.  

The noon wistle blew, a thing still done in small towns (6pm too) as a throwback to days gone by.  I lived 3 miles from this town from age 6 to 18 ('73-'85) and there was a grocery store, a gas station/auto repair shop, a post office, fire hall and the bar. The bar is all that is left.  

Leaving Burtrum, the engine was very doggy on low throttle and I could smell gas. As I got off the pavement back to the snow trail it bogged badly and quit.

 I took the console door off and pulled the cord. Fuel spewing out the vents on the Mikuni! Sticky float? I pulled the plugs and they were wet. Damn! I took the carb off with my Leatherman pocket tool's Phillips screwdriver attachment
(I had spark plug wrenches and a STANDARD screwdriver along with) throttle and choke cables on, took the bowl off, just a couple tiny specks of grit in there. 

 The carb had been completely disassembled by a friend who showed me the workings of it as I am more familiar with Tillotson butterfly carburetors, and it was totally spotless inside. I had nobody to call if I could not get it going, and my dad's S10 had a rusted through brake line and was at a garage being fixed. I wished I had ridden the Ski Doo about this time!

However, put the carb back together, and put it back on. Left the spark plugs out, pulled the rope until no more gas spit from the plug holes due to the flooded crank case. I put clean, new Champions in (I carry spares)  and the thing re started. I quickly got my coat, hat and helmet/gloves back on as they were shed in the 30* sunny day. Off I went! No, I did not take a pic of the sled with the hood up and parts scattered at the time but wish I had now...

Another shot of the deer tracks in this field.

In to Swanville, the town I rode the Ski Doo to on the previous Friday (see blog entry)  This pic of the Deere is from Sunday afternoon when I rode over in the near foot of fresh powder, some of the ride right down the paved but un plowed county road.

Once in Swanville, I snapped a picture of the groomer used by the Swanville Snow drifters, who maintain the trails in the area.

 I took a slight detour on to lake Pepin, and took pics of some ice fishing houses to show the wimps back in Georgia where I live how we drive right out on the ice and sit in a warm shack to do our winter fishing.

Yes, I'm wearing vintage Ski Doo clothes while riding my John Deere. Two reasons! 1, the helmet I got for my 14th birthday and it still fits, and 2, the jacket, a vintage Ski Doo jacket, was a gift from my wife this Christmas. And it's comfy and warm.

I left Swanville, heading more or less north on the trail (hey, it's late as I compose this, and I don't have a map in front of me) until I reached a crossroads, after crossing a small bridge over the Swan river.

I went right, towards my destination of Flensburg to visit my friend who has an equipment repair shop there.  On the way I passed this old 1930's car shell and a couple pieces of old equipment. I recognize a horse drawn mower and a road grader.

I learned from my dad that along this convoluted route I was traveling through Culdrum township (Minnesota counties are divided in to townships, each 36 square miles) that my paternal great grandparents had a small farm there. Dad recalls being very young (6 in fact, would have been 1935) and his grandpa trying to get dad to steer and drive his 1928 "Whippet" automobile slowly as it pulled a wagon (likely steel wheeled) through a field so grandpa could fork hay on it. Did not work well, dad couldn't reach the pedals........so the team of horses did not loose their jobs that day.

I am being watched by some beef animals here!

  I traveled on, through several pasture gates (open) along the way. The way the trail system works is by local land owners allowing the club to have a 10' or so wide strip to travel through. The land owners agree to have their gates open December 1st through March 30th, the typical snow season, and the club is operated by member contributions and some state matching money. The snowmobile traffic is routed away from roadways as much as possible and away from residences.

Where was I? Oh, after leaving this farm land the route took me in to the woods again,  now the path had not been groomed since leaving Swanville and was much rougher, rutted from other machine traffic.  Not having 12" of articulated suspension travel it was a tad rougher going for me. At times I rode standing up so I could see deep ruts and moguls ahead. The Deere is not overly comfortable to ride like this due to the angle of the handlebars, my Ski Doo is a much better sled to stand up ride on, but not as stable overall as it is a narrower machine. They both have their strong points and draw backs.

I came along and there were four or five nice size deer in the trail about 100 yds ahead. I stopped and killed the motor. They trotted off but actually came closer to me in the brush. One watched me with it's ears up while the others browsed, or pawed the snow to reach berries and acorns beneath. I took some pics, look closely! I was there several minutes and got the camera from my pocket and everything, until I moved more they stayed. 

They were very healthy looking, and had thick, greyish winter coats they don't have when I normally see them (November hunting season) and any bucks have shed their horns by this time of the year in MN. 

For some reason, I took no more pics. I got to Flensburg, pop less than 200, a few miles later. Stopped at my friends shop, shot the bull and looked it over. Then walked literally next door to the Flensburg liquor and sat down, ordered a "Flensburger" at my bud's recommendation. That sucker was a third pound of some of the best beef I have eaten and served with onions, tomato and a heap of tater tots. I had a Grain Belt premium to go with (can't get Grain Belt down south.....) and was totally STUFFED. 

Back on the 300 I went. I ran anywhere from 20-30 mph depending on how rough things were, with some blasts of 40-45. On a stretch where the trail ran adjacent a hard packed snow gravel road, I saw the needle touch near 50 before I ran out of road and had to slow. The sled will run (or has run) 58+ wound out on hard pack snow on a lake, but that took a loooong time to get there. Afterall, it's a 28 horse 295cc mill made by Kohler so I won't complain!  I used 3 1/2 gallons of fuel mix, and went about 50-55 miles by the odometer.  Horrible fuel mileage for a car, but not bad for a two stroke snowmobile engine of the vintage.   

 I made one stop for fuel, lost 25 minutes with the sticking carb float, stopped for a bunch of pictures and of course many road crossings but had a great time.  The only other sleds I saw were parked in Flensburg, nobody else on the trail aside from me and the animals that afternoon.

Once home, I siphoned the gas from the tank (it has a short useful life) so dad can use it in his Stihl saw, and put the Deere in the shed for it's long rest until I can return next winter.   

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