Summer: The Perfect Time To Show Off Your Antique Snowmobile Collection | WGLT

Summer: The Perfect Time To Show Off Your Antique Snowmobile Collection

Jul 12, 2019

It’s summertime, meaning it’s time to learn about ... snowmobiles?

The Snowmobile Club of America is having its annual summer meetup this weekend at the Willis Snowmobile Museum in Hopedale, around 30 miles west of Bloomington-Normal. Russel “Huck” Willis, the owner of the Willis Snowmobile Museum, started collecting snowmobiles in 1978 when his eldest son was given one.

“It's a different world out there. You're out there, and you just kind of tool around the timbers you know, and see all the wildlife, and a lot of people think snowmobiling is all racing and fast and dangers ... But it's not. It don't have to be. Do it sensible, and it's fun,” said Willis on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Model T Snowmobile from 1923
Credit Charlie Schlenker

The museum features around 150-200 snowmobiles, with the oldest being a Model T snowmobile from 1923.

Virgil White made the first known snowmobile in 1913 in New Hampshire by making modifications to his Model T. The modifications included a set of skis, and modifications to the Model T’s axles. White received a patent and sold kits to citizens to modify their Model Ts to handle the harsh winter snow. Later the Model T snowmobile was succeeded by Joseph Armand Bombardier’s snowmobile, which was created after Bombardier’s son died after snow prevented a trip to the hospital. Since then, various other patents and models of snowmobiles have been created. 

Snowmobiles have proved beneficial to various industries in the U.S. Willis said many snowmobiles have been used by the National Parks Service, the military, hunting groups, farmers, loggers, and by linemen. Willis said he predicts there will be battery- and diesel-powered engines being released in the next generation of snowmobiles. 

Willis said he enjoys riding snowmobiles because it gives him an opportunity to explore wildlife in the winter. 

“When you go off somewhere else, you got hills and waterfalls and that kind of thing you can see, and it’s just beautiful. At Yellowstone, a trip of a lifetime, when you see all the buffalo and antelope and elk and the waterfalls and the glaciers and old faithful and all that, it’s just neat,” said Willis. 

Willis said he first saw a snowmobile in the 1970s and didn't think much of it. He said he didn't get the appeal of going out in the cold. The now retired masonry contractor sometimes worked in the cold and didn't fancy more of it. Then someone gave his oldest son a snowmobile. One became a new one that worked better. Then other members of the family had to get one to ride together. Then they all started getting interested in finding snowmobiles, said Willis. Now the tally is 150 plus.

The annual summer meeting of the Antique Snowmobile Club of America will take place July 12-14, at the Willis Snowmobile Museum in Hopedale. There will be a variety of activities, including the display of personal snowmobile collections.

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