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Finding Minnesota: Vintage Snowmobiles

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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WACONIA, Minn. (WCCO – At certain times of the year, you will see groups of hot rods cruising down the boulevard.

But a lot of Minnesotans enjoy a different type of vintage vehicle.

They’re into the old-school snowmobiles.

Later this month, about 800 vintage and antique sleds will cruise around Lake Waconia, in the world’s largest vintage snowmobile “ride-in.”

They’re part of a growing passion for nostalgia on snow on ice.

The old sleds, like the people who collect them, have plenty still left in the tank.

“I just enjoy being out in the air on the sleds in the winter time,” said Jack Speckel, 72, of Watertown.

Speckel has ridden many a snowmobile in his time. He now owns 45 of them – all Arctic Cats.

“I started sledding in 1968,” he said. “I bought my first snowmobile and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

His friend, Ron Ebbers, 69, owns more than 100 snowmobiles.

“It’s like potato chips — you just can’t have one,” he said with a laugh.

Ebbers is starting his own snowmobile museum near his home in Hector.

Included in his collection is a 1972 Brut, made in Brooten, Minn., that just shakes with power.

“It’s a tough sounding engine,” he said.

It’s a throwback to a time when hundreds of manufacturers produced snowmobiles with their own individual features.

Today, there are just four left, and two of them — Arctic Cat and Polaris — are in Minnesota.

The early snowmobiles were louder, rougher and quite a bit slower, but speed hasn’t really been what most collectors are after.

“It brings me back to 1973, living out in Appleton, Minn., driving on the road ditches as a 7-year-old kid,” said Scott Wakefield of Mayer, who’s the president of Carver County Snow Runners. “The two-cylinder, two-cycle motor with the blue smoke, and the smell and you stink when you get in the house after starting the snowmobile up. That’s what it’s all about.”

Minnesota has more snowmobiles registered than any other state with 286,000.

And more than half of them qualify as vintage (built between 1968-1985), or antique (built before 1968).

“We’ve had double-digit growth for the last five years in a row, and I see that continuing as we go forward,” Wakefield said.

Many enthusiasts point out that it’s a relatively inexpensive hobby.

“You can buy these snowmobiles for $900, $1,000 in great shape,” said Wakefield. “You can buy them for $100 or $200 and fix them up as a project over the winter months.”

The annual Waconia Ride-In, starting Jan. 25, will feature drag races, oval races, a contest for loudest snowmobile and a swap meet.

During the banquet on Jan. 26, they will auction off a Scorpion and a Brut snowmobile, with all the proceeds going to Make-A-Wish.

Do you have an idea for our next Finding Minnesota report? Click here and tell us.

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