The Dawn of Snowmobiling: Inside The Waconia Ride

Editor’s Note: The 20th annual Waconia VSCA Midwest Ride In is this weekend in Waconia, Minnesota. Here’s a look at the event through Tim Erickson’s visit last year.

The alarm clock intruded at a ridiculous hour, interrupting my haphazard – though pleasant – thoughts behind closed eyes. The hour was closer to last call than it was to sunrise. How absurd.

The early wake-up was the commitment and required sacrifice I made as a participant in the annual Waconia Or Bust Leafspring Expedition (WOBLE). WOBLE 2009 had a pre-dawn departure, an hour away from where I was awakened at an hour reserved for college students and nightshifts.

The goal was to depart Prior Lake Minnesota, a southwest suburb of Minneapolis and ride vintage machinery about 40 miles to the annual Midwest Vintage Snowmobile Show (MVSS) in Waconia in time to see the snowmobile parade that departed at 11:00 am. Estimating the average speed, approximating the distance and guessing at the downtime helped the WOBLE organizer arrive at the ridiculous departure schedule.

The WOBLE began in 2007 when Arctic Cat Pride magazine editor John Sandberg thought it too impractical to trailer to Waconia when the point-to-point could be ridden. He completed the ride with his son, Cal, and a neighbor. Sandberg, the WOBLE’s chief organizer, rulemaker and CEO, invited others in 2008, and a total of 12 people joined him. The WOBLE was born, and became an even more “official” event after participants donated funds to the Feed My Starving Children charity in 2008 and again in 2009.

With the first light starting to grace the sky, WOBLE09 started with 18 riders and machines staged in Sandberg’s snow-covered lawn with Waconia or Bust intentions. It was ambitious.

The 2009 MVSS event at Waconia featured a Ski-Doo 50th Anniversary-themed show and display. Waconia also boasts vintage snowmobiling’s largest swap meet, vintage races sanctioned by the Regional One Lunger Association and MVSS vintage radar run. There were also more than 5,000 vintage enthusiasts who passed through the gates. But most of them arrived in DOT-approved vehicles, and the machines arrived by trailer. We rode there.

Off And Running
The pre-dawn departure was appropriate, suddenly. We needed less than a mile to understand the difficulty of our mission. The lone Scorpion in the fleet of WOBLErs died at the first road crossing. After a long and futile wrench session, the machine was left at the roadside for later retrieval. Owing to the dedication of the WOBLE participants, the Scorpion driver climbed aboard an Enticer 250 and rode two-up. The finish line was another 39 miles away and we lost precious time.

The majority of our route was on marked trails that followed rural county road ditches. Our line of machines 18-units long was halted with monotonous regularity. Riders ahead circled back to reassemble around whatever machine had its hood up, its driver troubleshooting. After every stop, getting all 17 remaining machines refired was worth celebrating.

More often than not, Aaron Scheele was the chief wrench for ailing sleds. The former Arctic Cat terrain racer is an expert sled mechanic who tuned countless carbs and carried the right spare parts on the route to keep things running. Without his quick actions, our route time would have doubled and our success rate would have dwindled. Ironic that Scheele’s mount (chosen from his vintage fleet) missed the ride when he discovered a broken idler wheel minutes before departure and he rode a borrowed sled.

When stopped – waiting – for a trailside repair during the ride I couldn’t help contrasting the WOBLE with modern rides. Riding vintage is a departure from what my idea of snowmobiling has become. It’s a trip back to the dawn of recreational snowmobiling. We were riding in ditches on primitive equipment. No long travel suspensions. No handwarmers, no wide-stance stability. Just a few of the machines had oil injection. All 18 vintage machines had a combined value equal to a new sled.

It’s not necessarily the age of machines that make them a challenge to click off trouble-free miles. The primitive technology, antiquated engineering and basic packaging made them more prone to breakage when new; the decades of aging only diminishes the odds. But that primitive engineering also endears them to their owners.

They are easier to troubleshoot; the lack of complexity makes them easier to understand and easier to pull off a MacGuyver fix in the field. I am sure Scheele fabricated a new piston ring trailside using moth balls and dental floss. During the WOBLE, many repairs are made in haste in order to cover the distance by the 11:00 deadline. Sandberg served as referee.

When riding newer machines with greater comfort and speed, it’s easy to get caught up in the distance achieved taking the ease of riding for granted. Riders are free to revel about the day’s mileage. The places they visited. A modern “event” might be a near miss with a wild animal, a trailside visit with the DNR or a strange place where someone in the group got stuck.

The event with a vintage ride is the ride itself. The arduous chore to keep antiquated machines – 18 of them – running for the duration was daunting. After mile one, the remaining 17 machines rode to the finish; remarkable, considering the mild, near 50-degree F temperature. It’s about the camaraderie and teamwork to get everyone to arrive together. It’s about having a sense of humor. Our event was about the Waconia or Bust goal we had in common.

In the spirit and in fairness to last-minute procrastinators, advanced preparation was discouraged and subject to disqualification from Sandberg. He enforced (casually) the “48-Hour Rule” whereby all maintenance on WOBLE sleds must be conducted within 48 hours of departure. It made the event more comical and the completion percentage more surprising.

Of particular memory was your author’s getoff. I was driving my 1974 Arctic Cat Panther VIP through a deep ditch line when I was catapulted suddenly from the seat. I tumbled across the frozen, snow-covered hillside watching my sled roll away from me, parts of its shattered windshield making a small debris field.
The sled sat idling on its side waiting to be righted and driven away. I hopped back on, the machine willing to push on despite the open-jaw appearance of shattered Lexan. I noticed later a dent in the bellypan and ruled that I was tossed after striking something hidden in the snow.

Parading Around
Our sordid crew, reeking of raw fuel, chuffed into Waconia just in time for the 11:00 parade. We stopped trailside and waited while hundreds of machines rode past in varying condition. Everything from pristine restorations and survivor originals to ratty contraptions that looked worse than anything on our ride. There was a total of 651 machines that partook in the 2009 parade, perhaps the largest ever.
We attached to the parade’s end, passing several broken machines along the short trail route back to the lake. It made our completion percentage even more triumphant.


Several of the WOBLE participants engaged fully in the Waconia event, myself included. I spent $20 for a used windshield to replace the one I broke during the ride. Charles Plueddeman sold his 292 Lynx on site, and Pat Bourgeois bought a rare 1976 Yamaha Prestige in the swap.
It was fun to mill about looking at the nostalgia, kicking tires and seeing old favorites and rare snowmobiles with a lot of history. But I keep coming back to the ride.

Despite my wreck (I also earned the WOBLE’s traveling trophy), the vintage excursion was one of the most enjoyable – and certainly most memorable – rides of last season. Because I had attended the Waconia vintage event several times in the past, the WOBLE event of 2009 was more about the journey than the destination. Cliché, certainly, but true nevertheless. And because I have the trophy, my attendance in 2010 is required.

The 2010 Waconia event, again under banner of Midwest Vintage Snowmobile Shows, is “The Year of the Deere.” Vintage John Deere sleds will be the featured machine, but all brands are welcome. The dates are January 30-31, 2010. More information can be found at

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