October 22, 2021

Sunny skies for snowmobile showcase

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

John Curtis, of Homer, left, and Vern Miller, of DeRuyter, work together to restore their 1970s snowmobiles Saturday at the Central New York Living History Center.

CORTLANDVILLE — Not a flake of snow fell Saturday morning at the Central New York Living History Center during the third annual vintage snowmobile show. In fact, the weather was quite

Dozens of people came to show off their vintage and antique snowmobiles, enjoying the weather and each other’s company.

Groton resident and event organizer Lee Miller said Saturday he was inspired to start the annual snowmobile show after attending motorcycle shows in Steuben County and other communities.

So he got in touch with his friend Ron Fesko, who had experience putting on shows, and they reached out to the Living History Center, which eventually allowed them to host the event there. It was an instant hit, he said.

“It about blew their socks off when they looked out in the parking lot,” Miller said. “The vintage snowmobile (scene) has just exploded over the last 10 years. People seem to enjoy them.”

Dozens of vintage sleds lined the perimeter of the museum’s parking lot as snowmobile aficionados from miles around came to sell and buy rare parts, swap stories, or just show off their machines.

Miller said the purpose of the event was for folks to get together to celebrate the vehicles and to remember the 1960s and 1970s, a time some would argue the recreational vehicles hit their peak popularity.

“It was something unique at the time,” Fesko said “It was winter entertainment and if you didn’t mind the snow and the cold, you went out and did it.”

Back then, Cortland County was riddled with snowmobile dealers and everyone from Gutchess Lumber to huge chain stores, like Montgomery Ward and Sears, was in the business of selling sleds.

Today, there are only four major snowmobile manufacturers: Arctic Cat, Bombardier Recreational Products, Polaris, and the Yamaha Motor Corp. Only a handful of dealers remain.

Those attending Saturday’s vintage snowmobile show have invested significant amounts of time and money to restore and modify the sleds from decades ago.

Some people went to great lengths to make their snowmobiles look exactly as they did when they came off the factory floor all those years back.

Others snowmobiles, like the one owned by Canandaigua resident Cliff Payne, looked pretty much like it did back when his dad passed it down to him in 1973, save for one difference — Payne had replaced the skis that help the snowmobile glide in the snow with wheels and was riding around the museum waving at the other guests.

“That was the first snowmobile I ever had,” Payne said. “I didn’t want to part with (it, so) 18 years ago I converted it into that. It’s turned a lot of heads ever since. It’s been an eye-catcher.”

Payne’s snowmobile was far from the only one with extreme modifications. Cortland resident Mike Brown and his friend Nick Bancroft had turned a 1970 Polaris Charger into a literal party machine.

In addition to the classic red, white and blue paint job, they had put a stereo system in the front, a hot-dog grill in the back, and hidden a cooler to store beverages under the seat.
The centerpiece was a patio heater they had attached to a tall pole in the center of the sled to keep everybody warm.

“We figure we got 150 hours in it and about $1,000,” Brown said. “It’s probably not even worth that much, but nobody else has one.”

Cortland resident and vintage snowmobile salesman Terry Walsh said meeting people like Brown and Payne is what makes coming to the vintage snowmobile show worth it for him.

“I call them geniuses,” Walsh said. “They’ll spend four or five years looking at something. We have a lot of clever people here.”

Miller said he is grateful so many people from so many places came to the vintage snowmobile show and that the Living History Center gave him the chance to put on the event.