The story of snowmobiles has been long and varied. In the early part of the 20th century there were at least 13 different snow vehicles patented. One of the earliest was by Carl Eliason in Wisconsin.
Eliason ran the general store in Saynor, Wisconsin, but had much bigger dreams. He loved to hunt and fish, but a bad foot made it difficult for him to get out in the snow. In his spare time he designed and built by hand a vehicle that could travel over the snow, using wood, skis, and parts from a Model T Ford and bicycles.
In 1924, at the age of 24, Eliason took his snow machine out for a test drive. It worked so well that, at the urging of his friends, he applied for a patent, which was issued in 1927. For the next 15 years he custom made these motor toboggans, never making any two quite the same in his quest to perfect his invention.
The Motor Toboggan was mostly marketed and sold to hunters, fishermen, and trappers. He built models using both two and four cylinder motorcycle engines. One of the larger models, called the “Frigid Flyer,” could carry 4 plus passengers, and was said to travel up to 70 miles per hour.
By 1940, the Motor Toboggan was known around the world, and Finland proposed a purchase of 200 machines. After careful consideration, Eliason made an agreement with Four Wheel Drive Auto Company to begin mass production. The Finland proposal fell through, but the US government purchased 150 all white Motor Toboggans for military use in Alaska.
From 1941 to 1945 there were 4 different models produced at the FWD factory in Wisconsin, many of which were sold to the military. At one point a group of Russians visited the plant and took the Motor Toboggan out for a test drive, spraying imaginary machine gun bullets along the river banks.
In 1947 production was moved to a FWD plant in Canada. Here the revolutionary model K was developed, putting the engine in the rear and adding an improved steering system. The various K models stuck around until 1963, when sales had fallen and all parts and rights were sold. Eliason passed away in 1965.
For 39 years Eliason and FWD were the lifeline of snowmobiling. Much is owed to them for the development of the sport we have today. Even the early 1924 snow machine is an obvious predecessor to the high quality, high performance sleds around today. It's been said that Carl Eliason made the first tracks in the snow trails we still ride today.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014 3:05:29 PM America/Denver
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