My Grandfather: The Golden Age of Snowmobiling (John Ruffo)
Published on October 19, 2015 in News & Updates, Vintage
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In 1969 my grandfather Paul Bogos, or Slim, as he was known, along with his best friend George, tried snowmobiling for the first time. It started with a ride on a new sled that belonged to a local farmer. After a lap around the field, banging off snow banks and snowdrifts, they knew then and there that a sled had to be in their garage. For my Grandfather, it was the Golden Age of Snowmobiling.

After a year of saving, it was decision-making time. They wondered which sled to buy? Many came to mind, as there were over 300 different snowmobiles available. Would it be an Arctic Cat, AMF-Ski Daddler, Moto-Ski, Scorpion or Polaris? Those were all popular in the area. Smith Sled Shop had a pair of sisters, two 1971 Ski-Doo Olympiques on the showroom floor, but not for long!

72 Ski-Doo TNT 340.

In 1969 my grandfather Paul Bogos knew that a sled had to be in his garage.

No sooner than Slim and George got them home, they were blazing trails all over Wyben and Montgomery. The next day the trails to Tekoa Mountain were widened-up, along with a trail to a friend’s house. Soon there were trails all over the neighborhood and surrounding towns, leading to different homes and restaurants.

The “Oly” was well used that first year, especially since the whole family took turns riding. Slim decided to buy a sporty new ’72 Ski-Doo TNT 340 the following season. He became good friends with Jimmy and Penny, owners of Smith’s Sled Shop in Huntington. After some cylinder porting and tuning there was a new hot machine in the garage, ready for action.

Vintage ski-doo snowmobiles

One day on a routine trip down Tekoa Mountain my grandpa got some unexpected action. Cruising at about 35mph he crossed paths with a huge bear in the middle of the trail with no intentions of moving! Thanks to his quick reflexes, and the narrow but swift TNT chassis, he was able to go into a controlled skid off the trail and avoid an un-bear-able collision.

You would think things couldn’t get worse, but they did. The off-trail excursion was jarring and soon after the weld on the handlebars broke, and with it went the steering. Luckily in his toolbox was a handy set of Vise Grips which held everything together long enough to limp home.

After another hard week at work he welded the handlebars back and braced them for good measure. That weekend the two friends took their sleds up the mountain to check out an old Revolutionary War spy bunker. Afterwards they decided to head down to the Purple Onion to get a bite to eat. While inside Slim got a weird feeling about the sleds parked outside, so he bundled-up and ventured out. A snowmobiler’s worst fear became a reality. The TNT was gone! His friend George, a detective at the time, called his son and directed him to come in from the other end of the trail, hoping to trap the thief on the stolen sled.

My Grandfather: The Golden Age of Snowmobiling

With his son on the way and the sun fading, they spotted a rider on a sled without lights. Back in the day, if the lights weren’t on it was more than likely stolen, due to tampering with the ignition system. They followed the tracks back to the culprit’s home but found nothing. The next day George discovered that the sled thief was arrested, but sadly the TNT was gone forever. After a summer of being bummed-out, Slim bought a used TNT from a buddy, just like the stolen one.

As winter approached he got a call from someone at the registry, they asked if he could do some welding on their broken Raider snowmobile. He fixed it and gave it a good overall servicing too. They rewarded him with a special registration number, SM1PB. With the special registration and “new” sled, he was ready for old man winter!

Another friend had just taken delivery of a brand new 1973 TNT 292 twin, with dual carbs. They were eager to race and upon heard reports of snow in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, they headed north. Skunk Stripe vs. Silver Bullet, fan-to-fan, man-to-man, that old 340 took the win by a sled length! He soon forgot about the stolen sled.

After years of fun trips to Vermont and Old Forge, New York, he decided it was time to give the ’72 a little rest, so in 1977 he bought a used ’74 TNT 440. He found some minor flaws in the sled and didn’t care for the riding style of the short-track either. It was prone to fishtailing and spinouts, and that 440 engine sucked up gas like nobody’s business, which wasn’t good for long trips.

That winter he was riding with a group, one of the guys was new to the sport. About halfway through the week the greenhorn’s sled was acting up. The clutch loosened just a couple miles from the cabin, a common problem for that machine. My grandfather sacrificed his riding time and fixed the guy’s sled the next day. After the weekend was over and they were loading up, the newbie walked up to my grandfather and said, “I don’t care much for it, if you want it you can have her.” So that day he hauled double with a cherry 1973 TNT 340 free air in the bed!

When he got home he took it for a ride and fell in love. It was extremely fast, responsive, and better on gas. Later that day he unloaded his ’74 Ski-Doo. He’d have to wait until next winter to really put the 340 to the test.

1971 Ski-Doo Olympique

The following year they ventured to the far end of a Vermont lake to watch some racing. A short time after they left a snow squall moved in. They decide to press-on rather than risk being stranded. Concerned about losing their way on the lake, and thin ice, they decided to hold the throttles open, praying to make it across, but old man winter took a turn for the worst, a total whiteout struck the lake. Visibility was at a low, but fortunately one of the guys left earlier and they were able to follow his tracks. The free air never let him down.

Years went by, the winters weren’t as snowy, the golden age of snowmobiling faded away too. Many people stopped riding but not my grandfather. His loyalty was to Ski-Doo, and he had to have the new 1984 SS25, their 25th anniversary sled. It featured a liquid-cooled 462cc rotary valve Rotax twin with oil injection and a improved rear suspension.

That was the last new sled he bought. My grandfather watched as hundreds of brands dwindled to just four, Yamaha, Skidoo, Polaris and Arctic Cat. After years of great riding his health began to fade as well, and he retired from snowmobiling in 1992.

Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper he had taken me for laps around the house. He realized that I enjoyed snowmobiling as much as he did, and decided to get his old girls running again. We started with the SS25, getting the seat reupholstered. He then taught me how to do a thorough tune-up, not just changing spark plugs. He taught me how to clean the carbs, change the gear oil, the whole bit. Soon after we worked on his free air, which needed a new seat and fuel lines. A few squirts of gas and she fired up, but one carb wasn’t sucking fuel. A new diaphragm kit, along with a good polishing, and she was ready to go!

Then came the news that his buddy Bob still had my grandfather’s ’72 TNT and wanted to know if we wanted it back. I was 14 years old and excited, but had doubts he wanted it. Later on I heard rumors that someone else was going to buy it. The following week after school I stopped by my grandfather’s to help with chores. He told me to go out to the barn and get a hammer. When I opened the door there was the beautiful ’72 TNT, all shined up, sitting right in front of me! As I walked back to the house I tried not to laugh or smile, and just bring him the hammer. He said, “Well she’s clean. I’m picking up fuel line and premix oil tomorrow.”

The next day we took the hood off, cleaned the tank, and put it back together. With fresh 93 octane pumping through her veins, she came back to life for the first time since 1997.

vintage-Yamaha-Skidoo-Polaris-Arctic-Cat

Our last project was a custom sled. We wanted to build something unique, something no one else would be riding. We searched several swap meets and just could not find the right sled. Finally, at the BGL swap meet, we found a 1973 Mercury Max 440. It was all there, it was cheap, but it was rough.

We started work immediately, painting the steering parts and skis. That was the easy part, deciding what color to paint the hood was another story. It had to stand out but still hold a vintage cross-country racer look. One day the Dukes of Hazard was on the tube and we thought, why not bright orange? It stands out but still has that 70’s look. A quick run to Westfield Auto and some time at Smith Vocational and the hood was painted.

Next was the powertrain. It had to be a sleeper, with an engine that no one would recognize as being out of place, it had to look pedestrian. We felt it would be sacrilegious to throw something other than a fanner in there. Then it hit us. It would be most appropriate for a Yamaha EX 440 engine, with swapped-out jugs from a 485cc Phazer for a little more oomph. The plan is to install a nice pipe with a respectable can for trail use and have it ready to go in 2016.

Even after he stopped riding, my grandfather was a diehard enthusiast to the end, at 84. He passed away this spring, and I do miss him, but the memories and the snowmobile legacy he left will live on forever. He was an authentic leaf spring banger! Be bold, ride old!

John Ruffo is a members of the Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts and active of the Massachusetts Vintage Snowmobile Club


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