The 2008 “Branch 616 Old Sled Run”
Story & Photos by Mike O’Reilly
They say one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Depending on your perspective, it was either a scrap yard or a diamond mine on the trail between Constance Bay, Ontario and Quyon, Quebec early last March.
There’s no doubt the thrill of nostalgia can collide with reality once the now brittle rubber hits the trail.
The noise and vibration of motors practically sitting in your lap; the smell of pre-mix following you everywhere, courtesy of the infamous Tillotson spit-back, and what’s that out of the corner of your eye? Another bogie has come adrift and is now passing you along the Ottawa River ice.
There can be tremendous satisfaction in bringing a piece of our snow country heritage back to life. The unique look, the sound and ride of these old machines rekindle special memories for those present throughout the development of snowmobiling in the 60s and 70s.
Throw a leg over a vintage sled and it becomes clear how far snowmobile engineering has come. At the same time, it’s surprising how well some of these early and crude creations worked.
The interest in vintage as of late has exploded. Many who wouldn’t have looked twice at vintage iron five years ago are now paying attention to the brands and models they grew up with.
The Supertrax Vintage Event Calendar lists swap meets, shows, races and rallies for almost every weekend from September to March - if you want to drive to Minnesota or Maine.
For Canadians though, there are fewer opportunities. Fortunately, Constance Bay, Ontario, on the shores of the Ottawa River just west of Ottawa, is ideally situated to provide a solution.
The Legion in “The Bay” has already hosted an annual snowmobile poker run and the roots of snowmobile enthusiasm in the community run deep. It wasn’t a stretch to add vintage to the mix.
The biggest bonus was the availability of a well-marked trail on the Ottawa, to Quyon, eliminating the need for trail permits on sleds that are only used once or twice a year. Thus, in 2007, the inaugural “Branch 616 Old Sled Run” was born.
Apart from a legal route that does not require a trail permit (a significant deterrent to vintage trail rides most places in the province), the most notable feature of this event is Gavan’s Hotel in Quyon, Quebec.
An old-fashioned beer hall and tavern, Gavan’s harks back to the days when industries like lumber, mining and railroading still fueled the economy - days when the connection to religion and the land of your forefathers was still clearly understood. Life was tough and could be brutal and short - not unlike a ride on a ’71 775 TNT, for instance.
After vibrating and smoking your way up the river ten miles or so from Constance Bay, there’s something weird and wonderful about getting off a mid-60s Olympique or Snow Cruiser and walking into the sensory experience that is Gavan’s. In fact, some of the clientele probably haven’t changed much since those old sleds rolled off the production line.
Last year it was Mike Harvey’s GPX that succumbed to overheating as a result of the slow crawl through the woods to the river. This year Tim Poirier’s SRX picked just about the same spot for its 30-year-old pistons to sign off once and for all.
In scenes that would trigger memories for veterans of early day trail riding, there were hoods up and sleds on their sides at regular intervals along the way. Roy and Jean Teske from Buckingham, QC, out for the first time on their immaculately restored Diablo Rouge made regular stops to tighten up fasteners.
My own ’68 Olympique, as noted in the local newspaper the following week, suffered a broken fuel return line and stumbled to a halt along the Quebec shore.
Mechanical gremlins aside, the looks on the riders’ faces as they arrived back at the Legion said it all.
Dig out that old Skiroule or Sno Prince and join us in Constance Bay in March to relive memories from your long forgotten youth. An extra bogie or two probably wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Visit www.oldsledrun.info for more.
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