By Melissa Priebe
“Nothing like the smell of burnt chicken and two-stroke smoke.”
From putting engines to the whir of a slick ride, snowmobiles from across the region slid into Waconia over the weekend for the 27th Annual Midwest Vintage Snowmobile Show and Waconia Ride-In. The vintage snowmobile show took place at Lake Waconia Regional Park from Friday, Jan. 27, to Sunday, Jan. 29, turning the lakeshore into a vision in vintage snowmobiles.
The words of wisdom came from none other than Jon Bauer, who was at the show representing the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in St. Germain, Wisconsin. With rosy cheeks and a good-natured smile, he kept the jokes coming, entertaining a group of guys who came out from Wisconsin to share the snowmobile’s legacy.
Bundled up in heavy coats and Ski-Doo hats, they were set up out in front of the Waconia Events Center with a sizeable line-up of Ski-Doo snowmobiles of different styles and models. They used the warmth of each other’s company to fight off the chilly wind, helping to provide a history of the storied motor vehicles.
Bauer explained that antique snowmobile engines have to be fueled in such a way where the gas is combined with oil, giving them the name for two-stroke engines. The unique scent of the smoke combined with a cacophony of roaring engines, as snowmobiles from every decade coursed through the trade show and onto the lake for snowmobile races.
“We try to make it out every year we can,” said Bauer. “This is one of the best shows in the region.”
Organizers expected more than 650 snowmobiles to go on display for the event, and sure enough, they lined the grounds outside of the Waconia Event Center, bumper to ski-lined bumper. The event was well-attended, and unlike last year, the ice held firm for racing along the shore.
Judges gave out awards to owners of the vintage rides for their show quality, with categories including a survivor class for untouched snowmobiles, a custom class for snowmobiles with new paint, new fiberglass, new machines or replicas, and a new class, borrowed from the motorcycle world, to recognize snowmobiles with a combination of functionality, engineering and design to produce an incredible show piece. The decades for both race and vintage classes dated all the way back to 1967, with a class for antiques pre-1967 as well.
In addition to the swap meet and the judging, visitors enjoyed drag races, trail rides and demonstrations. Vendors came out to sell outerwear and brilliant racing helmets, and street fare was served up by local organizations, including the Watertown Lions Club.
Brian Sutton, of The Vintage Sled Shop, brought his family to the show, with adults and kids coming along for the ride. He was parked near the front of the swap meet, with a long line of Sno-Jet snowmobiles on display. Sutton said the highlight of the event is the swap meet, which puts a vast array of vintage snowmobile parts all in one place.
“There’s so many shows in Minnesota that you could do this every weekend,” said Sutton. “The Waconia Ride-In is the largest show in Minnesota.”
Sutton, who came down from Braham, Minnesota, collects snowmobiles for fun, and devotes time to restoring the vintage snow rides as a hobby. For him, the restoration work on an antique vehicle from the 1970s was a labor of love.
“The featured snowmobile this year is the Sno-Jet,” said Sutton, on Saturday. “We restored a 1975 Sno-Jet SST that will be auctioned off tonight. The proceeds from that go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”
The 1975 Sno-Jet was just one of two snowmobiles that were planned to be auctioned off on Saturday evening, during the banquet. The other snowmobile on the live auction was a 1980 Kawasaki Invader 340.
“It’s not just about the snowmobiles,” said Sutton. “This event supports a good cause.”