By Dave "Pappy" Burns
3800 Miles on Snowmobiles
PAPPY BURNS RECALLS THE TRIP BY A HARDY TRIO FROM CROSBY, MINNESOTA, TO ANCHORAGE, ALASKA
Story from Popular Snowmobiling, Winter Edition - 1971
Webmaster's note: The Alaskan journey of 1967 did much to solidly Scorpion's growing reputation for dependability and performance. Orchestrated by Alaskan distributor David "Pappy" Burns and Trail-A-Sled, Inc. management, this dramatic journey received wide media attention and the highly successful end result (3800 miles in just over 20 traveling days) was featured prominently in company marketing literature for the next two years, inspiring the firm's new marketing phrase, "Scorpion ... The Proven Snowmobile." Penned by Pappy himself, the article presented below was published more than two years after the episode's conclusion.
Today is a great day for the three of us. We are packed and ready to leave Crosby, Minnesota, for our long journey over land and snow, destination, Anchorage, Alaska.
There are three men, Mike O'Conner, 23, known as Squeeks; Duane Parks, 22, who we called Fat Man; and I, Dave Burns, the oldest of the group, known as Pappy. All from Alaska. And, three snowmobiles made by Scorpion, Trail-A-Sled, Inc., of Crosby, Minnesota.
At 1:30 in the afternoon, we pulled our Scorpions out of the factory and fired them off. The local Crosby paper was on hand for a few words with us, also some pictures and we were off. Now looking forward to a long, hard trip, as well as a lot of outdoor fun.
Aware of the many things we would encounter in our cross-country trip, such as high winds in North Dakota and Canada, then on into Alaska, cold weather as much as -70 below zero; we were very well equipped and didn't worry about the elements of nature.
Frostbite was our main concern, but with proper care, it wouldn't create any great problems.
We stopped at the edge of Crosby to top out our fuel tanks and shake hands with the many people we had met there. Everyone wished us good luck, then Crosby went out of sight and we were on our way.
The Fat Man was the first one to take the first tumble. This happened just out of town. We certainly had a laugh on him. Squeeks was next. He hit a guard rail on a bridge, rolled his machine completely over, but didn't do any damage, just a few scratches. Fat Man and Squeeks were constantly playing with the machines and, as a result, they took quite a number of good spills. Pappy's Scorpion was a larger model with 18" tracks. It seemed a lot more stable than the other two. At least, he hadn't been upside down yet.
Our first night out, we stayed in Wadena, Minnesota. We had good snow to run on, going was great.
As we pulled out the next morning, the sun was out and it was a warm 18 degrees above. The trip was looking great.
We had ridden for about an hour when trouble started. Squeeks had broken a main clutch shaft, and we had no tools. Our plans had been to pick up small ones, but it had been neglected. There was only one thing left for us now, and that was to tow it with the tow line that we had. Pappy dropped in first to tow Squeeks to a shop, but the machine started to overheat so we all lined up together and away we went.
After about ten miles of this pulling, we found a garage that would let us in to fix the clutch. It would take quite a quite a while to pull the cowling, so we decided to make a fast repair. We cut a hole in the side of the machine and in a few minutes, we had made all repairs.
We traveled for several hours with no trouble, except that the snow was slowly turning to ice, and some drifts were beginning to show. Late that evening, we found ourselves well into the Dakotas.
The snow had gotten less and less, except for the many hard frozen drifts that seemed to be getting bigger and harder as we progressed across North Dakota.
We traveled well into the night, bouncing and jumping from one drift to the other. Our Scorpions were really taking a tremendous beating. Even the drifts of snow and ice now are turning into hard frozen dirt, sand and snow.
We had to slow down, and take it very easy. It was dark and the hard drifts were getting bigger and harder as time went on. At night it is pretty tricky riding. We would crawl up one drift and fall into the next one, never knowing what lingered in the darkness.
Our next problem was well on its way. The famous North Dakota windstorm. It had, started -too low. Dirt, straw, and milk boxes came flying through the air. What little snow was left would scratch across our faces. It was a miserable night. At last we reached Tower, North Dakota, a truck stop. We then got bunks and gave up for the night. That day had certainly taken its toll of both man and machine.
We awoke in the morning somewhat sore, stiff and still tired but we had to move on. Our machines were in need of some minor repairs after the night's ordeal, so we worked on them before we left Tower that day.
Just before we arrived in Carrington, North Dakota, we were running along the roadside coming up to a little country store and service station. I had noticed several people standing outside. As we were coming, I spotted one of the fellows waving a jug at us. We stopped and had a small drink of Peppermint Schnapps. North Dakota people as a whole, are very friendly people.
| It had started to blow. Dirt, straw, and milk boxes came flying through the air. |
Late in the evening, we were in Carrington. Quite a few people came out to welcome us into their town. Curt Peterson and family made their home a home for us. Many of their friends came over that night to talk to us. The town took care of our machines, they welded up our wear runners, fixed up any damage to the sleds and stored them in a warm building for us. We felt that Carrington has some of the finest people we could ever hope to meet. Also the law enforcement agencies helped in every way they could, both city and state.
At our stay in Carrington, the Petersons' fixed us a meal of venison charcoal broiled steaks, and I must say that they were delicious.
Mrs. Peterson woke us early in the morning. The temperature was 2° below. She had breakfast ready and we were off again headed for Velva.
Wind was headed high again that day, and with the temperature at -2°, we had our first good taste of the cold. But our suits, furnished by the Scorpion factory, kept us very warm in spite of the wind and cold.
Both Squeeks and Fat Man had spilled their machines several times by now. I felt that they were fast waiting for my turn to come, which I knew would come sooner or later. That was the day, too. Pappy took a good one, and Squeeks and Fat Man really rub bed it in.
We rode all day and well into the night again, finding less and less snow all the time. For several miles we drove on hard frozen plowed fields, grass strips and wheat stubbles.
I had begun to wonder how they held together at all ... snow travelers were never built for this type of abuse. Any snow that we found was drifts, and frozen into almost solid ice.
Late in the night, we rolled into Velva, North Dakota. Pappy had started having trouble with his clutch and drive belt. After a good look at the machine, we decided we would have to put a grease fitting on our front clutch shaft. The constant running and heat was drying up the lubricant in the clutch, therefore causing it to stick and tear up the belts.
The next day, with the temperature 0°, we decided to ride into Minot, North Dakota, and have the shafts drilled and the grease fittings installed. We pulled the Scorpions into Northern Machine in Minot. We found these people to' be very cooperative with us. By late afternoon, we were ready to roll again.
We stayed in Minot that night; next morning we headed out again. Poor Fat Man upset his machine before he got out of the city limits. The temperature was + 10°.
Minot to Portal was a very bad trip for snow. We traveled again for miles on dirt and sometimes straw or grass, if we were lucky. Our clutches were working perfect now; the fittings were certainly the answer. We were now faced with a new problem. The temperature started to rise. Our engines were over heating. I would guess the temperature must have rose in the heat of the day to 40 or 50 above. The frozen ground was getting muddy now, water every place. We found the snow machines didn't take too well to water either. Our clutches were very wet and muddy, the Scorpions looked more like a mud dog than a snow traveler. Squeeks had many problems with his gear. He just couldn't keep it on his sled. Fat Man got a hole in his duffel bag and lost our spare parts. We rode back and found most of what he lost. It was scattered for several miles along the trail.
After we finally got Squeek's gear firmly tied, and Fat Man's parts picked up, we headed for the Canadian border. Late in the evening we pulled in and I believe the whole town was out to welcome us in. We were taken to a local tavern, where we spent an enjoyable evening. The hotel manager in Portal wanted us to bring our Scorpions into the lobby but of course we didn't, but thanked the man anyway.
We pulled out in the morning headed across into Canada, Province of Saskatchewan, temperature +18°. Both U.S. and Canadian customs took the whole thing with a laugh and sent us on our way. I had expected some trouble at customs, but none at all.
We rolled on into Saskatchewan looking and praying for snow. Squeeks and Fat Man both took their daily spill again; sometimes I wondered who was riding who. The boys on the machines, or the machines on the boys. They have quit playing now, so the spills are not so plentiful. But spills, mud, lack of snow and all, we have had a ball.
As we were pulling into Estivan, we were met by Nick Morsky, City Alderman, Nick says, "Boys, dinner is on the town." Mr. Morsky took us to the Derick Motor Hotel. We were treated very well there, we ate a good dinner and were on the trail again.
Squeeks and Fat Man both took their daily spill again; sometimes I wondered who was riding who.
We didn't get too far til I lost a clutch finger. We pulled and replaced it in just a few minutes, then off again. Fat Man started having trouble next. We pulled into a station to check his machine and found he had bent the frame in four places where the roller hooks up. He had also broken the roller carrier and torn up his track assembly somewhat. The Scorpions had started to show the 10. million bumps and jolts they had taken. I found some scrap iron behind the station which t used to strengthen the frame, ,and built up his broken track roller assembly. In a couple of hours, we were ready to roll again.
While I was working on the machine, someone dumped my camera in an old oil bucket. What a mess that was! But. we cleaned it up and then wished that I had just bought a new one. But, this one had to work. We then rolled on into Weyburn, Sasketchewan and put up for the night.
Snow conditions are still about the same. It looks like another bad day ahead, and very little snow. Weather Bureau has storm and wind warnings out. We ignored them and set out for Regina. At one point, a fellow flagged us over to the highway and informed us we should take cover that the windstorm was going to be a bad one. We thanked him and went on. Several times in the next few hours I wished I had listened to him. The wind came up to quite a force. There was lots of debris blowing around, some snow and dirt mixed was fanning the air. Even our goggles would fill up inside with the sandy dirt and snow. We got into quite a' mess by the time we finally took shelter in Regina.
The wind continued to blow and warmed up into a regular Chinook. What little snow we had was disappearing now. It looked pretty dim for sledding. We inquired around Regina and were advised that the route we were taking had hardly any snow and what was there, was hard packed drifts. It looked like we were in for more rough going ahead, if we continued on.
One of the Mounties I talked with, strongly advised that we sacrifice that part of the trip across the prairie and ship our machines west ti1 we were out of the wind belt and found better and more snow for the machines.
Totaling everything up with what was ahead, and what our Scorpions had already been through, we decided to load them, much against our good wishes. As we headed west, we found what the Mounty had told us was very good advice. For several miles we were out of, the snow. As we rolled across, the prairie, snow conditions began to slowly improve. We were getting into loose snow and less drifting. It sure felt great at last to fire off on our Scorpions with good soft loose snow to drive on.
We had very little good snow from the time we left Crosby so that we felt like kings on this. We had ridden over 600 miles of hard drifted snow, mud, grass, and wheat stubble fields. We had welded up our wear runners quite a few times, but all totaled, our troubles were very few.
At one point along our way we decided to weigh one of the machines - rider and his equipment - and the total was 640 lbs. Not only were our machines abused, but they were carrying twice their load capacity.
Mile 0 of the Alcan Highway is at Dawson Creek, British Columbia. When we arrived, another major problem arose. Snow machines were not allowed on any right-of-way, or even to cross side roads. We were then told by the' Royal Mounted Police not to move our machines. We were informed that if we. did attempt to move them, it would cause much trouble.
We were then told by the Royal Mounted Police not to move our machines.
After spending several unsuccessful days in Dawson, I contacted Dan Leach, Dawson Chamber of Commerce. By the following day he' had obtained a clearance for us to proceed north on the Alcan Highway. We left the following morning.
Snow was falling gently. Fat Man exclaimed, "It's a great day for snow sledding," As we pulled out of Dawson, we were sure that the trip north would bring us much better snow and easier riding for both man and machine, we hoped.
Duane was the first to get stuck in the snow. He had run off a bank into a wash and couldn't get out. Squeeks finally had to help.
First day out was great fun in the snow, and more following. We spent the night, 101 miles out of Dawson.
We started out again in the morning still warm and a light snow was falling. Perfect snow conditions. We all took the daily spill Fat Man flipped his end over end.
It seemed like everyone along, the highway was expecting us now. Everyone knew we had finally started up the Alcan Highway. I will stop at this point to describe the Alcan, what it is, and where it goes.
From Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks is 1500 miles. There are no connecting roads or other ways to travel. This highway, if you can call it that, still has over 1300 miles of dirt surface. The highway crosses over many miles of muskeg swamps and tundra. It is the only highway linking Alaska to the Yukon Territory and then on to the States. When you leave Dawson Creek headed north, there is only one way to go and that is the Alcan.
There are a couple of small towns on the highway, but for the most part, there are only a few truck stops and a few motor motels which for the most part, close for the winter months. There are places on the Alcan where for over 100 miles there is nothing but empty buildings and snow. No lodges, houses, just muskeg and tundra.
In the summer, it is sometimes so dusty you can hardly see to travel and in the winter, nothing but miles and miles of pure clean snow. Sometimes in the winter the surrounding area will look so white, one cannot see the road you are traveling on. Temperature in the summer will soar to 80 and 90 degrees above while the very opposite will occur in the winter, 70 to 75 degrees below zero. Summing it all up, on the Alaska-Yukon highway the annual temperature variation is 150 degrees or more. There is good fishing in the many lakes on this route as well as many species of wild animals that are commonly seen on the highway.
As we rolled north on our Scorpion snowmobiles, the temperature was dropping very slowly. When we reached Summit Lodge, it was -100,?? below zero. We stayed overnight there and did some minor repairs on the machines consisting mostly on the skis, as they were a constant wear problem.
Next morning we left very early, temperature -23 below zero and falling. The day went very well; we had traveled about 150 miles.
We stopped for gas and food at the upper end of Muncho Lake as our next stop was quite a distance away. After food and fuel, we headed north again for Laird River which held quite a history in the Klondike Gold Rush Days. The temperature had fallen quite a bit by now. We left Laird River at a cool -35 below zero. At this point, face masks became part of the daily uniforms for us. The people at Laird River had told us that we would hit colder weather soon and how well they knew. Not far from there, I noticed my shoes were starting to freeze to the frame of the machine . Our fingers started to get cold on the handle bars. A number of times we had to stop and walk around to get the circulation back. We would ride with one hand on the exhaust and the other operating the sled, but even then, our hands would get very cold.
| We traveled most of the night in temperatures 50 to 55 below zero. |
After our day's travel, we came to one of our planned stops and found that it was closed for the winter. We now faced another problem ... it would soon be getting dark and the sleds were almost out of gas, plus the fact that we were getting, once again, hungry. The next stop would be about 100 miles away so I asked the boys what we should do. However, good fortune was with us and a fellow trapper came by and told us to follow him and he would give us gas.
After that we were on our way again. We traveled most of the night in temperatures 50 to 55 below zero. 111 fate was starting on us again. First, Squeeks broke a drive chain on his machine. It locked up the sprocket in the bottom of the case. We tried every way we could to get it loose, but in vain. It was wedged solid. We couldn't even tow him. Finally a grader came by. We tied his sled on behind the grader with only the skis touching the snow. Squeeks crawled in with the grader man and away they went to Lower Post, last road house in B.C. on the Yukon Border.
Next was Fat Man. He broke a clutch so we also caught a ride in a pickup truck for him and his machine. At this point I was left alone, hungry and cold, but still able to operate. I made out the best I could. If I got in trouble, I assured the boys I would make out OK, and away they went. It was a long cold ride alone, but I finally rode into Lower Post where the boys and sleds were waiting for me. I believe the hot coffee I drank there was the best I ever tasted. Then came the breakfast of ham and eggs. That sure made me feel better. We were not able to complete our repairs on the two machines in Lower Post so we caught a hay ride to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. This is sure a modern version of a snowmobile hayride. At Watson, we made the repairs needed and set out again. The weather had warmed up by now. Our coldest ride was from Laird north. The track frames and belt assembly would get very hard, then we would stop for a few minutes to warm our hands.
We knew from experience that repairs in Yukon were a rough situation so, again, all that was left to do was weld and repair. So we went to work on the sleds making patchwork repair. The following day we were ready to bid farewell to Whitehorse, as our sleds headed north again. I had sent word to my wife to meet us in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, and bring us a few things we were in desperate need of by now.
We traveled all that day and by night we had arrived in Haines. It was a good run from Whitehorse, warm and lots of good snow.
We put up for the night at Haines Junction. While at the cafe that night, a fellow walked in. I noticed he really looked us over, then walked over to the waitress and said something ... then left. After a while, the waitress came over to our table and told us the man had exclaimed to her that these fellows on the snow sleds looked quite sane. I guess everyone has a right to their own opinion on something like that, and obviously he did.
The following day both Squeeks' and my wife drove into Haines. We were certainly glad to see them and at long last, could fix our machines, instead of patch and weld. The girls had brought us parts.
The fellow that owns the Standard Station said to bring them in, the shop was ours. In just a few hours our sleds were like new again, and away we went, thanking the fellows at Haines. Kleuwannie Lake Summit
We traveled all day, no problems. Our sleds were performing great again. At Kleuwannie Lake we left the Alcan and crossed the mighty lake, the biggest in the north, on the ice, and it sure was great. There was just enough snow to cushion the sleds. We finally came back on the highway at Destruction Bay Lodge. We had cut about 35 miles off the trip.
After leaving there, we headed over the highest mountain pass between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. We thought it to be some of the prettiest scenery on the trip.
Late that evening we had cleared Canada customs at Snag Creek, Yukon and stopped at Ida's Cafe and Motel for the night.
Early next morning, we were headed for the Alaska border and the last leg of our journey home. Temperature was a warm 18 below that day, lots of good dry snow and our sleds were working great. We traveled about 150 miles that day.
We pulled into 40 Mile Road House that night, ate supper and gave it up for the day. Next morning I welded up our skis again, for the last time. I felt certain we could make Anchorage, with no more welding. We had made the trip from Crosby with the same skis that came with the machine. I welded and built up the wear runners almost every day, but as I stated before, they finally wore so thin that I had to weld old car springs on them to keep going. At this point, note the telephone lines, we are getting back to civilization again.
Next morning we pulled into Tok, Alaska, which is U.S. customs, signed back into Alaska, and headed our machines for Anchorage and home.
As we drew closer to Anchorage, we ran into our old problems. Again, there wasn't any snow, it had all melted away. The girls had brought us some wheel kits so we stopped 70 miles from Anchorage and put them on. We had to drill holes in our skis to mount the wheels as we had come all the way from the factory without them. Once our skis were drilled and the wheel kits installed; we were headed for home. But, what's this? Anchorage police met us, and escorted us through the city. Arrived February 24.
Temperature was a warm 18 below that day.
We then headed for my shop on the outskirts of town. We were greeted there by many of our friends and there was a welcome home party awaiting us, and a cake also. I sure thought that the girls had done a beautiful job on it, even to the Scorpion design and the map of Minnesota and Alaska.
To sum all this up, we had a great trip. Some hardships, of course, but I would say, considering the miles we rode, the terrain we crossed, Dakota mud, and stubble, our Scorpions had done a wonderful job.