Next Issue: February 2018

Print Date: February 7, 2018

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Regardless of which sports activities one identifies with, there those players who stand out above the rest, and in some cases receive many accolades for their feats. There are others sometimes, maybe working behind the scenes, but without whose support, those in the spotlight wouldn’t be held in such high esteem. This may or may not be the norm in every case, but during each winter season, there are plenty of enthusiasts, volunteers for the most part, who should stand out above the rest, but for some reason go unnoticed. They are the members of the grant sponsors organizations responsible for seeing to it that the rest of us have a safe, happy, and enjoyable experience…  They are the groomer drivers!

They are the dedicated few who labor consistently to ensure the snowmobile trails are as smooth and safe as conditions will permit. They are the volunteers who spend countless hours, many times alone and without any other human contact, driving a tractor through the nighttime darkness and pulling a grooming apparatus for reconditioning the snow by compacting and smoothing it across the trail, so that snowmobilers will have the most enjoyable & memorable experience possible when they next take to the trails.

Winter’s Unsung Heroes

On January 19th I made the trip to Ranch Rudolf. Ranch Rudolf is a resort just outside of Traverse City, but is just far enough away that you feel like you are in a different world.

Ranch Rudolf got its name from a gentleman by the name of Rudolf Paziener, who was the manager and chef of the resort, that catered to hunters and fisherman. In 1950 he was able to buy the resort.

Over the years there have been many different owners. In 1982 Sid & Melody (Mel) Hamill, jumped in with both feet and made the purchases, and then were the proud owners of Ranch Rudolf. Along with their grown kids, LeeAnn and Justin, and the rest of the family. Sid had some experience with a riding stable working with his brother down state on his riding stable. That made the transition from an office worker to running the resort not to bad.

With up to 12 employees, depending on what time of year it is, the ranch is a very clean and up to date place. But don’t expect too many modern amenities, but they do have WiFi. Mel said people come there to relax, not to be tied down to electrical devices and work.

Spotlight On: Ranch Rudolf

As most people know, one of the biggest loves of my life has been kids. I have one of my own, who, despite some issues, I still claim.

Then, as a sportswriter, I get to be around the high school kids from around the EUP, which is just plain fun. Just about any gym I go into in this area, the kids all know me, say hi, and joke around with me. I’m that old guy with the camera that puts them in the newspapers.

Also, I cover a lot of other things, like motocross racing. At which I also meet a lot of kids. Which is kinda the punch line of this story.

At the local motocross races, I met a young lady named Lexis Foster. At the time, she was 12. And winning. That summer, she never lost a Heat in the Novice Women’s Class. And, being a local kid, and winning, I kept putting her in the paper. A friendship developed. For some reason, we have bonded.

A couple years later, and she has become like a grand daughter to me. My own son…probably never gonna produce any kids. So I have kinda adopted her. And, she in turn, has kinda adopted me. Whichever, what ever, it works for both of us.

And, I take her places. Because, as a writer/photographer I get to do some really cool things. Like last summer, one of the magazines I work for asked me to do a piece on a Pirate Ship running out of Mackinaw City. I found that it was a pretty much exact replica, only with a modern engine instead of sails. And tailored for kids. Of course, I took Lexis and her little brother Ryan. They had a blast.

A New Snowmobiler is Born

It never fails that when a group of three or more friends get together for a cup of coffee or a cocktail, depending on the time of day, that any item of conversation can, and almost always will, produce a difference of opinions. So it was just the other day when one of the fellows mentioned that California was now in dire straits about the quality of their drinking water, and how the remnants of the recent rash of wildfires was causing havoc among the thousands of residents of that state.

Didn’t even take a couple of seconds before another at the table suggested that “what goes around – comes around” and they were destined to “reap what they sowed”! Once the brief squabble settled down and all the participants were thinking clearly, or at least outwardly so, it was suggested that we disassemble the reports, take a look at each segment of it, and form an opinion based on the facts alone, and not personal bias. So that’s what we did, sort of, but it was a very difficult task, considering past experiences and stories coming out of that state, which one person quite accurately defined as “the land of fruits & nuts”.

Before everyone starts writing letters and placing phone calls to this magazine to complain about inappropriate reporting, or in an effort to ease their bruised feelings, let me try to explain why this story has merit, give a few reasons for the unsolicited opinions of the group, and maybe even cause those who believe the opinions are in error to rethink their feelings on the subject. Especially if they are motorized recreational enthusiasts!

As humanitarians, we all agreed we could certainly feel for all those folks who lost their homes and all they had worked for throughout their entire lives, but as individuals who feel strongly about the stupid restrictions placed on the governmental officials, and the ridiculous demands of the radical few in order to advance their own agendas, prevented the periodic thinning of the forest lands, the prescribed burns, and even the ability to establish fire-breaks for access into the otherwise almost uninhabitable back-country, was the primary cause for the catastrophic fires that left so many homes in ruin, and so many innocent folks homeless. Ironic as it may seem, those sitting around the table felt very little sympathy overall.

Unsolicited Opinions

2nd Annual "Snowmobile The Might Mac" Held

On Saturday, December 16th, the 2nd Annual Snowmobile the Mighty Mac was held. This is a sanctioned event which is co-sponsored by the Top of The Lake Snowmobile Museum in Naubinway and the St. Ignace Visitor’s Bureau, in which owners of vintage snowmobiles are allowed to cross the Mackinac Bridge. To qualify, the sleds have to be at least 25 years old and have wheel kits on them with wheels that are no less than 2” wide. This is to prevent the wheels from being caught in the grating on the Bridge.

Starting about 10:00 a.m., riders gathered in Mackinaw City, under the south approach to the Bridge. Then, at approximately 11:00 a.m., in a group, they made the crossing. The riders finished at the Welcome Center just north of the Toll Booth. From there, they trailed to a local restaurant for a lunch and Awards ceremony. There was an idea to ride the sleds all the way to the restaurant; however, the State of Michigan DNR were asking a fee of about $400 to use the roads in the State Park. Organizers thought this fee was a bit much. Parks and Rec Land Program Manager Paul Yauk confirmed the approximate fee.

Last year, the event was born when Snowmobile Museum curator Charlie Vallier attended the Tractor Show in St. Ignace. This show included a crossing of the Bridge by the tractors. Vallier related, “I made the comment that we should do this on snowmobiles.” He said that he made this statement at first as just a joke. Then, the idea sounded better and better.

When we got to the cabin the temp was -20 outside and the cabin was maybe 15 inside. We use wood to heat the cabin and it took a very long time to warm up. Which is a under statement. It was cold. About 2-1/2 or 3 hours later the cabin was about 60 degrees and so I thought it was warm enough to turn on the water. Wrong!! We have a small blocked crawl space under the floor of the bath room that is were the hot water heater and pressure tank is located and valves that you open and close to charge the water lines above in the cabin. When I opened the valves nothing happened all the pipes froze instantly, the pipes were still very cold. I placed a space heater in the crawl space and waited. The first thing that thawed was the toilet and water was spraying ever where. I got the water shout off at the supply line, and then found a new fitting to replace the cracked one. At least we would be able to us the toilet for the weekend.

Then one by one all the lines warmed up so we had water in the shower and in kitchen. The bath room sink had cold water but no hot and the kitchen had cold but no hot. Go figure! They both stayed frozen until Sunday morning just in time for us to shout down the cabin and head home.

With all the cold temps of the past 2 weeks and with only about 2 ft. of snow there was not enough insulation up against the cabin. After I piled snow against the cabin it helped a lot to get things going. Ok, enough about that!

On Saturday we got up, got the sleds unloaded, and headed out for a chilly ride. It was about -17 and the first thing I did was get stuck. There was a tree down and I was trying to get around it. No way, but between the two of us, we got it out and around the tree. But now I’m sweating and like I said its -17. Now my sun glass and shield are fogged up. What a way to start a day long trip.


For this column, I have a bit of criteria I use to decide which sleds to pick. First, they have to be rather unique. Next, I like them to have a good story. And I personally pick sleds that just catch my eye, for whatever reason.

This month’s Vintage Sled of The Month is the Swinger. And this sled does all of that. It most definitely stands out. It for sure is unique. And there is a good story. Kinda.

The machine was manufactured in 1971 by Sportscraft Industries, out of St. Paul Minnesota. What was rather unique about this thing is that it was kind of a mini-sled, smaller and lighter than most of the other sleds around at that time.


Then there was the name. It is generally thought that the name came from a play on words. As the “groovy generation” of the 1960’s may recall, “swinging” was part of that “free love” ideology of the time.

As a matter of fact, marketing suggested buying a pair of them. Part of this was also due to the price, which was about $525, which was much lower than other sleds of the period.

However, in the “you get what you pay for” ideology, the sled was also not quite up to industry standard for the time. First, there were some rather unique design flaws, which is what I will call them.

Vintage Sled of the Month-The Swinger

It is with great sadness that I write this. Recently, I got the news that Lyle Shipe, the Owner and Publisher of Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine, had passed away. This was something some of us had seen coming for a while now. We knew that he was getting along in years, his health was failing, and that his time was coming to an end.

However, even so, there was still sadness in my heart and tears in my eyes when his daughter Patti, the current owner and Publisher, of this fine magazine, gave me the news. It was one of those things, where even though I knew it was coming, I knew it was something I was going to have a hard time dealing with.

Because, I have known Lyle for over 20 years now. Way back in the mid-90’s, I was this thirty something guy who went back to college and won a collegiate writing contest. And, following the adage, “Write what you know”, sent a query out of this magazine. Lyle was quick to write back, “Let’s see what you can do.”

I wrote a piece. He liked it and published it. And, asked for more - with one little quirk: I had to know how to take pictures. Magazine quality pictures. Now that was a shocker. In college, I had this vision of heading out into the field, with my trusty picture taker tagging along behind. Nowhere in that vision was I the picture taker.

But, I had an ex-wife or two, a young son, an elderly mother, and a mortgage. Of course, I said, “Yes, I can.” Right away, Lyle figured out I was stretching my resume just a tad. I can remember him saying, “But, do you really know which end of the camera to point at the people?”  Seems my photography talents needed just a bit of fine tuning.

I will always be thankful to him for this, he saw something in me. I saw it, too, but I have this huge ego and sometimes… Well, anyway, Lyle had faith in me and worked with me.

In Memory of An Old Friend