Dashing Through the Snow

Model T Snowmobile flew over snow-covered roads

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Above: The lever to the right operates a Warford transmission on this rig. Mounted behind the Ford transmission, it gives two more speeds to the snowmobile.

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Snow-covered rural roads were huge obstacles for early automobiles-but one tackled easily by the Model T Ford Snowmobile. Virgil D. White, Ossipee, N.H., patented an attachment converting a Model T into a Snowmobile in 1917; the conversion kit hit the market in 1922.

White's Snowmobile (a name he's credited with creating) consisted of wood-and-metal skis and rear-mounted tracks. The rear axle and driveshaft, rear spring and radius rods were replaced with a 7-to-1 Ford truck worm gear drive line attached to the frame by a pair of cantilevered semi-elliptical springs. Special heavy-duty wheels to fit the TT rear axle were provided along with anti-skip chains.

Roger Pedercini, North Adams, Mass., attended a Snowmobile club winter gathering in 2008 at Lake George, N.Y. "I learned the rear axles were narrowed to provide a 4-foot width on the tires," he says. "In that era, the Model T was in competition with the horse-drawn sleigh. Runners were 4 feet apart, so tires spaced the same could follow in the sleigh tracks."

Because of the extra torque required when changing to the Snowmobile configuration, Roger explains, most drivers opted for the Ruckstell 2-speed axle upgrade, which provided an extra-slow speed.

Used by doctors, delivery men, utilities, fire departments and school districts, the Snowmobile was available in three gauges: 56-inch for areas where automobiles were standard; 44-inch for those using tracks from horse-drawn bobsleds; and 38-inch for use where narrower sleigh tracks were common. In 1926 the kit sold for $395.

The conversion kit was versatile: Owners could replace the skis with wheels for use in mud and sand. "Sandmobile" units were sold for use in South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and the Florida Everglades.

In 1923, White produced about 70 units. By 1925, manufacturing rights were sold to Farm Specialty Mfg. Co., New Holstein, Wis., which began to market its version of the product in 1926. Farm Specialty later bought the patents of the Snowmobile company. From 1924 to 1929, the Snowmobile company manufactured about 3,300 units per year in its plant at West Ossipee and had a branch warehouse at St. Paul, Minn. The Snowmobile company closed in 1929.

For more information: - The Ford Model T Snowmobile Club is a chapter of the Model T Ford Club of America. For membership information, contact Charles Stewart, club treasurer, 315 Settles Hill Rd., Altamont, NY 12009; www.ModelTFordSnowmobile.com.

- Roger Pedercini, 448 Walnut St., North Adams, MA 01247; (413) 664-6020.