One young man's first love was for antique snowmobiles and old machines geared toward the farmer.
Doug Holicky on a 1977 Massey Ferguson 440 Storm snowmobile, flanked by others he showed at the Le Sueur County, Minn., Pioneer Power Show.
Doug Holicky is a young man who likes old things. “I’ve always liked old machines,” he says. “They’re simple and easy to work on, and – for the most part – affordable, if you’re willing to do a lot of the work yourself.”
Doug, who lives in New Prague, Minn., fell in love with Massey Ferguson snowmobiles in his teens after using one owned by his uncle. By the time he was 16, he had one of his own. Now 31, he’s had them ever since. He also collects John Deere, Massey-Harris and Massey Ferguson tractors, along with MF literature, clothes, signs, lawn mowers and farm toys that reflect those bigger tractors. “I’m the kind of guy who gets a 5-gallon bucket of parts and uses them,” he admits, “whether it’s for snowmobiles, garden tractors or tractors.” But Massey Ferguson snowmobiles remain his first love.
Doug’s first Massey Ferguson, a 1971 500 SST, was drug out of an iron pile destined for the scrapyard. “My uncle told me about it,” he recalls, “and said if I wanted to build one, this guy was just scrapping it out and it was heading to the salvage yard.”
Doug went to get the machine on a snowy day and rode it down a hill, powered by nothing more than gravity. “I paid $15 for it,” he says. “The hood was there and the framework and skis. I had to find an engine for it, and put it together out of parts to make it work. I also sewed the seats, which were missing.”
The restored Massey Ferguson made its debut at a snowmobile show in Waconia, Minn. Onlookers gave Doug an enthusiastic reception. “I was 17, and people offered to buy it from me right there,” he says. “That made me feel good.”
Doug later sold that first Massey to another collector, but his cupboard’s not bare. He currently owns 15 MF snowmobiles. Nine are in running condition; the others are waiting in the wings. Not all are candidates for restoration. “I have a couple of nice original machines that I haven’t done much to,” he says. “I might do some cosmetic painting on them, but mostly I won’t paint or polish if they look nice and are mechanically original.”
Those that are candidates for restoration get the full treatment. Doug (who works as an auto mechanic) takes them apart bolt by bolt to make sure they are sound mechanically, have good drive tracks, wheels, engines and suspension. “If they’re sound, then they’re reliable,” he says. “I drive every one of them.”
Last year Doug and his wife, Lori, each drove Massey Ferguson snowmobiles from his collection on a one-day, 120-mile ride as part of a St. Jude’s Hospital fundraiser. “They performed flawlessly, without any trouble,” he says. “You always hear those horror stories about how snowmobiles break down, but the trick to keeping them running is to know your snowmobile inside and out, and it will treat you well and give you a good ride.”
Massey Ferguson began manufacturing snowmobiles in 1968, Doug says, though many people think it was a year later. “When you compare them to other snowmobiles of the era, they don’t come out too great,” Doug explains. “They weren’t racy, they weren’t fast, and you have to remember that back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, snowmobiles weren’t generally made for recreational use, but for going out to feed cows or into the woods for hunting.”
That was especially true of Massey Ferguson snowmobiles. “MF never went big into racing,” Doug says. “They were advertised as work machines and for outdoor fun. They weren’t performance snowmobiles like Scorpions, Ski-Doos and Arctic Cats. The Massey Ferguson snowmobiles were more geared toward the farmer. Snowmobile manufacturing was another branch of Massey Ferguson industries, and they weren’t the top-of-the-line snowmobiles. They were your in-between model, and at Massey Ferguson you could get financing and all sorts of other perks.”
But that doesn’t mean that people don’t like the machines, or even find them useful, as Doug will attest. His rarest Massey came from Michigan. A 1976 440 liquid-cooled 3-cylinder Massey Ferguson Cyclone snowmobile, it is significant because in the mid-1970s Scorpion bought out Brute Industries. Scorpion then produced the Scorpion-Brute in 1975; it is identical to the 1976 Massey Ferguson Cyclone. That was the last of the Brute-style snowmobiles.
“My cousin knew a big Scorpion collector in Wisconsin who had it, but was getting elderly and couldn’t keep the collection up,” Doug says. “I had known about it for a few years, and told a lot of other people about it, that if they wanted it, they should get it, because I couldn’t afford it at the time, so I would have been glad to see someone else get it.” Eventually, the price was set at $600, and Doug bought it. “It was one of the best opportunities I ever had,” he admits. “I’m glad I took it.”
The machine had sideswiped a telephone pole and its left side was wiped out. An earlier owner had launched repairs, as motor mounts had already been welded. Doug took it apart and found that it all looked original. He set it back together but did not paint it. He added a belly pan and skis, a spindle, springs and a new hood. “Just cosmetic stuff, really,” he says. “Mechanically it was okay. The chain case cracked later and I put on a new one. The seat is brand new and nobody ever sat on it until last year. I try to keep it as original as I can.”
The most difficult part of snowmobile restoration is finding parts. “The engine is the most critical and particular, and finding parts for engines is the hardest of all,” he says. “If you’re mechanically inclined, no part of a snowmobile is too hard for you. You want to make sure the engines are stout, putting new seals in them and keeping them up to code, or making sure they’re good and reliable.”
That can be a problem. Getting vintage machines to run well on today’s gas, without detonation, is a challenge. “You have to really detune the engine by raising the port timing so there’s not as much compression, and retard the timing a lot on them. I run good two-cycle oil in them, run the carburetor real rich and know how to tune them from a cold day to a warm day.”
He also tries to get a little lead additive just to keep them going. He says he could run straight modern unleaded fuel in them, but it just doesn’t combust like the old fuel, and it causes problems like vapor lock. “The new fuel is hard on the rubber in carburetors, too,” he says. “I’m just trying to get the fuel back to where it was in the ’70s.”
Doug would like to complete his collection of Massey Ferguson snowmobiles by adding the Formula Models 1, 2 and 3. “I have a 4, and had a 2 that was in real bad shape, but I sold it to a fellow who had one with really bad suspension, so he could make his 100 percent,” he says. “Otherwise, I have them all, at least every model number and those that look the same as the model numbers that I have. Basically I have every body style ever made. If I was to get one of every model, I’d just be expanding numbers.”
It’s all about education. People who see his machines almost always respond in the same way: “I didn’t realize Massey Ferguson made a snowmobile,” they say. They look at the MF Storm and say it’s a Scorpion. Then he has to tell them that it is a Scorpion, because Trail-A-Sled Inc., makers of Scorpion, built snowmobiles for MF from 1976-77.
“So all the MF models from those years are based on Scorpion models,” he says. The 1977 MF Storm is the same as the Scorpion Sting; the MF 1976-77 Whirlwind is equivalent to the Scorpion Whip, except with different headlights; the 1976-77 MF Chinooks are equivalent to the Scorpion Little Whip.
“That’s why, when we get reactions that ‘these are like Scorpions,’ that’s exactly what they are,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons I collect MF, because I grew up with the Scorpion. I like the MF name, and because of all the Scorpions, it makes the parts easier to find. So I have the best of all worlds.”
When it comes to snowmobiles, Doug’s biggest challenge came in getting his 1977 Chinook up to speed. “It started just as an aluminum tunnel. I found original decals, but finding the hood was a huge deal,” he says. “The biggest thing with these plastic hoods is that they’re all cracked, busted, broken all over the place and finding the color red was difficult. I had to buy a whole snowmobile to get that red hood.”
If you’re looking for instant gratification, snowmobile restoration is probably not your best choice of hobbies. “When you look at finding parts, you’re not just going out and buying them,” Doug says. “You’re shopping so you can get the best deal you can. I turned down several opportunities to finish the Chinook because I couldn’t find a good deal. I try to fix these up in a manner that I can afford, so I use all possible methods: Internet, friends who don’t collect MF (fortunately for me) and are looking for parts for me, or just driving around and looking.”
By the time he assembled all the parts, two years had passed, but from that point, it only took a week or two to set it together and get it running. “The biggest thing is finding the parts and having the resources,” he says. “If you had everything laid out and had the time, it’s really not that difficult.”
When parts aren’t available, Doug has been known to make his own or alter others to fit. “You have to figure out a way to make it work,” he says. “The best way is to have a metal lathe and tool shop so you can do a lot of repair, flux welding and the like. If you don’t have the resources, you have to improvise. But that’s OK. It’s kind of like finding seats for the machines. They’re hard to find, but if you listened in high school home economics, you can make a seat. And windshields are hard to find. But you can make one by tracing what you need, like you used to trace your hand as a kid. It’s not any different for a windshield. Maybe making some of these things isn’t original, but it is cost-effective.”
Tracks can usually be improvised. “Tracks were, for the most part, one-size-fits-all. The tracks from John Deere 400, 500 and 600 snowmobiles have the same dimension as those for the Massey Ferguson snowmobiles,” he says. “All you have to do is change the drive socket pitch because it was a little different, but the tracks will fit. Little things like that. The tracks roll around and make a JD imprint in the snow instead of MF, but that’s fine.” In the 1960s and ’70s, he notes, snowmobile companies bought parts from the same places.
For Doug, the hardest part of collecting snowmobiles is taking them to shows. “I pretty much do it all by myself, and that is probably the thing I hate the most,” he says. “I love the reactions from people, and letting people see them, but the downfall is moving them around. They don’t move around easily. They move easier in winter than some, but handling them is a lot of work.” But that doesn’t deter him. “At shows I say that Massey Ferguson made snowmobiles, and here they are.” FC
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information: Doug Holicky, (612) 636-6810 (cell); (952) 758-5125; email: email@example.com.