Snow Boating

"The Winter Sport Of The Future".

From the Indian Motorcycle News January 1945 issue.

Written by "Cyclon"

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Not long ago a Newsreel was released showing maneuvers of the Mountain Troops of the U.S. Army at Camp McCoy, Mt. Rainier, Washington. If you happened to see this film, I know you haven't forgotten it; it had me sitting on the edge of the seat staring with amazement. Then I felt like shooting the guy who took the pictures for not keeping the camera running a little longer! In the film several of the Mountain Troop's Eliason Motor Toboggans were being shown off for the benefit of the cameraman. And what a show! I could scarcely believe what I saw. The mere sight of these machines performing over slopes and ravines in the deep snow is enough to delight any motorcyclist, or, for that matter, any red-blooded sportsman.

Perhaps some who got a good close-up view of these shots might have caught sight of something rather familiar about the Toboggans - especially if they had seen last month's INDIAN NEWS cover. On the forward deck of each toboggan was a very familiar object: none other than the INDIAN 45 cu. inch motor, complete with primary-drive and the transmission, just have you have seen it in any late-model INDIAN SPORT SCOUT. I believe anyone who has seen an Eliason Motor Toboggan in action - on the screen, or otherwise - will have to admit that the little Scout motor really does a big job. Since I saw the Newsreel, I have had a few cracks at the tiller of a motor toboggan. Maybe you would like to have a little inside dope first-hand!

At first glance the motor toboggan is quite an intricate looking contraption; however, the more you look at it, the simpler and more ingenious it becomes. It was originally patented by Carl Eliason, and has been developed and put on the market by the Four-Wheel Drive Auto Company, in Clintonville, Wisconsin. It is built on a light, flexible, wooden toboggan, and has a bench-like seat extending lengthwise, which the passengers straddle "motorcycle fashion". The gas tank is at the forward end of this seat, between the driver's knees, and somewhat resembles a motorcycle tank. The engine is forward, close to the upturn of the big, wooden, ski-like toboggan. The whole thing is rather long and narrow: length, twelve feet; width, 31 inches.

You are probably wondering already how the sled gets its driving traction to move along in the snow. This is indeed the most ingenious part of the sled, the part of the Eliason patent which makes the sled so successful. The drive is transmitted through an endless traction belt built on two sprocket chains running side by side about a foot apart. The two chains are bridged across at intervals by lengths of angle-iron to form an endless rope-ladder affair which might be compared to a set of giant skid-chains with rigid bars instead of cross-chains. Then, to make a complete traction belt, a strip of canvas belting material is stretched between the chains from one angle-iron "rung" to the next the whole way around. The chains are then placed on side-by-side sprockets, four in all, with centers about five feet apart, held in alignment and at the proper distance by a rigid frame made of steel tubing. This power traction unit protrudes for its full length through the bottom of the toboggan, running lengthwise beneath the seat between the feet of the riders. It is driven at the front-end by a smaller sprocket and a chain from the motorcycle engine transmission drive sprocket.

But we have not covered the most important point in the story; far from it. The real secret behind the success of the Eliason design lies in the floating action of the traction belt, which gives the belt freedom to rise up over bumps, or to sink into gullies, or even down deep into soft snow independent of the toboggan itself. Not only has the tread freedom to move up and down in its slot in the toboggan bottom, but it can also be forced downward by a large coil spring, the tension of which may be set by a hand lever resembling a car emergency brake lever. The free-floating action of the traction unit is made possible through the use of a pair of links, or radius rods, which are free to pivot at both ends and join the centers of the transmission drive sprocket and the front traction-belt sprocket. Hence, as the traction unit moves up and down, these pivoted links maintain a uniform distance between drive sprocket centers.

The floating traction belt principle is essential for two reasons. First of all, as we have hinted, traction must be held under varying conditions: in deep, soft snow; over rough terrain, and on glassy ice. In soft snow the tread sinks down deep in the rear when full spring-tension is applied by the operator; hence the tread still maintains traction. On smooth ice the tread rides high in a level position even with the bottom of the sled.

The second function of the floating traction belt unit is to keep the sled from sliding side-ways when cutting across hills, or on fast turns. If you have ever pushed off over the top of a terrific hill on a small coasting toboggan in packed snow, you will no doubt have found out what I am talking about. The odds are ten to one you reached the bottom going sideways or backwards; anything but frontwards - that is, if you reached the bottom at all! To keep the motor toboggan from doing such tricks, the lowered tread acts very much like a centerboard, or a keel, on a small sailboat. This stabilizing action of the traction unit is a vital factor in the operation of the sled.

The snow-sled is very simple to operate; any motorist will find the controls almost second nature. The sled is steered by a tiller-like handlebar which comes up from the right side, and bends horizontally across in front of the driver. To guide the sled, the operator merely moves the tiller toward, or away from himself. The movement of the tiller is transmitted by means of push-rods and links to a pair of steel steering fins which can turn from one side to the other like the front wheel steering action of a car. These are located under the upturn at the forward end of the toboggan. This simple steering device is easy and natural to operate; the bar is equipped with a regular INDIAN twist-grip, which provides the throttle control.

The gear-shift is on the right side of the driver's seat, and operates like the INDIAN type shift, with first gear all the way back. The spring type clutch pedal is operated by the left foot. No brakes are needed; as the braking effect of the engine, together with the friction of the traction belt and the sled itself against the snow, quickly slows the toboggan as the throttle is closed. The engine is started by a kick-starter. As you can readily see, then, operation of the motor toboggan is simple indeed.

I don't think I shall ever forget the reaction I had on my first ride on a motor toboggan. At first I was horrified; my pilot really undertook to give me a thrill. He did, too. He took off in a cloud of snow, then headed right for some rough ground, snow-covered ditches and gullies. The speed and acceleration of the thing amazed me; I hadn't quite expected it. Then down we went, straight into an impossible patch of terrain; we weren't slowing down, either. I wouldn't have sent a tank across the spot we were headed for. I rather expected us to hit solidly like running into a stone wall. But, to my amazement, we kept right on going. The wooden parts of the sled creaked a little; I could feel the sled bending under me as it twisted and writhed over the snow-covered bumps. It made me think of straddling some sort of a big snake. It is a queer feeling not to have any of the bumping and jouncing we are used to in wheeled vehicles. Instead, the toboggan seems to slither along over the bumps - you never feel them at all. It reminded me of going somewhere in a dream; for dreams never seem to include little details such as bumps in the road.

After I had recovered a little from the shock, I was given a chance at the controls. Then the fun really began. I must admit I had a little trouble getting started the first time; but I soon got the hang of it. The snow was rather sticky; when we stopped for a minute, the snow would stick to the bottom. I started a little violently, and soon found that the traction belt was digging a grave for itself and piling the contents out behind; meanwhile, we were getting nowhere. So we got off the sled and pushed it forward a little to break it loose, and everything was fine - for a while. My next trouble seemed to be that I took so long to get from one gear to the next, that the sled would stop moving, and I would have to start all over. I finally learned how to shift gears quickly, and we were off again in another flurry of snow. I became amazed at how maneuverable the big toboggan really is, I found I could throw it into a turn at 35 or 40 mph. with positive control and very little skidding. When shifted back into the lower gears, steep grades could be climbed with surprising ease. It is quite a feeling to be riding up hill in the snow on a toboggan!

Then we left the fields for the highway. It seems there is nothing in the laws of the state we were in that includes the snow-sled as a vehicle; therefore no license is required. The sled went nicely along in the packed snow. I couldn't help laughing when I found to my amazement that I could pull it right over into the mound left along the sides of the road by the snow plow, up over the top of it and into the ditch; then up, over and back on the road again without even losing speed. It's about the only vehicle I ever saw that would go just as well in the ditch as on the road!

From a distance the speeding sled presents quite an impressive spectacle. It almost looks like a fast boat travelling across the water with all its fuss and trail of powdered snow. Of course the illusion is dispersed when the sled begins to tackle a steep slope. Then it hardly continues to look like a boat! But it certainly looks different from anything I've ever seen, for it appears to have no moving parts, no wheels, no propeller; it just goes. Then when it has been running for awhile, the whole after portion of the toboggan becomes covered with snow until it begins to look like some sort of a fancy float decked in white at the County Fair. As you can imagine, plenty of this snow seems to be coming at you from every direction when you are riding on the sled. Your face gets plenty rosy after awhile. I have seen several pictures of snow sleds with windshields similar to motorcycle windshields. I can well understand why they are used!

I am convinced that as the motor toboggan is further developed, and production again starts after the war we are going to see many more toboggans in use. Many of us have never really experienced life in the back-woods snow country of the midwestern states and Canada in winter. It is hard for us to visualize such a thing as a ten foot snow drift. But such things do exist in the snow-belts; men and communities can be virtually shut off from the rest of the world for long periods during the blizzard seasons. I know my eyes were opened last winter when I had a chance to spend a week of skiing in the Laurentian Mountains in Canada, north of Montreal. In this region it seemed that whole towns moved about on skis, and horse-drawn sleighs were quite common. We saw several "Snow-mobiles", which are queer looking affairs with skis on the front end, and caterpillar-type treads on the rear. Automobiles are rather few and far between there; at times they are out of the question. But it is in regions such as this that the motor toboggan will blossom forth in all its glory. There are many ski resorts throughout this section. I can see great possibilities for the motor toboggan in connection with winter sports centers both in Canada and in the States. Not only could these toboggans be used to transport guests and mail, but they could also be used to bring skiers back to the top of the hill again where no ski-tow was available. For small, isolated resorts or private clubs, these toboggans will find 101 uses.

But then there are many uses for the motor toboggan other than winter sports. Many letters have already come in to the Four-Wheel Drive Auto Co., in Wisconsin, telling of the toboggans already in operation. One letter came from Idaho, telling of a motor toboggan which had been driven 2200 miles on a mail route, over country drifted with snow 4 to 10 feet deep, carrying mail-sacks and express up to 500 lbs. Another man wrote from Bayfield, Wisconsin, telling of his use of the toboggan for commercial fishing over frozen lakes. He tells also of towing two sleds over the ice with loads up to 1800 lbs! Other reports come in telling of the rescuing of snow-bound men in the back-woods country; of a snow-sled rescue party which was able to get nearer to a wrecked plane by snow-sled than by any other means.

A trapper wrote that with his motor toboggan he can easily cover 120 miles in a day; whereas before, he considered it a hard day if he covered 20 miles on snow-shoes. If you have ever covered any ground with snow-shoes, I am sure you will agree with him. Trappers, doctors, ranchers, linesmen, police forces, fish and game commissioners, mail men, fishermen, hunters, and sportsmen - all seem enthusiastic about the motor toboggan. I think perhaps one of the most impressive comments I have heard comes from a man who wrote in the guest-book of Mr. Walter K. Weschler, of Milwaukee, summing up a motor toboggan ride very vividly:

"I am an old man - have travelled far and wide, and thought I had experienced all the thrills of the world until this day when I had my first ride on a motor toboggan skimming over lakes, up and down hills and through the forests at speeds which overtook deer on the run - motor tobogganing is the greatest thrill of all".

Note: Recent production at Indian has included a special lot of engines for the Eliason motor toboggans. These toboggans will be used by linesmen in essential public utility service in the "snow country".

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