There’s stuck and there’s stuck.

February 13, 2011

A few years ago Tom and Kate came up for a mid-February expedition to their beloved cottage, ostensibly to see if the roof was all right after the heavy snowfalls, but really because they were homesick for Scott Island.

We unloaded the snowmobiles near the Isthmus, drove them down the road to the ferry landing, then ducked out onto Clear Lake over a snowmobile trail which avoided the questionable ice near the current.  All went well until we hit the deep snow of the Island.  On eBay Tom had bought a new drive pulley for his pristine 1970 Skeeter, but he had expressed some worry about the rust on the polished steel where it met the belt.  I had assured him it would soon wear smooth with use.  What did I know, eh?

The first deep snowdrift left Tom and Kate straddling a smoking, roaring snowmobile which clearly wasn’t going anywhere.  A look under the hood showed a lot of fragments of belt, and big holes worn in the sides from the rusty drive pulley.  O.K., I guess they don’t polish themselves.

Determined to carry on, we left Bet and Kate with the crippled Skeeter and pressed on with the Alpine.  The biggest Skidoo is a brutal machine to control, but its one saving grace is that it can plough through deep snow.  It picked its way through the island snowdrifts without difficulty.  Trouble only came when we got off the thing and tried to snowshoe down the hill to the cottage.  In the deep, wet snow it was a cursory check of the property before exhaustion drove us back to the Alpine.

Out the trail we went to where we had left Bet and Kate.  Tom reversed the Skeeter out of the snowdrift, looked ruefully at his frayed drive belt, and gingerly set off in the lead on the return course. Halfway across the Clear Lake stretch, the Skeeter abruptly disappeared into a cloud of gray smoke and came to a halt in front of me.  The eyes of Tom and Kate grew wide as they gazed at the water oozing up around their stalled machine. I wasn’t going to stop the Alpine in a pool of slush, so I moved it and Bet to shore before I let off the throttle.

Then we walked back to the Skeeter.  Yep, the slush had gotten it all right.  The Alpine had had enough power to blast through, but the Skeeter’s wonky pulley had torn up the weakened drive belt when stressed.  Now the machine sat up to its running boards in slush.  The footing was too questionable to work around, so we retreated to Smiths Falls to recover and plan.

Sunday morning rose clear and very cold.  No problem with the footing on the ice this day, so Tom and I headed out with ropes, axes, and an ice spud, not to mention an auger and a ratchet winch.  On a whim I threw in a couple of 5” walnut boards I found in the shop, as well.

What followed was a four-hour session of chopping a heavy snowmobile out of six inches of ice.  Tom and I  emphatically do not recommend this activity.

We discovered that a large snowmobile encased in a block of ice is very heavy, too heavy to move even after we had chopped the ice free around it.

I drilled a hole, stuck the two walnut boards down it, then anchored the come-along to them to stretch the Skeeter enough to pry it forward when we lifted up with the axes and the ice spud.  This actually worked, though it was brutally hard work.  With two hundred yards to go to shore, we’d be worn out long before we got there.

So I took a hundred-foot 3/4″ yellow tow rope out of the Alpine and tied it to the front of the Skeeter, did a bowline around the trailer hitch on the Alpine, and headed for shore.

There’s quite a bit of spring in nylon rope, so it brought the straining Alpine to a halt with the Skeeter unmoved.  Next time I backed up beside the Skeeter and took a running start at the rope.  That worked.  I heard the loud “SPROING!” even over the roar of the engine, but the ice block and its snowmobile were ten feet closer to shore.  Now if we could get it moving again before it froze down…

I tried again, full throttle.  Another ten feet.  It became a matter of momentum:  the Alpine with me on it weighed about nine hundred pounds; the Skeeter with a full load of ice around it weighed anywhere from 1000 pounds to a ton.  How can you tell?  The rope did not snap and decapitate anybody and Tom kept it from tangling, but it was a long, rough tow as we bungee-corded the Skeeter to safety.

It took a month for all of the ice to melt out of the flooded running gear.  Then one sunny day in March I started the derelict up and loaded it onto its trailer.

Tom and Kate got their vintage Evinrude back, but somehow they had lost the urge to cross onto Scott Island with it.  Last I heard the Skeeter’s for sale.

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