2016-12-22 / Front Page

Crossing the Bridge on Vintage Sleds

A Memorable Ride, A Rare Opportunity Relished by Snowmobile Enthusiasts
By Erich T. Doerr


The Snowmobile the Mighty Mac classic snowmobile crossing drew spectators to the Mackinac Bridge’s toll plaza Saturday, December 17, despite the cold conditions and a winter storm. Here several people watch and photograph the passing sleds from the plaza as they arrive in the Upper Peninsula. The snowmobiles approaching and driving under the plaza here include a Massey Ferguson Ski Whiz (left) and a Suzuki. The Snowmobile the Mighty Mac classic snowmobile crossing drew spectators to the Mackinac Bridge’s toll plaza Saturday, December 17, despite the cold conditions and a winter storm. Here several people watch and photograph the passing sleds from the plaza as they arrive in the Upper Peninsula. The snowmobiles approaching and driving under the plaza here include a Massey Ferguson Ski Whiz (left) and a Suzuki. The first Snowmobile the Mighty Mac vintage snowmobile parade made its way across the Mackinac Bridge Saturday, December 17. A pack of 39 snowmobiles made its way from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace in a light snowfall. The new crossing event is intended to be an annual one.

“That went very well for the first year,” Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum Chair Charlie Vallier said, having helped organize the ride. “Next year will be even better.”

The St. Ignace Visitors Bureau, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, and the Naubinway-based snowmobile museum worked with the Chamber of Commerce and St. Ignace Events Committee to organize the new crossing in just under two months once it was given approval by the MBA at its November meeting. Mr. Vallier said it was a pleasure to work with both groups.


The lead sleds in the inaugural Snowmobile the Mighty Mac vintage snowmobile crossing of the Mackinac Bridge reach the Upper Peninsula Saturday, December 17. The event drew 39 snowmobiles of various makes, models, and years. Onaway rider Virgil Morell had the honor of leading the ride aboard his 1975 Harley-Davidson 440 snowmobile (front) that flew a large American flag off the back during the crossing. The lead sleds in the inaugural Snowmobile the Mighty Mac vintage snowmobile crossing of the Mackinac Bridge reach the Upper Peninsula Saturday, December 17. The event drew 39 snowmobiles of various makes, models, and years. Onaway rider Virgil Morell had the honor of leading the ride aboard his 1975 Harley-Davidson 440 snowmobile (front) that flew a large American flag off the back during the crossing. “We’re really happy with the turnout,” Visitors Bureau Assistant Director Quincy Westhuis said. “We hope to continue this again next year.”


Boyne Falls resident Roger Jarema had the oldest snowmobile in the vintage sled crossing of the Mackinac Bridge. Here Mr. Jarema leads the second pack of parade sleds aboard his 1964 Polaris Sno- Traveler Comet. The Comet was the first front-engine model of snowmobile ever produced by Polaris. Boyne Falls resident Roger Jarema had the oldest snowmobile in the vintage sled crossing of the Mackinac Bridge. Here Mr. Jarema leads the second pack of parade sleds aboard his 1964 Polaris Sno- Traveler Comet. The Comet was the first front-engine model of snowmobile ever produced by Polaris. The event was the first specially planned snowmobile group crossing of the Mackinac Bridge in its 59- year history. A prior crossing with 13 sleds in 1970 by a club from Marquette and a 1979 crossing by four Yahamas for a diabetes fundraiser were done as part of long-distance rides and not directly focused on their bridge crossing, like Snowmobile the Mighty Mac was.

The crossing began at 11 a.m. when the sleds departed together in Mackinaw City from Fort Michilimackinac. One sled, a 1965 Ski-Doo Olympique, broke down on the approach ramp before making it to the Mackinac Bridge, and was the only one of the sleds not to complete the journey under its own power. Speed wasn’t a goal of the procession, and many riders made the crossing at a relaxed eight to 10 miles per hour. The crossing concluded at the St. Ignace Welcome Center where the sleds were loaded back into their transport trailers. Spectators gathered in St. Ignace at the bridge toll plaza to welcome the snowmobilers as they reached the Upper Peninsula.


There were three generations of the Hunderman family from Wayland in the Saturday, December 17, Snowmobile the Mighty Mac vintage snowmobile crossing of the Mackinac Bridge. Here Jim and his grandson, Tucker Hunderman, led the way aboard a classic Ski-Doo Alpine with family friend Joe Brenner, also of Wayland, following on 1978 Ski-Doo Everest and Tucker’s father Jordan Hunderman at the back aboard a 1973 Ski-Doo TNT Silver Bullet. The Silver Bullet was a one-year-only model built to celebrate Ski-Doo’s 15th anniversary. There were three generations of the Hunderman family from Wayland in the Saturday, December 17, Snowmobile the Mighty Mac vintage snowmobile crossing of the Mackinac Bridge. Here Jim and his grandson, Tucker Hunderman, led the way aboard a classic Ski-Doo Alpine with family friend Joe Brenner, also of Wayland, following on 1978 Ski-Doo Everest and Tucker’s father Jordan Hunderman at the back aboard a 1973 Ski-Doo TNT Silver Bullet. The Silver Bullet was a one-year-only model built to celebrate Ski-Doo’s 15th anniversary. The sleds covered a wide variety of makes and models ranging from the mid-1960s through the late 1980s. Early models from Ski- Doo, Polaris, and Yamaha shared space on the bridge with models from companies that no longer make snowmobiles, including Harley-Davidson, John Deere, Suzuki, Massey Ferguson, Evinrude, AMF Ski-Daddler, Johnson, Viking, Rupp, and Ski Kat. There was even an Aktiv model from Sweden.

Winter Storm Decima moved through the Straits area Saturday and provided plenty of snow and cold. High winds or heavy snow could have cancelled the crossing, but neither was a factor. Temperatures of about 15 degrees Fahrenheit helped prevent the snowmobiles from overheating as they drove, while small amounts of snow on the bridge, a remnant of a large storm the night before, helped to lubricate the sleds that needed it. Visibility was good enough that riders could see all the way to Mackinac Island from the bridge.

The crossing was followed by a soup and sandwich lunch in downtown St. Ignace at the Mackinac Grille restaurant. Several awards for ride participants were presented. A planned display of the sleds there did not take place, as most owners did not want to unload them again after putting them back on the transport trailers. Early plans for the 2017 crossing call for finding a way to bring the parade straight from Mackinaw City to the restaurant to better allow continuity into a show afterward.

All of the sleds taking part were required to use wheel kits to allow them to travel on pavement and traverse the bridge’s expansion joints. A wide variety of kits were used including both factory and home built designs. Some attached wheels to their snowmobiles’ existing skis, while others took the skis off their sleds and installed wheels in their place. Common wheel combinations featured between two and eight wheels of various sizes.

Mr. Vallier rode a green Viking snowmobile alongside his sister Patti Vallier and her Johnson Skee-Horse at the end of the procession.

“That’s an awesome view,” Mr. Vallier said.

Virgil Morell of Onaway had the honor of leading the parade, a decision made in part because of the large American flag flying from the back of his sled. He rode across the bridge aboard a 1975 Harley- Davidson 440, a model from the last year that the famous motorcycle company produced snowmobiles. He also won the parade prize as having the best wheel kit.

“I enjoyed (the crossing),” Mr. Morrell said. “It was a privilege being picked” to go first.

Mr. Morell owns about 30 Harley snowmobiles, including the one on display to represent the brand at the Naubinway museum. The sled he rode across the Mackinac Bridge was one of the first four he ever purchased together as a lot from a person in Cheboygan. His sled previously crossed Great Lakes waters on the Mackinac Island ice bridge. Mr. Morell also drove a tractor in September’s Owosso Tractor Parts Antique Tractor Parade and Show, hanging the same American flag from his John Deere then.

Harley-Davidson made snowmobiles during the early to mid- 1970s during the time when the company was owned by American Machine and Foundry (AMF), a company best known today for its contributions to the bowling business. It was very diversified in the recreation business at the time. The sleds were built with original American parts and an engine made in Italy. There were two Harley sleds in Saturday’s paradem, with Steve Tennant of Terre Haute, Indiana, riding the other one, a 1973 model. Before the Harley models hit the market, AMF previously made a line of its own snowmobiles branded as the AMF Ski-Daddler. Greg Busch of Grand Blanc rode a 1969 ½ model Ski-Daddler, the half indicating it was made after the company switched the paint color on its sleds from grey to orange, in Saturday’s parade. Mr. Busch won an award as the ride’s craziest dressed entry after he made the trip dressed like Santa Claus; he taped his costume’s hat over his helmet.

Sebewaing resident Sarah Hornbacker, 16, was the youngest participant in the ride and rode a 1988 Yamaha. Bill Taylor, 68, of Ohio was the oldest as he rode across on a 1980 Ski-Doo. Mr. Taylor said he has been coming to the Straits area since 1953, often visiting Mackinac Island, where he keeps two snowmobiles.

Three generations of the Hunderman family from Wayland came to be a part of the event. Jordan Hunderman made the crossing aboard a 1973 Ski-Doo TNT Silver Bullet, a one-year model that traded the brand’s usual yellow paint for silver to mark the company’s 15th anniversary. The sled is owned by his father, Jim Hunderman, the elder Mr. Hunderman riding a classic Ski-Doo Alpine with his grandson Tucker Hunderman riding with him.

“That was amazing,” Jordan Hunderman said. “I can hardly describe (the thrill).”

Paul Kopetski of Plymouth, Indiana, was honored as the rider who travelled the furthest to be part of the event. He and his friend Jan Gustafson, also of Plymouth, rode together in the crossing aboard a 1978 Yamaha Enticer 250. The pair is familiar with the St. Ignace area through previous snowmobiling trips here and heard about the crossing through their friends. Both will be coming back in a few weeks for a snowmobile tour of the area.

“That (crossing) was definitely something different,” Mr. Kopetski said. “It’s neat to make history and see all the old sleds.”

Dennis Kamyszek of Rogers City rode a rare 1968 Ski Kat snowmobile in the crossing, a model of sled that was actually built in Rogers City. He owns three of the sleds, with another that runs and one on display at the Top of the Lake Museum. The sled drew many interested looks during the crossing. Only about 500 Ski Kats were ever built during a three-year production run, some equipped with wheel kits right from the factory. Mr. Kamyszek’s model usually takes part in a snowmobile show in Rogers City each March and was featured riding with a wheel kit earlier this year in the Posen Potato Festival Parade.

“I’ll be back next year, for sure,” Mr. Kamyszek said. “I was looking forward to this for a long time. I had the sled ready for two weeks.”

Roger Jarema of Boyne Falls had the oldest sled in the procession with his 1964 Polaris Sno-Traveler Comet. The red snowmobile was the first front-engine model Polaris ever built.

“I enjoy every minute I can spend on that bridge,” Mr. Jarema said.

The local participants in the procession included Brutus’ Joe and Julie Kuchnicki. Mr. Kuchnicki rode in the parade aboard a 1971 Rupp Magnum, while Mrs. Kuchnicki followed behind in a truck. Mr. Kuchnicki owns two dozen classic sleds, hearing about the crossing through his hobby’s community, and citing the Ohio-built Rupp as one of his favorites. He complimented how easy it was to register for the event with the visitors bureau.

“The weather was perfect,” Mr. Kuchnicki said. “I hope this is the start of a long, cool event.”

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