2017-12-14 / Front Page

Snowmobiles To Cross The Mackinac Bridge

This Saturday at St. Ignace
By Erich T. Doerr

History was made last year as a collection of classic snowmobiles drove from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to its Upper Peninsula across the Mackinac Bridge in the first Snowmobile the Mighty Mac parade. The vintage sleds, back for another parade, are scheduled to make their way across the Bridge at about 11 a.m. Saturday, December 16.

This year’s parade will feature Jim Langley of Denver, Colorado, at the head of the procession as its first grand marshal. Mr. Langley was one of the first two snowmobile riders to cross the Bridge, in 1966 as part of an epic transcontinental journey. In Saturday’s parade, he will ride the Polaris Colt he used on that trip.

Snowmobile the Mighty Mac is organized by Naubinway’s Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum and the St. Ignace Events Committee, including the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau. Museum Chair Charlie Vallier said he is thrilled Mr. Langley will attend and speak during the lunch and awards ceremony that follows the crossing.

“I think this is a real honor to host this,” Mr. Vallier said. “It’s like getting a visit from David Ortiz if you are a baseball fan.”

The crossing will start from Colonial Michilimackinac parking lot in Mackinaw City and proceed to the Bridge along Nicolet Street. In the Upper Peninsula, the snowmobiles will pass through the Bridge toll plaza to the St. Ignace Welcome Center parking lot. There will be a lunch for participants, and possibly a small snowmobile show, at the Mackinac Grille in St. Ignace. The crossing will take place no matter the weather, unless there are high winds that would make it unsafe.

“This is a really fun event,” said St. Ignace Visitors Bureau Executive Director Quincy Ranville, who helped with arrangements. “It’s a cool experience for people who are into snowmobiling.”

It’s the only time each year that snowmobilers are allowed to ride their machines across the Bridge. Mrs. Ranville said there is nothing quite like the experience and she has enjoyed hearing stories about it from participants.

For Saturday’s ride, participants are to drop off their snowmobiles at the Michilimackinac parking lot, and then drive their transport vehicles across to the Welcome Center lot. A 10 a.m. school bus, provided by the organizers, will haul the snowmobilers back to Mackinaw City for the 11 a.m. parade.

Mr. Langley’s 1966 snowmobile Bridge-crossing, together with the late Clark Dahlin, was part of an effort to set a distance riding record. The two, then Minnesotans, rode customized new 1967 Polaris Colts on a 4,018- mile, 24-day transcontinental journey from Vancouver, British Columbia, to South Portland, Maine, beginning by ceremonially dipping the skis of their sleds in the Pacific Ocean and ending by doing the same in the Atlantic Ocean. Their record-setting trip resulted in a story in Sports Illustrated.

When they reached the Bridge, they pulled up to a tollbooth manned by longtime St. Ignace resident Louis Leveille. The Bridge didn’t have a toll rate for snowmobiles, so Mr. Leveille charged them the motorcycle rate.

Polaris customized the Colts with two-sprocket drives; Standard Colts were equipped singlesprocket drives. The sleds also had turn signals, headlights, and front wheels next to their skies so they would be street-legal. Both were licensed for use on regular roads.

Mr. Vallier said Mr. Langley, now 80, is excited to be returning for Saturday’s ride. His Polaris from five decades ago was found in Minnesota and has been restored by Mitch Magnusson, who as a child met Mr. Langley during his 1966 journey. Mr. Langley hasn’t seen the sled in years.

A movie crew will accompany Mr. Langley and film his crossing as a part of a documentary, now in production, about his record-setting trip. In the production, he meets up with several of the people he met on the original trip.

Mr. Vallier said more than 40 sleds already have registered for this year’s Snowmobile the Mighty Mac and he’s getting calls from additional riders who want to come. There were 39 last year. While online registration ended Monday, December 11, riders still could register through Wednesday, December 13, by calling the Visitors Bureau, at (906) 643-6950, or the museum, at (906) 477-6298.

Those registering by phone must pay the $35 registration fee by credit card. There is an additional $30 fee for sleds with second riders. Mr. Vallier said the fee covers Bridge fare, lunch, escorts from the Mackinaw City Police Department and Mackinac Bridge Authority, insurance, the bus, and costs incurred by the Visitors Bureau. Any money left after all the expenses are covered will go to the museum, which is printing T shirts that can be bought before the crossing and picked up during lunch.

The crossing is restricted to vintage snowmobiles, at least 25 years old. They must have wheel kits that don’t have studs or cleats. The wheels must be at least two inches wide to cross the Bridge’s expansion joints.

Among the participants will be a Wisconsin entrant who will bring two unique, open-cockpit, twintrack Manta snowmobiles. Organizers hope some owners will display their snowmobiles after the crossing at the Mackinac Grille. Mr. Vallier said Mr. Langley’s Polaris and a 1965 Ski-Doo from another entrant are likely candidates for display this year.

Mr. Vallier will ride in the parade aboard a Viking, a brand he collects because his father used to sell them. He’ll bring up the rear and make sure everyone else makes it across. It will be a family affair for Mr. Vallier, as two sisters and a nephew will ride other snowmobiles from his collection in the parade.

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