Take a Ride Back through History at Crane’s Snowmobile Museum
By Jake Mardin
Snowmobiling has been a part of the North Country for over 50 years, and Crane’s Snowmobile Museum in Lancaster is a place where visitors can see the evolution of riding through the years – from the Ski-Doo machines first introduced in the 1960s, to the newer sleds of today.
Inside the museum are about 85 different snowmobiles with no duplications, and curator Paul Crane says he has another 40 unique machines in storage. Throughout the museum are machines from companies still in operation, such as Ski-Doo and Arctic Cat, and those from manufacturers of yesteryear, including Moto-Ski-later bought by Bombardier – and Rupp.
Mr. Crane has enjoyed a long relationship with snowmobiling, starting in 1959 when he worked for Timberland Machines in Lancaster, an independent distributor of Ski-Doo snowmobiles. He and President Bob Bottoms visited the Ski-Doo factory in Valcourt, Quebec, and met with founder Joseph-Armand Bombardier.
“Bob and Mr. Bombardier were standing right there, and I rode the prototype, whose cab was made out of wood – it was later made of tin,” Paul said. “They put trailer tires on the skids and I rode it right down Valcourt Street.” That year Timberland sold the 1960 model machines, with a price tag of $1,050.
Three 1961 model Ski-Doos are part of the collection at Crane’s Snowmobile Museum, and one with a tin cab sits next to Mr. Crane’s desk at the front. He later started a sporting goods store in Lancaster, selling Ski-Doo and Polaris gear.
Mr. Crane started the museum about five years ago and said he wanted to showcase the major changes that the snowmobiles have gone through. He has bought the majority of sleds in the museum, including some from locations like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“I’ve only had two sleds donated to me for display in the museum,” he said, noting that others were given for parts. “I bought all the rest except the ones I had when I sold them.” The majority of the machines are in original condition; 11 were reconditioned, and the rest required nothing more than a little polishing.
There are far too many machines to mention them all, but they include a 1972 Ski-Doo Elite, the first side-by-side model produced; one of only twenty 1971 Northway racing sleds made; a 1963 Trail Bike combination bike and sled with a serial number of “4”; a 1962 Fox-Trac prototype; a First-Aid Sno-Cruiser Emergency Unit; a trailer that can be attached to any sled to transport injured people. He also has a 1967 Scat Mobile, and the founder donated the first Scat Mobile sign he ever made, which now hangs in the museum.
He has the first “Blue Goose”, one of fewer than 50 made by the Kettle Aircraft Company. Mr. Crane said it came from Michigan, and took him nine years to find. He also has a 1926 Model T that he bought from the Kopp family of North Country Ford, which they had originally purchased in Maine.
The machines haven’t always been easy to get. Mr. Crane had his eye on a 1969 Sno Coupe that he saw at a vintage snowmobile show in Flint, Michigan. It took three tries before he was able to buy it.
During a tour of his museum, he pointed out what he calls his “pride and joy,” a custom-built Boggana snowmobile built in the late 1950s in Winnipeg. He said a man from Quebec City contacted him and asked about one of his Ski-Doos. He said he had something for trade, and Mr. Crane went up to the Boggana, which he had never heard of.
They made a deal and Mr. Crane brought the sled back to New Hampshire, at which point he did more research into it. Eventually he discovered that the creator of the Boggana was still alive and living in Canada. He reached out to him and received a letter from the maker, who said Mr. Crane’s Boggana was one of the first two that were ever made because it had a hand-made suspension.
Along with the snowmobiles, there are also numerous vintage signs and other snowmobiling artifacts. Mr. Crane said the only other museum like his is the New Hampshire Snowmobile Museum in Allenstown, but observed, “Everyone who has been in here says there is no comparison,” adding that each machine in his museum is unique.
Crane’s Snowmobile Museum is in Lancaster, just off of Main Street next to Bond Auto, and is accessible by sled via Trail 5. The museum is usually open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday, but Mr. Crane said visitors can stop by P & R Excavating next door and he will open up. He can also be reached at 788-3770 or 443-7272 to arrange a visit.
This article appeared on January 16, 2013 in The News and Sentinel’s Snowmobile Supplement