Newfoundland’s snowmobilers keep vintage machines on the trails

The venerable and iconic Elan is one of the most restored and collected.

Mark Quilty

woman rides 1976 elan snowmobile
Restoring and riding vintage snowmobiles is a growing hobby in the province. Camryn Green owns a 1976 Elan.  Supplied photo.

Five Elan Ski-Doos, that’s how many vintage snowmobiles Mark Hiscock has restored in Winterton, Trinity Bay.

“They’re not mint, now, but they’re in great running shape,” Hiscock said.

Hiscock has been working on the old Elan machines since he was 10.

“When I was 10, me and my dad bought one, and we did a lot of work on it.”

Now, at 22, he’s still hunting down the old machines and working on them.

“I bought a Moto-Ski Spirit just last week to restore this summer.”

Elan Obsession, the largest Facebook group for vintage sled collectors in Newfoundland, has over 1,000 members. The vintage snowmobiles are a popular choice for riding off trails, and for hauling firewood. Hiscock says the main reason people are after the vintage sleds is because they’re easy to work on.

“They were cheap to run, easy to fix, and light,” said Hiscock.

James Holbert, a small engine mechanic and snowmobile restorer, has worked on over 50 machines over the years.

“They’re simple,” said Holbert. “Newer machines are way too complicated for a lot of people. And it’s a fad now. A few people start buying them, and now everyone’s after them.”

But the old machines aren’t always the easiest to bring back to life, especially when some vintage machines are closing in on 50 years old.

“A lot of machines are left [outside], and the body gets rusted out. One I bought, she had been left out for 10 years and the grass started to grow right through her,” said Hiscock.

Unlike the modern machines, riders have to be a little more athletic.

“They’re impossible to steer,” said Holbert. “You actually have to move, and ride them.”

The final product, says Hiscock, is what makes the whole process worth it.

“The best part is when you get it all done, and you finally get a ride on it,” said Hiscock.

Holbert agrees.

“The finished product, that’s satisfaction,” said Holbert.

By working on the vintage machines, Hiscock, Holbert and the other collectors across the island have become unwitting historians.

“I think they are preserving part of history,” said Hiscock.

After restoring one machine, he showed it to its original owner.

“He was amazed by it,” said Hiscock.

Even though he’s worked on over 50 machines, Holbert says there’s more collecting that he’d like to do.

“If I had a barn, and could buy everything I see out there— I’d have some load of Ski-Doos.”

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