An Inquisitive Mind
Some problems have been around for centuries. Moving items and people across frozen lands has been one of them. Keeping up with energetic young boys has been another. On a crisp winter day, those two problems came together and one was solved. The other resulted in a lad being told to “clean up” his “mess”.
The moving of people and food and other necessary items has long motivated exploration and invention. The topography of a region is limited, not only in its natural resources and what it offers for life but also in the amount of life it can sustain. As the number of people increased, the need for exploration grew. As man moved out of caves into structures, more timber was needed to construct those structures or sand and clay to mix bricks. In areas where harsh winter weather is a common-place reality, the need to be able to travel across the snow and frozen lands became obvious and necessary.
It was with a hint of spring in the air that a young boy made his debut into the world of the suburbs of Quebec, Canada. Joseph-Armand Bombardier was, I’m sure, an adorably precious child. One of six boys and two girls, the Bombardier family knew children. Joseph, however, had a particular energy for all things mechanical. As a young boy, he built a steam engine from old sewing machine parts. He then mounted it onto his aunt’s spinning wheel, making it go faster and faster until his aunt felt fear and insisted it be dismantled. He convinced a local veterinarian to give him an old hand gun and quickly rebuilt it into a miniature cannon.
About the same time, others were trying to solve the dilemma of transporting items in the snow. The Industrial Age assisted in this as did rapidly evolving designs for engines that occurred at the turn of the twentieth century. A Michigan man had the epiphany of a “motor sleigh” and was issued a Canadian patent in 1915. The following year another Michigan man received the first United States of America patent for a vehicle with front skis and rear tracks. Others followed this idea by altering Henry Ford’s Model T car and replacing the undercarriage with tracks and skis. Rural mail carriers used these early snowmobiles, often called “snowflyers”, a great deal in the winter months.
At age fourteen, young Joseph-Armand Bombardier was sent to a private school to prepare him for the chosen profession his father desired for him, that of the priesthood. Before leaving, in at attempt to keep the mechanical hands of Joseph away from his own car, Joseph’s father had given him a broken-down Model T deemed unfixable. While at his first semester of school, Joseph thinks about his car and develops a new invention. Returning home for his Christmas vacation, Joseph surprises his family with the appearance of his own version of a winter vehicle on New Year’s Eve. Brother Leopold sat in front using cotton rope as reins for steering while Joseph stood at the back, operating the motor which drove a propeller Joseph had built himself. Though proud, Joseph’s father insists this invention also be dismantled and sends the boy back to school. Joseph is neither a student nor destined for the priesthood. He returned home and continued his mechanical tinkering and several years later developed a snowmobile that would carry twelve people at once.
Joseph-Armand Bombardier further developed his snowmobile idea and in the early 1930’s produced one that would carry up to twelve people at once, using a track system only. A few years later his B12 as it was known would become a tracked military vehicle and assist Canada and other Allied nations during World War II in transporting troops safely in what would become known as the tank.
The snowmobile today is the result of several epiphanies from several different people as well as the evolution of mechanical engines. We will never know who pulled the first items across frozen snow or why someone decided to sit upon a plank of something and slide downhill across frozen land. What we do know is that people from several different continents shared the same problem and worked both independently and together to arrive at a solution to the same problem.
While seeming to be a means of transportation and enjoyment, the modern snowmobile actually represents the best of man in the thinking, production, and evolution of a single idea based upon a common need. Amid the harsh brutal winds and bitter cold of winter, the snowmobile stands out as what can be accomplished when ideas are developed, shared, and improved upon for the good of mankind. The concept of working together is an epiphany good not only for winter but for every day of the year, every year.