Labrador’s first snow machine rides again
After sitting on the ice for nine decades, the first-ever snowmobile in Labrador rode again in Nain recently.
Jamie Brake, an archeologist with the Nunatsiavut Government, led the team that recovered the converted Ford Model T, and was the one who got to drive it.
Brake said the location of the snowmobile has been known since it was abandoned by scientists 90 years ago near Nain, but recent activity in the area prompted the indigenous government to move the relic.
American scientists brought the snowmobile to Labrador in 1927 to assist in their research and left it there when they departed.
“It was always thought to very vulnerable and that was one of the reasons we wanted to move it when we did,” said Brake. “There was a proposed road development in 2012 that pushed us into making it more secure, as well as other factors.”
He said another reason they moved the machine was they had noticed pieces missing from it, and were aware that people were attempting to sell parts of it.
They began to work on the process of moving it in 2012 and 2013.
From the beginning, the plan was to restore it.
“We wanted to see if we could get it running and maybe use it to spark interest in archeology and history in Labrador,” Brake said.
It certainly seems to have worked, with many showing up to watch Brake do the test drive.
Brake said they tried to do it quietly – they weren’t advertising or publicizing the test run in any way at the time because of safety concerns. Since it doesn’t have a neutral gear, the machine just starts moving, which was a concern. They also wanted to make sure the transmission was working well.
“The reaction was unbelievable,” said Brake. “We kept it quiet because we wanted to make sure the machine was operating the way it should and we knew how to operate it.
“Despite that, this tiny test drive has created a lot of enthusiasm and interest.”
He said the local reaction was great to see, with many people making connections to the machine either through family members riding on it in the past to seeing it out on the land over the years.
Restoration no easy feat
While the process of moving the machine was ongoing, Brake began to contact various clubs and organizations of Model T collectors and enthusiasts to see if it could be made operational again.
He said when he began to post pictures of the snowmobile he got a lot of positive feedback on its condition and possibility of restoration.
“After we got it out we began to be contacted by other mechanical experts, including Frank Noseworthy of Port Aux Choix,” he said.
Noseworthy restored the snowmobile over the last few years, which he said in an interview with the Northern Pen was “a daunting task.”
“I looked at it and said, ‘I said I could actually restore this thing?’” he told the Pen.
With several parts missing, such as its doors, and about every facet of the machine in need of some repair or replacement, Noseworthy said it was a challenge.
Brake said Noseworthy did remark to him on how pristine some of the parts were, such as the engine.
“He said it hadn’t even been broken in” Brake said.
Parts for the Model T weren’t hard to find, since so many were produced. The snowmobile kit used to modify the car wasn’t nearly as common, however, and finding skis for it was a challenge.
Brake said they weren’t easy to find but they kept their eyes open and managed to get their hands on them.
Place in history
What makes this snowmobile unique, Brake said, is its place in Labrador’s history.
“It was the very first snow machine that was ever used here, the first mechanical one,” he said. “It marks a turning point. You don’t very often find the original example of any kind of technology anywhere, so the fact we know this is what it is and that is survived and could be made to run again is just amazing.”
He said he’s not aware of any other machine that has such historical importance in Labrador.
The test drive it took recently won’t be the only one, with plans to bring the snowmobile out for special events in the future.
Jamie Brake, an archeologist with the Nunatsiavut Government, spearheaded the project to get the relic salvaged and restored. He was also the first person in 90 years to drive it.