Labrador’s first snow ma­chine rides again

The Western Star - - CLOSE TO HOME - BY EVAN CAREEN THE LABRADORIAN

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.

PHOTO BY SU­SAN WEBB-OS­MOND

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.

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