Annual East Grand Forks Vintage Snowmobile Show brings more than 100 sleds on warm winter day

Feb. 4—EAST GRAND FORKS — The smell of fuel and the roars and pops of snowmobiles filled the air in East Grand Forks on Saturday morning as snowmobile enthusiasts gathered along the Red River.

After a week of subzero temperatures, a blast of warmer air was a welcome change at the 11th Annual East Grand Forks Vintage Snowmobile Show. Outside the Blue Moose Bar & Grill, people mingled between the rows of more than 100 vintage sleds from across the region.

The show is a fundraiser for Relay for Life and is held in honor of Anna Kozel, an East Grand Forks woman who died of cancer in 2010. Usually, the fundraiser brings in around $3,500, said Merlyn Werner, one of the event's organizers.

Snowmobiles from the year 2000 or older were able to enter the show, with some dating back to the 1960s. For collectors of vintage snowmobiles, events like the one in East Grand Forks help keep the sport alive, said Werner.

"I don't care if a person is collecting tractors, motorcycles or cars, if you don't have shows like this, the sport goes away," he said.

In the past, a vintage snowmobile show has been held in Roseau on the same day as the one in East Grand Forks. This year, that event was not held, which Werner thinks brought some new riders to East Grand Forks. Combined with the warm temperatures, Werner was happy with the event's turnout.

"Any little towns up north that would normally be in Roseau are going to come here now," he said. "And the weather cooperated — the weather gods were good to us."

Philip and Chrissy Carlson, from Warren, Minnesota, brought their early 1970s Chaparral Firebird 399 to the show, with a Kat-Kutter sled pulled behind it for their son Heaven and daughter Willow.

Philip Carlson had a few vintage snowmobiles but decided to bring the Chaparral Firebird because it was his newest one. The family planned to take it on the event's ride, which followed a trail along the Red River to the East Grand Forks golf course.

"It's a good test to see if the old things will make it," he said. "It's fun — you never know if you're going to make it or not."

A few unique winter vehicles were mixed in among the classic and race snowmobiles. Loren Machart of Park River, North Dakota, brought his 1948 Winters Dream Sno-Plane, a vehicle that predates the snowmobile. Built in Northwood, North Dakota, it was a vehicle originally owned by his grandfather. It ended up with one of his uncles, and Machart bought it at an estate sale a few years ago.

"I couldn't let it leave the family — I had to buy it," he said.

His brother, Lowell Machart of Grand Forks, brought a large 1979 Bombardier Bombi. He said the enclosed vehicle used to be used by utility companies to check power lines in the winter. He said he got it from an auction in rough shape. Bombardier also manufactures Ski-Doo snowmobiles.

"My very first snowmobile was a Ski-Doo and that's why I've always bought Ski-Doos," said Lowell Machart. "I've liked working on them and restoring them. I've done quite a few over the years."

Now that the Bombi is restored, it gets a lot of use pulling his icehouse to the lake and driving around grandchildren.

Kyle Kozel, Anna Kozel's son, said the event brings his mother's family and friends together from near and far.

"There are a couple tables already full of her friends," he said. "It's crazy — you go out in the community and ask for donations in memory of Anna Kozel and how many people she actually knew or knew of her."

A raffle held inside the Blue Moose had the items donated by local businesses and individuals, like the Sky Vu Drive-In, Molly Yeh and Lunseth Plumbing and Heating.

Prizes were awarded for the best regular and race snowmobiles, both original and restored, as well as people's choice, mayor's choice and other special awards. East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander said he chose to award a late 1960s or early 1970s sled the mayor's choice award because it was the same one his childhood neighbors had.

"I think everybody has that experience here —. you're reconnecting back to when you were younger, kind of the heyday of the snowmobile stuff," he said. "A lot of good memories from when you were a kid."