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Labrador’s first snowmachine rides again

Jamie Brake, an archaeologist with the Nunatsiavut Government, spearheaded the project to get the relic salvaged and restored.
Jamie Brake, an archaeologist with the Nunatsiavut Government, spearheaded the project to get the relic salvaged and restored. - Submitted

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, lead the team who recovered the converted Model T Ford 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 just 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. 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 it was they had noticed pieces missing from it, and were aware that people were even attempting to sell parts of it.

They began to work on the process of moving it in 2012 and 2013 and 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 it or publicizing it in any way at the time because there are safety concerns. Since it doesn’t have a neutral gear it just starts moving, which was a concern and they wanted to make sure the transmission was working well.

“The reaction was unbelievable,” he said. “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.

Restoring 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 it he got a lot of positive feedback on the snowmobiles 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 did the restoration of 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, such as its doors, totally ripped off, and about every facet of the machine in need of some repair or replacement, Noseworthy said it was a challenge.

Read more here: A relic restored

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.

The parts for the Model T weren’t hard to find, since so many were produced. The snowmobile kit that was used to modify the car wasn’t near 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 history.

“It was the very first snowmachine 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 it out for special events in the future.

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