Today (Nov. 14), would have been C.J. Ramstad’s 69th birthday, had he not died in a tragic automobile crash with his son, J.J., in May 2007.
He was (and probably always will be) my favorite writer. One of his great contributions was his Pops Quiz column in Snowmobile Magazine during early to mid-1980s, in which he tackled a technical subject with equal parts humor and help, writing as a fictitious old curmudgeon who lived in Pop’s Cave on Lonesome Peak.
As a gift to yourself on C.J.’s birthday, please read this great Pop’s Quiz that he penned for the Nov. 1984 issue of Snowmobile Magazine:
Getting it Moving
The first real snow fell softly on the Peak last night. My sleep was deeply troubled. Don’t get me wrong…I love the winter season. In fact, the Mz. Says winter is the reason life has remained in these old bones way after the expiration of the warranty, I spent the night tossing and turning, not because winter has come, but because of what it’ll mean to daily routine down in the Pops Cave.
The first dusting of snow that coated the road and gave the pines their first frosting of the season means something besides the start of another winter. It means the troops in the High Plains Drifters will be heading out to the sheds, garages and lean-tos where their snow scooters have spent the summer. They will have visions of trail riding, hill-climbing and sugarplums dancing in their heads. The prospect of enjoying the beauty and solitude of snowmobiling with breathe new life into their step. Unfortunately, it’ll probably take more than a dusting of snow to breathe new life into their sleds.
I, too, have visions of riding the pass and zipping across the windswept plain. But I fear the Pops Cave will soon be filling up with sleds badly in need of TLC. This could have the effect of preventing your friendly mountaintop answerman from exercising his right thumb as soon as he might hope.
The Drifters are a good bunch. When the blizzards strand motorists up on Dead Man’s Curve, they’ll head on up to do the rescue. When the local orphanage needs money, they don’t mind square-dancing all night long at a dollar dance. When we need a few good men to testify in support of snowmobiling down at the state house, they’ll even put on cloth shirts and get down there. Summer sled maintenance, however, is not their cup of ‘shine.
Which brings me to the topic of this epistle. The problem the Drifters have with caring for their snow scooters during the summer is more widespread than some might have you think. Even as I write, thousands of sleds await the first bit of attention from their owners since March. For most of them at the lower altitudes, this means a few weeks yet. Too bad. Because NOW is the time to spread a little elbow grease in the direction of yer ol’ snow machine.
Earlier post has carried my handy-dandy techniques for dealing with old fuel, loose chaincase chain and the like. This time I want to focus on something many winter riders forget: The track suspension.
Maybe the biggest deal to come down in snowmobiling in many years is the long-travel suspension. Thing is, even the old short-travel sled can give you a pretty good ride if everything is working right. When things aren’t working right, the best darn suspension in the world is going to deliver a buckboard ride and make you think you’ve gotten old before your time. One old Drifter even threatened to quit the sport saying his kidneys were shot and he couldn’t take the bumps anymore.
After I heard this thread, I moseyed over to his cabin to look him eye to rheumy eye. I frankly doubted the old guy’s body was that bad…heck, his wife’s only 25. When I noticed he was still sitting up and taking nourishment, I guessed the problem lurked elsewhere.
A ten-minute diagnosis of his sled revealed the problem had nothing to do with his kidneys. Seems the sled in question had a bad case of the track suspension freeze-ups. This is a little-known but widespread problem here on the Peak and elsewhere, too. When a sled spends the winter collecting moisture and corrosives in the under-carriage, and whose sled doesn’t, you have a perfect environment for metal-to-metal lockup.
What happens is the shafts that carry your track suspension get corroded and rusty, allowing little if any effective movement by the suspension itself. Usually, you can get the suspension to move by bouncing up and down on the seat but the friction level is so high the unit can’t absorb impacts worth a darn. One trick I use is simply unhooking the shock(s) from one end and seeing if the suspension will jiggle when I apply motion. If there is any doubt, I pull the dang thing apart. If the condition has been allowed to deteriorate too far, this alone can be a trial. The presence of high friction and the telltale red color of ferrous oxidation (rusty steel to you non-tech types –Ed.) are the major indications.
I recommend using coarse steel wool, emery cloth and/or those nifty hobby pads to clean up the parts where rust has made movement difficult. To get at the inside of the shaft housings, I’ve found the best thing is an old broom handle wrapped with coarse sandpaper. Once everything is cleaned up and shiny, you can get ready to reassemble.
If you’re like me, you won’t ever do this again. One tip her is to reassemble using Neva-Seize or C5-A (available at marinas and auto jobbers) on all the moving surfaces to slow down the redevelopment of the corrosion and keep things moving smoothly in the face of the re-application of the salty moisture that’s part of winter riding.
Now I’ll be the last man to say you don’t need a new snowmobile. I’ve spent all the money my Papa Jake left me on winter vehicles over the years, and, as long as the Mz can make a buck working at Lena’s Bakery, I’ll keep buying new ones every couple years. But I’d hate to hear about a guy trading his otherwise perfectly good sled just because the suspension needs a little attention. Remember your track suspension is a little like a lady More Fun When They’re Loose, that’s my motto.
Pops is a friendly but irascible curmudgeon who has been a sledder since day one. As our iconoclastic answerman, he shares his snowmobile wit and wisdom by correspondence each month. If you have a question for Pops, drop us a line and we’ll see to it that your letter gets out on the next iron dog bound for Lonesome Peak, the remote village wher the wizened greybeard resides.
A great tribute John, yes he was a great guy,always willing to visit, full of energy, spent many trips on the the old iron with him, and I will always value the time I spent with him, it was an honor knowing the man who was a big part of my life with snowmobiling in my younger years, I still have decals on my antique sleds that say “Thanks CJ!” in his memory. The magazine articles, the books recapping the history of the sport, “Legend” all such important pieces of keeping the historic records intact . thank you for remembering!
Read and loved everything the man ever wrote.Thanks John.
A true friend I will always miss. Always knew me by my first name, or sometimes would just call me Krogy. Great tribute to C.J.
I really liked CJ’s Pappy character, and he did write up on the late release 96 ZR 580 ETT that made up my mind to early order a 97 ZR 580 which is one of my all time favorite sleds.
I met him at the 2001 Hometown Tour at the unveiling of the ZL Smart Suspension sled, a real gentleman who seemed genuinely interested in chatting up sleds with me.
CJ is the standard that I aspire to when writing my articles for SnowGoer Canada and Snowtech.
Reading his articles as a kid in SnowGoer and Snowweek brought the sports big races,factory racers and great tech articles to me living in Northwestern Ontario in the 70’s. I couldn’t wait for Snowweek to arrive every couple of weeks to bring the big races too life as I poured over that paper
I finally met CJ at EagleRiver at the Ride withe Champs in 2000. Had dinner with him and he encouraged me to write my vintage stories and submit them to a magazine. I did and It’s been cool to bring the sports history to life to the next generation of speeders
Next generation of sledders
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