A few weeks ago some friends and I spent the day near Isle, Minn., with Les Pinz, a snowmobile historian, racer, statesman and all-around great guy.
In addition to throwing down some of our last snowmobile tracks of the season, we spent a BIG part of the day absorbing his incredible collection of vintage snowmobiles, memorabilia and related items.
It’s a mind-boggling collection. So mind-boggling that I’m pretty sure this post on ArcticInsider contains the most photos I’ve ever included with a single story. I hope you have time and take a few moments to look at all the pix.
But first, a brief introduction to Les Pinz.
There’s Les the Racer: the youngster who started oval racing Scorpion sleds out of his family’s dealership in Isle, Minn., beginning in 1967. He stepped up to the Factory Scorpion team the next year, where he stayed until 1971 when he switched to the Polaris powerhouse distributor team of Larsen-Olson. He had great success on Polaris, winning the World Series as well as dozens of regional oval races. He went back to the Factory Scorpion Sno Pro team for his final season in 1976, after which he turned his attention to the family’s dealership and sand/gravel business.
There’s Les the former snowmobile dealer: He, his brother and father started their Scorpion dealership in 1966, added Polaris in 1968 and stuck with it until 1983 when a combination of growth in the sand/gravel business met the downturn in snowmobile sales.
There’s Les the snowmobile club member: He’s long been a dedicated, active member of his local club, the Mille Lac’s Drift Skippers. When I say “active,” I mean he’s been the groomer, treasurer, president, secretary and chief bottle washer. When I texted him a few weeks ago that I wanted to come and see his collection, he was in New York scouting out a dump truck that the club was considering buying for summertime ATV trail work. Les is a heavy-lifter when it comes to trails.
There’s also Les the (ahem) elder statesman: For as long as I’ve known Les, he’s been present at pretty much every snowmobile event that involves vintage stuff, history and/or new product introductions. Much of this participation is on his own although he’s a regular writer for American Snowmobiler magazine as well as a board member (and inductee) of the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. Les is deeply passionate about the sport and its future, in part because he has such deep-rooted knowledge and experience of its past.
And then there’s Les the snowmobile collector: the guy who kept a lot of his (and his dealership’s) stuff beginning in the 1970s; who started actively procuring sleds, dealership inventories and historic memorabilia beginning in the early 1990s; who in the mid-1990s built a museum to display it all. Les attends dozens of vintage shows and events each year, usually bringing some of his incredible artifacts.
That’s Les in a nutshell. And knowing him like I do, I’m certain he’s uncomfortable having so many words devoted to him, rather than on the history of the machines and (other) people who enjoy him.
So for the rest of this post I’m going to show you some of that stuff, but I first want to say one more thing about the man:
For Les, the collection is not about the stuff, but about the story. The story of an engine, a hood, a poster. The story of the person who designed it, or the person who raced. And most importantly, it’s the story he hears from someone who sees and connects with a piece of his collection.
Les loves the stories. That’s history and it’s his story.
Okay, now onto his collection. Enjoy!
Les showing us some of his race sleds, trophies and accolades from his years as a top oval racer for Scorpion and Polaris.
Les was inducted into the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame and is also a board member there.
There’s SO much to see in Les’s collection, we had to absorb it in waves, starting with just looking over the room itself, followed by ever-closer inspections of individual items.
There are roughly 90 sleds in the building representing a few dozen brands. But there are thousands of individual pieces like posters, patches, signs, engines; oil containers, toys…every and anything connected with the sport he loves.
There’s a lot of race stuff, but an equal amount of trail stuff too.
There’s a lot of great Arctic Cat stuff too.
“Each brand had their certain color and style that was unique and that’s important to remember. I loved so many of them. I end up having conversations with so many people because they connect with the brand they loved. Brand recognition is really powerful, especially with Arctic Cat people.” – Les
Les has some REALLY historically-significant, one-of-a-kind machines that are truly breathtaking, including the Polaris X-3 speedrun machine from the early 1970s.
I hopped in it, hit 130-mph and came out smiling.
He has a handful of the rare Moto-Ski Bullets.
As a former Scorpion dealer and racer, Les has a particular fondness for the famed brand from Crosby, Minn. The sled at the bottom is his beautifully restored 1976 Sno Pro race sled that he competed on as a factory team driver.
Les’s collection includes dozens of engines of many makes, many of them prototypes and one-off items.
And then there’s the memorabilia, posters and such…
The OTHER Team Green…
We spent a few hours looking at the collection which pretty much only scratched the surface. And yes, we emptied the bottle of Scorpion whiskey when Les wasn’t looking.
What makes it especially cool is that Les has a story and history to share about so many pieces. I’m not kidding: you could spend days here and not see everything. Maybe weeks.
And that’s before you stepped into the OTHER part of the building to see what’s in cold storage!
This is what happens when you love everything about snowmobiles, you’ve been collecting for decades AND you have a large enough building to store most of it!
But let’s be honest here. Les also keeps some stuff outside:
Yes, it’s pretty amazing what one man can acquire when he has the passion, time and interest.
Now in his 70s, Les still occasionally acquires sleds and other related items that interest him. But he’s selling some of his stuff too (not aggressively, but enough to make a small dent).
If you attend vintage shows in the Midwest, there’s a good chance you’ll meet Les and see a few of his pieces. And he occasionally opens his museum to people who want to see it (if you’re interested in seeing it, email him at email@example.com
I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour as much as I enjoyed the actual one.
Thanks to Les for giving us the keys to the candy shop that day.
And thanks for reading.
Spent a few days riding with Les in the past. I also had the chance to go through his collection. If there is a man that represents the passion of this sport , it would be Les.
Woooow…… what a collection ????
A visit there would be on my bucketlist !!
I need to show my wife this. She thinks I have too much with my Cat collection and thinks I’m obsessed. It’s a passion. All I can say is WOW!! Amazing and awesome collection Les!! Thanks for sharing.
WOW Les, I didn’t realize you had that size collection and so unique, amazing. I hope I can see it some day.
Very nice collection. Les is a very nice guy and full of history. He should write a book with photos. I would buy one.
Its an amazing collection for sure but it might be overshadowed by the stories and history Les can share with you on so much of it. The passion he has for the hobby is amazing.
Pictures showed a little of the engine collection but there is so many more, odd and unusual and some one of a kind. Very cool!!
Very impressive collection, so much history there, a great place to see for the future generations of snowmobilers. Thank you for sharing this with us, it would be amazing to see this in person someday.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Les for decades, he is one of the best. He’s volunteered his time at events with us, shared his years of industry experience with us, shares his vintage passion with us, talks about the newest stuff with us, and is always fun to share a snowmobile ride with. His collection is astounding, and yes I’ll need to go there four more times to see it all. If you enjoy all of this stuff like we do, give Les a visit!
Amazing, impressive and wow still doesn’t come close to describing what John has shown and described about Les and his collection.
Damn. I was invited go on that ride but I couldn’t make it. I had no idea you have so much stuff Les. I will make it a point to come for a history lesson ! Truly a life time capsule. Jim
WOW! What a incredible collection! John, we need to hook up for a ride next season! Thanks for sharing!
Les is a class act. I have been involved with him with Antique Snowmobile CLub of America, International snowmobile hall of fame, Waconia show, and now with being involved with Grooming . he is the “go to guy” his love for the history of our sport and his passion to see young people getting involved not only in snowmobiling but in being active in local club activities, the two of us spend a lot of windshield time going to meetings at Eagle River for the ISHOF board so I enjoy that time learning from this man.. a great tribute and story an a wonderful guy!! and Donna is a sweetheart too!
I always thought I knew allot about the history of this sport but having the chance on several occasions to stand between Les and Dave Guenther I just sit back and listen and get schooled every time. 2 hours of my life I will never forget was back in 2010 at the Eagle River Inn after the ISHOF Induction Ceremony having a couple drinks talking with Les and the Legend Himself Bob Eastman. Now that is Truly a Life’s Highlight moment. Had the chance to tour this the Les museum a few times. Never gets old. Great story John!!
Hi Les, I have a blue jacket and bibs and a pair of boots in the box.They are made by polaris. I believe it is a woman’s set.I believe they might be early 70’s but not positive.i was wondering what they might be worth.They have been hanging around in the attic for quite some time. And was wondering if you would be interested in buying them. thanks for your response gary
WOW just amazing. I just watched Minnesota Bound and seen their story about you and your sleds. First time I heard you. I’m 59 years old and have always had a love for vintage snowmobiles. I have owned a few through the years and have just recently bought a 69 Scorpion Mark 3 for $800 and it’s a great runner. My dream is to start a small collection of different sleds. Please let me know if your museum opens up fora viewing some day.
Thank you again for the history of these sleds.
Lonny Bostrom from Hinckley MN 320-385-0043
Great Article.. I was trying to figure out the location after I saw a video that
American Snowmobiler just came out with..
Hi Les and Donna,
My name is Charlotte Dircks Theis, my folks are Jerry and Marilyn Dircks.
My dad called me tonight to see about a lady that’s sewing mask for the town of isle, he told me you use to come up to Hill city MN and camp in the city park and that you guys were great fun and very nice people.
My folks now live in Prior Lake, my mom is in a memorycare place in Prior Lake.
My dad would love to connect with you,he really enjoys phone calls.
Please give him a call if you can. He said he has lots of good memories and laughs to share.
952-447-3873 home phone for Jerry.