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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.