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The Art of Seeing Hidden Treasure

Arctic Cat el tigre Z440, photo by


Whether it’s a jaunt to the grocery store for milk or a five-hour cruise to some faraway destination, each and every drive is a visual treasure hunt.

Literally everywhere I drive, I’m constantly scanning for snowmobiles (or motorcycles, bicycles and quads) that might parked on the sides of garages/barns/buildings. On trailers, amid piles of junk, surrounded by tall grass… wherever a sled might be sitting, I’m constantly on the lookout for it.

All my snowmobiling friends do the same thing, and I’d say it’s equal parts artistry and highly-trained skill honed by years (decades!) practice.

To the oncoming vehicles that pass us going the opposite direction, our eyes naturally detect those that are pulling a trailer. We experience the same brief moment of anticipation as we wait for this trailer to reveal its full load and, as drivers, we long-ago perfected the from-the-windshield-to-the-rearview-mirror sweep of the eyes to extract a few more moments of gazing.

If there are snowmobilers in the car, we proclaim the brand, model and year of the machines that we see. And if there is no one in the vehicle who shares our same appreciation of treasure, our proclamations are silent yet nearly as satisfying.

Conversely, when driving with my wife, I’m always struck by the contrast between what she sees and what I see. She is almost completely unaware of the treasure we past, even the easily seen machines parked in driveways or at the edge of the road with “For Sale” signs affixed to windshields.

Instead, she sees the homes that these sleds belong to, or the flower gardens that decorate their periphery. Different kinds of treasure, I suppose.


Arctic Cat el Tigre parked next to a garage, photo by

Sometimes I spot some treasure that requires slowing down and, occasionally, even stopping for a closer look. Typically it’s a vintage machine, a rare race sled or something so unusual that it requires further investigation.

I know of many treasure seekers who have knocked on doors to inquire about forlorn machines parked along sheds or in tree lines, but I’m not one of them. Some have even scored such treasures for such nominal fees that I briefly reconsider my policy of look-but-don’t-buy.

At the end of the day, I’m satisfied with having seen (however briefly) some treasure as I drive along the trail of life.


A Polaris TX hidden among trees and trash. Photo by

Arctic Cat ZR6000 with a 10-plus-10-equals-20-inch-handlebar-riser

Arctic Cat el tigre Z440, photo by



  1. That 440 Z looks pretty sweet. It’s almost as if she is waiting for someone to ask her to dance. Kind of like that pretty girl no one asked to the prom for rear of rejection.
    Something like that anyway.

  2. Quite often I will receive calls about old sleds for sale somewhere, or so and so has a 1952 Arctic Cat that he wants to get rid of. You always have to follow up on these as you never know what might turn up! (Yes, somebody said that they had a 1952 Arctic Cat. It turned out to be a ’75 Pantera!!!)

  3. I have came across sleds that way of driving and seeing. The big one that got away I kick myself for not going against what my dad said. We where out for a saturday drive when I was about 18 years old. I forgotten more about sleds at the age of 18 then most will ever know. I grew up with sleds and my uncles talking about yellow lake and eagle river racing had me hooked on snowmobiles and race sleds. Back to the sled that got away. I spotted it in some tall grass next to a build with other junk sleds. No other one tripped my trigger like this one. It was an old snowmobile dealership or small engine repair shop from what I gathered. Anyway the place was open, I asked the old guy inside how much he wanted for that sled in the weeds. $750 he said I was like little step. My dad goes that pile of junk isn’t worth that. I go yeah it is dad. He talked me out of it. Everyone is wondering what the sled was. It was 1975 moto ski sonic TS. It was all there and they are as rare as hens teeth. Yeah it was alot of money back then was about 94 or 95 before the big vintage push. I just knew it was something rare but couldnt put my finger on it until we got home and looked in some old snowmobile mags I had. My dad brought that up a while back at waconia he goes I should of let you buy that sled. For today there worth about $5000 restored or more. That was the holy grail for me as far as stuff I have found out driving around. Never will find another rare sled like that. I did go back there a few years later it was gone. Hopefully someone got it other then the junk man. My friend in highschool dad was the rupp dealer in town. He had a 75 nitro sitting out back this is before the internet and you couldnt find parts for the stuff or didn’t know where to look. It didn’t run and some stuff was missing off it he wanted $350 which I didn’t have wishing he would just give it to me to get it out of there. When I did get the money it was gone. I found out years later it did go to a good home my friend Gary Broomely has it now its all restored. I get to see it at shows. That one I can live with the fact it got away. It went to a good home. Not knowning where that TS went bothers me. Did it get scrapped??

  4. My uncle went to look at an Alouette once. The guy took him out back and there sitting in the weeds next to it was a 1972 Sno*Jet Thunderjet 440. He bought that instead. He restored it and sold it to a collector a few years ago.

  5. A few years ago I stopped with my wife at a yard sale just outside of Oshkosh, and spied out back behind a woodpile two skis sticking out from under a tarp. A quick peek revealed a 1975 Merc Sno-Twister that looked like it was parked there after its last race. I inquired and was told it belonged to a nephew or something, and was not part of the sale. As I was walking down the drive to the car, the nephew came running out of the house…”wait, wait!”

    An hour later the Twister was in my truck, and a week later it belonged to a Twister collector in Minnesota, who told me it had all kinds of factory racing parts on it (we are just 15 miles from Merc HQ). Keep your eyes peeled.

  6. When we were kids my buddies and I use to ride around taking inventory of cats in the county, lookin for part sleds. Sometimes we would find something “in the grass” in better shape then what we were riding.

  7. I read with great interest everybody’s different stories about hidden treasure hunting. (This is a true story, but I am going to leave out the actual names of the city and other identifiers) This is one that I forgot to mention as I am trying to block it from my memory, as Wade put it, “the big one that got away”. In the mid 1980’s there was a salesman that would call on my dad and told him about a four cylinder “king cat” that he knew about. It seems that there was this tavern owner in Pluedy’s town (put two and two together) that used to run this sled on a certain big lake in the area “back in the day”. So one Saturday my brother and I decided take a motorcycle ride up to Pluedy town and visit this tavern. The tavern was open and we both sat at the bar and struck up a conversation with the owner over a couple of Pepsi’s. You have to be somewhat diplomatic in approaching people about these things as you never know what kind of reaction that you are going to get from them. When we asked about an old snowmobile the first thing we hear out of this guy is “Arctic Cat wants this for their museum”. Okay, I knew where this was going. He wasn’t interested in selling and we never saw the sled. Done deal, or so I thought. Fast forward to 1996! My brother happens to drive past this tavern in Pluedy town and sees that it is for sale. We contact the realtor and get in contact with the owner. Once again inquiring about the snowmobile. He is not interested in selling and doesn’t seem too happy that we are asking about it either. I take a little ride up to Pluedy town and snoop around a bit. I figure this place is for sale so if anyone asks me what I’m doing I’ll just tell them that I’m interested in the property. There was a single car garage behind the bar that was open. Upon further investigation it was determined that it wasn’t a four cylinder King Cat after all. But what was parked amongst the discarded bar stools, cue sticks, and other bar room garbage? How about a ’67 Panther with a four cylinder Hirth drone engine!!!!!! WHOA! We couldn’t get anywhere with this guy, so we wrote it off. Rumor has it that the owner died and his nephew sold it to someone with a collection in Michigan.

  8. Every winter I pass by a 74 VIP Panther with the Cat-a-matic in northern Maine, sitting patiently in someones back yard, for the day it will run again. I thought about it a bit, but cannot take on another restoration.


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