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The Hidden Beauty of a Barn Find

Arctic Cat Panther barn find

Not a month goes by without someone telling me they know of some old snowmobiles sitting in a barn somewhere. Usually the tip comes from someone who isn’t a snowmobiler (or who only has a cursory knowledge of sleds) and who completely misrepresents the sleds they speak of.

If I had a dollar for every machine that was:

A. Rare

B. A racing model

C. In great condition

D. All the above;

…I would be rich enough to own a pristine-condition King Cat.

Consequently, I long ago quit expecting to uncover a Holy Grail such as Bob Elsner’s 1979 World Championship-winning Arctic Cat Sno Pro, or even a ’75 Z.

When you step back and consider the actual production numbers of snowmobiles built over the years, by far the greatest likelihood is that, when the barn door slides open, the encrusted machine is a Panther, Charger, Olympique or any other standard snowmobile.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t still get amped up every time I endeavor to see one of the barn sleds I’ve been told of. Quite the opposite, actually.

There is always an element of surprise. There is always a sense of adventure. And if the owner is present, I’m certain to hear a story or two about the sled.

It is the story-sharing aspect of the whole experience that is invariably most enjoyable. Fact is, I never grow tired hearing tales of thrilling speeds, incessant breakdowns, close calls with open water and/or barbed wire, and family rides with bundled-up kids. Such stories are often seasoned by the embellishments of time and the exaggerations of memory, but they speak a truth that is universal among snowmobilers.

It should also be noted that barn find trips aren’t always blissful. There’s always a feint aroma of stale gas that leaches onto my hands and/or clothing. There’s a high likelihood of contracting poison ivy. And I’m frequently relieved to know I’ve had a tetanus shot within the last seven years.

While I’m likely to get a gash or step on a nail, it’s rare that I return from a barn trip with a sled in the back of my pickup. However, I still ALWAYS bring cash… just in case. Yet while money seldom exchanges hands on my barn trips, there is a transaction that always occurs.  It’s the trading of our most precious commodity… time… for the experience of opening a door to see what’s inside.

Unfortunately for my wife, I spend time like a drunken sailor spends money. Smartly, she automatically adds the 2X multiplier to whatever timeframe I claim such trips will require. Nevertheless, as a busy parent with two kids, I have to squeeze barn trips into short windows of opportunity that usually leave me rushed and racing the last wisps of fading sunlight.

Alas, you can never have enough time, enough snowmobiles or enough storage space.

I sometimes wonder if, 30 years from now, some stranger will be in my garage/barn, delicately stepping around my own lifetime of accumulated junk in order to pull the cover off of some sled, hopeful for rare gem that simply needs a good clean?  

If it does happen, I’ll be certain to point him towards the old Jag in the tree line, the one surrounded in poison ivy.

Arctic Cat Jag is perfect fertilizer



  1. That 68 Panther looks like it should have my name on it!

    People ask me if I remember my first snowmobile…here’s what I tell them…
    My grandpa told me he was going to buy us a snowmobile and everyone in the neighborhood had a Ski-Doo, so I assumed he would buy the same. He told me he was buying an Arctic Cat Panther that had steel cleats that pulled like a bulldozer and had a front forward mounted engine that has weight over the skis, so it turns where you point it!
    I was 9 years old and we picked it up the 1st Saturday morning after Thanksgiving in 1967 from Stanky’s Marine in Kingsford, Mich. It was a 1968 Panther P-17-H
    My opinion, there is nothing more beautiful than a 1968 Panther with the yellow leopard print seat and the blue windshield, with that 17hp Hirth muffler poping!

  2. ……… stories are often seasoned by the embellishments of time and the exaggerations of memory…….

    Such is the case of my last barn (garage at a cottage) find. A customer at my workplace tells me that he has an old snowmobile that he wants to get rid of. It was his late wife’s sled that she used for ice fishing. I tell him that I would be interested in looking at it. Then he says that it is a 1952 model. Hmmm, I’m thinking what is it, an Eliason? Then he tells me “it’s an Arctic Cat”. I politely tell him that it couldn’t be a ’52, but now the wheels in my head are spinning. Maybe it’s a model 141-d, a King Kat, a Cougar with bogie wheels, but in all reality probably just a ’73 Panther. He tells me that if I want it I can have it, FREE! Arrangements are made and I drive 90 miles to pick up the mystery sled. A clean garage kept ’75 440 Pantera is now in my possession.

  3. A number of years ago i responded to a craigs list ad that read, 3 70’s Arctic Cats and 1- 488 polaris, they have to leave! No pictures just the ad, i did not respond right away because of no pictures. A month goes by and the ad is still there so i make the call and they are still available so i hook up on the 4 place trailer and drive about 1-1/2 hours to take a look when i get there i find a nice 71 634 panther with a cool track stand, parted out 71 puma a 72 cheetah rolling chassis and a 71 488 poo charger. I ask what he wanted for the panther and he says $200 but i have to take everything and that meant all of the sleds and extra snowmobile parts he had. I load the sleds and parts which took up all of the room in the box and the cab of my truck. Call my wife tell her i am on my way home, she asked what i found and i tell her the story and she laughs. I get home unhook the trailer back the truck in the shop to unload the rest and i notice a something on the window of the front door and some smarty pants makes a sign that reads Sanford and Son on it! I am glad she is understanding with my addiction because it wasn’t the last time this happened.

  4. So years ago when I was still editing Vintage Snowmobile magazine I got a call from a guy from northern Wisconsin who had a Ski-Doo to get rid of right away (I had yet to convert to the Church of the Cat). He could not send me a photo as this was the early days of the internet, but tried to describe it and of course in my mind this thing is turning into a Blizzard. So I think we struck a deal for $200 and we would meet in the middle, which was still a two-hour drive for me and on top of that I had to borrow a buddy’s truck. The rendezvous was a gas station on highway 51, and he pulls up and this sled turns out to be a clapped-out Elan and in five minutes it was in the back of my truck and he was down the road with my $200, because a deal’s a deal.

    I started driving home wondering what I would ever do with this unfortunate machine, feeling both pissed off and humiliated. And then I remembered that I’d be driving near the Waste Management land fill at Berlin, and after paying a fee I drove to the top of the pile and flipped that Elan on the ground right in the path of the compacting dozer, and drove home. This seemed like the best solution to the situation. Sometimes it’s best to just cut your losses.

    Lesson learned.

  5. John Zanon,
    Love the story! I was born in the summer of 67, and my Dad brought the same 68 17hp Hirth Panther home to our deluxe single wide home in the fall of 67. Grew up with that sled. The sound of an old Panther takes me back….Still a big fan almost half a century later!

  6. Great story John. I think you described the quest for a barn find perfectly. I always try to go in with “high aspirations and low expectations,” but the excitement of the unknown can cause one’s imagination to wander on the way there. It feels a little like playing the lottery with similar odds of success.

    I don’t mean to make light of your misfortune, but that story was hilarious! Thanks for sharing it, and for putting the Elan I’m is rightful place!

  7. Mike F. are you in Perham and make the megaphone pipes? If you are, you do great work!
    Pluedy…your trash is someone’s treasure!
    I felt the same way…at a Christmas party, a guy told me he had a 68 or 69 Panther, and the seat was taken off each night and brought in the house.
    He said I could have for $50…I said SOLD!
    When I went to pick it up later that week, I found it was a 1972 Panther, no seat, the skis were frozen to the ground and when I lifted the loops, the bottoms stuck to the ground, so no skis.
    He said the engine didn’t run, needed crank seals, and no rewind.
    Worse yet, he told me he wouldn’t take less than $300!
    I asked about the seat and it was stored in his basement…in mint condition.
    He also had an Eskimo for $50.
    I ended up buying both the Eskimo & 72 Panther for $150, I sold the seat for $100 to a friend who said he would have paid $250 for.
    I was still out $50 and I was mad, I was stuck with 2 pieces of junk.
    Someone asked if the plastic around the Panther gas tank was cracked and wasn’t…He offered me $70 for the plastic, so I gave him the gas tank, plastic, passenger hand grips, tail lights, & back bumper.
    Then I listed the Eskimo and someone took it for $100 and took the Panther junk engine for $10.
    Great stories, everyone…I enjoy your company and thank you John Sandberg,for the fantastic site!

  8. Hello my name is Wayne…. and yes I have a problem!!!
    I bought my first Arctic Cat in 1990 an EXT Special, have owned countless Cats over the years , sold most but about 10 years ago started searching for barn finds in my spare time. At last count I think I am at about 15 sleds, but on my last week cross country trip I just bought another so it might be 16!
    Is there a group like AA that us barn find guys can join?

    PS anyone want a deal on a 1980 or 81 6000? She’s been ridden hard and put away wet a few times…. little rough but a good parts sled runs great…!LOL

  9. My barn find was by way of local paper!! The ad said Arctic Cat for sale and nothing else but a number!!! After I called the guy and set a time to go look at it ,I thought I was in for a long ride for nothing!!! When I got there the old goat that I talked to said he ” bought for the kids and stuck 700 dollars in it and they want nothing to do with it”!!!! When I walked in the machine shed and turned the corner we locked eyes and I knew she was coming home with me!! Under more straw bales than what the cows were laying on sat my baby,turned out the Arctic Cat was an 88 Wildcat 650!!!!! After cleaning her up she was beautiful!!! Thank god for barn finds another lost cat made her way home to the pride!!!! That why when my wife asks were I’m going I respond with “rescue mission”!!!!!! Long live the CAT!!!!


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