I’ve been binge-watching Christmas films with my fiancé over the past few weeks, including my personal favorites, the Rankin-Bass stop motion features—including the beloved Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. In and around my fiancé blowing my mind with facts I did not know (“Did you know that’s Fred Astaire?” “What??”), he enlightened me to the fact that Special Delivery “S.D.” Kluger’s snowmobile-slash-mail-delivery-truck is actually a real thing.
Now, I am notorious for having literally zero bearings when it comes to anything pop culture, but this one felt like something I should have known. Even if I am the only person who did not know of the existence of the Model T and Model A Fords that were converted into snow-trekking bay boys, it felt like a worthwhile topic for a deep dive.
According to Hagerty, Ford actually sold a kit back in the day that could turn your everyday vehicle into an all-winter machines. A man named Virgil T. White designed a conversion that featured skis in the front and tracks on the back in the 1920s, which were sold through Ford. Basically any Model T (and some model As), could be converted into what was then copyrighted as the Snowmobile.
So, your basic passenger car lost its rear axle, driveshaft, rear spring, and radius rods in order to be replaced with a seven-to-one Ford truck work gear drive line. Heavy duty wheels were fitted into the axles, which were covered with chains to produce your track.
It’s not entirely well known what people did with their Snowmobiles, but there was a known case where a man named Donald B. MacMillan used one as his vehicle of choice on a sub-Arctic expedition in 1927. There have been plenty of pieces of Snowmobiles unearthed in Inuit territory in Newfoundland.
However, it’s believed that the Snowmobile was essential for country doctors and rural mail carriers especially, since it enabled them to do their duty even in the harshest of winter conditions. On top of that, lumber companies, traveling salesmen, fire departments, taxi drivers, and milkmen were all frequent purchasers of the machine, which seems to have been largely used by folks just trying to work when the weather got bad.
These weren’t every day toolin’ around modifications, though. Back then, the Snowmobile package could cost $395, which in today’s money would be close to $5,500. Folks back in 1926 probably didn’t just have that, y’know, laying around—hence why the Snowmobile was mostly popular with the folks who quite literally needed it for work.
There are whole societies out there who focus on who are dedicated to restoring and collecting these bad boys. And quite honestly, I’d love to be one of ‘em.