NEWFOLDEN, Minn. — The way collections always do, it started with just one.
For DeVere Chapman, 75; his son, Shane, 48; and Shane’s son, Nick, 19, of Newfolden, that collection is vintage snowmobiles.
Polaris snowmobiles, mainly, but also a handful of long-gone brands, including a 1966 Larson Eagle and a 1969 Homelite Forester.
Both were built on Polaris chassis made in Roseau, Minn., but marketed under different brands with different hood designs.
The venture that became Chapman Vintage Snowmobiles started with a 1967 Polaris Colt. DeVere Chapman bought the Colt brand new back in the day, but years of use took a toll.
So began a quest to spruce up the sled.
“That is the one that started it,” he said. “I bought it new in 1967, and then about ’95, it had to be rebuilt really bad. Well, then I tore it down and couldn’t find a track, and then about 2000, we did find a new track so I went ahead and rebuilt it. That was kind of fun, so then we did another one, then we did another one.”
You can probably see where this is going. …
“We ran out of room a long time ago,” DeVere Chapman said.
The Chapmans had five sleds on display Saturday, Feb. 1, during the ninth annual AK Vintage Snowmobile Show, which drew more than 100 vintage sleds that were lined up outside the Blue Moose in East Grand Forks.
DeVere Chapman’s 1966 Larson Eagle snowmobile won the Media’s Choice and Blue Moose awards, the latter picked by the owner of the Blue Moose, during the show. He also received the Art Seydel Legend Award for his contributions to preserving and promoting the tradition of collecting and restoring vintage snowmobiles. The award is named after Art Seydel of East Grand Forks, a snowmobile racing pioneer during the sport’s heydays in the late ‘60s and early ’70s who died in February 2017.
Shane Chapman placed second in the Stock Restored category with his 1966 Polaris Colt racer, the first of the model to roll off the assembly line with the serial number of one. The snowmobile has never had gas in the tank since being restored.
A thing of beauty, the restored Colt easily could have won the Media’s Choice award, which more or less came down to a coin flip that ended in favor of the 1966 Larson. Shane Chapman said he came across the Larson about 10 years ago. The sled was sitting in a farmer’s tree row near Roseau, and he offered the farmer $25.
The snowmobile today looks like it just came off the showroom floor.
“I put it in our barn, and it was just a pile,” he said. “Someone had painted it green, the motor was stuck, and it was pretty much a piece of junk. The hood was there, the chassis was there, and we redid it all from that.”
Finding the snowmobile was pure coincidence, Chapman said.
“I was just driving by and saw it sitting there,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your eyes open. It’s the same with the car (collectors). They see stuff laying in the weeds, because that’s where a lot of stuff that I have has come from. I haven’t bought too many that are fixed up; it’s been junk and we redid it.”
Works in progress
Between them, the Chapmans have “about 20 to 25” snowmobiles in running order, which they bring to shows and take on vintage rides.
“Some are restored and some are just original riders,” Shane Chapman said. “And then I’ve got about another 30 in my shed that are on the to-do list that are either going to be left as they are and I haven’t gotten them running yet, to full restoration. It just kind of depends on what they are.”
They’re in the process of restoring about 60 snowmobiles, Shane said, including a couple of rear-engine sleds that are real antiques.
“The problem is our shop isn’t big enough for the two of us,” he said with a laugh. “(Dad) gets working on something and I get working on something and then we end up with stuff all over the place.
“I would really like a bigger shop.”
Collecting wasn’t the original motivation for owning vintage snowmobiles, said Shane, an insurance adjuster and inspector for Marshall County Mutual in Newfolden. He bought a 1973 Polaris Colt when he was 11 years old and later took it with him to college at Bemidji State University. A 1980 Polaris TXL Indy came next.
“I went to school in Bemidji, and I took my old ’73 (Polaris) Colt with me in ’91 so I could go ice fishing, and people would just laugh,” he said. “They’d all be driving their new sleds, and I’d have that old Colt.”
The buying, selling and collecting hit full speed after college, Chapman said; a 1968 Polaris Colt was the first snowmobile he restored.
“I started buying and kind of just flipping a little bit here and there just to pay for my restorations, just so I could have parts,” he said. “I never really made any money at it, it was just to finance buying new seats and stuff; that stuff is expensive.
“For awhile, I was bringing home five-six-seven sleds a week. I pretty much have my own boneyard as far as Polaris stuff goes.”
Chapman found his ’66 Polaris Colt racer in the barn of a Newfolden-area farmer who lived nearby.
“He went all over the country and picked up sleds in the ’80s — they were buying vintage sleds before it got real popular,” Shane said. “He had a bunch he wanted to get rid of. He’s a Scorpion (collector) and wanted to get rid of all the Arctic Cats and Polarises.
“I bought 27 sleds from him to get that one and two others.”
Chapman restored the 1966 Colt a couple of years ago. Riding and restoring the vintage sleds is like taking a ride back in time, he says.
“It’s what I rode when I was a kid,” he said.“I never had money to buy a new sled so we rode vintage sleds when they weren’t vintage sleds. They were just our sleds, I guess.”