March 8, 2015
Snowmobiles have drawn the Kieffer family together
I began this story with the idea that I would be talking about machines. It turns out that the real story is the kinship between a father and his sons. Leo Kieffer,Caribou along with his older son Rob of Woodland and Scott of Topsham has something in common with his sons that builds a bond of friendship that in many families is non-existent.
What began in 1964 when Leo and Leonel Plourde decided to open a SkiDoo dealership, Kieffer & Plourde on Laurette Street in Caribou, has led to this special hobby that continues to this day.
Kieffer & Plourde bought three snowmobiles to get their dealership rolling in 1964. To the best of Leo’s memory they sold 42 sleds that year. The partners chose SkiDoo because they felt that company was improving their product more rapidly than the other two major sled manufacturers Arctic Cat and Polaris. The partnership continued until the early 80’s when Bob Plourde and his Dad bought out Kieffer and formed Plourde & Plourde which is still located on Laurette Street in Caribou.
Scott and Rob learned to drive snowsleds very young. Rob remembers driving a new sled at their family camp on Madawaska Lake in 1975 at the tender age of seven. I am sure little brother Scott was on the sled as well.
Leo recalls that there were only two models for sale, an 8 horsepower sled which retailed for $495 and a 10 hp version for $595.
The elder Kieffer said, “It used to be that when you went for a ride on those old sleds you had both pockets full of spark plugs and three or four spare belts around your neck. It was a maintenance job where you would ride for an hour and repair them for two.”
“The early sleds just had a lot of maintenance problems. For example in 1966 they came out with an engine that had two carburetors. There wasn’t anybody in the world who could keep those two carburetors adjusted. They all came back to us in need of new pistons that were burned. Finally the factory replaced those two carburetors with a single carb for the same engine which then worked pretty good.”
Leo continued saying, “There were no groomed trails. At one time five of us left Madawaska Lake to ride to Cross Lake. Well we spent the day and never did make it. Of the five sleds, we hauled two of them back. That’s just the way you travelled back then in the mid 60’s.”
When asked if he, in his wildest dreams, in 1964 could have envisioned what snowmobiling would look like in 2015 he replied, “I think that if automobiles had improved as much as snowmobiles have in that time we’d have a lot better mileage vehicle. When you look at the equipment of 1965-66 era and look at the snowmobiles and cars there has been a lot more improvement in snowmobiles than cars”
Leo, who is 84 years of age, says he rides very little due to a bad leg and back so his rides are very limited. He does put his experience with engines to good use as the engine builder for most of the restoration projects.
Rob noted in regards to trail development, “One of the key things I noticed was the advent of oil injection. That allowed people to run up to a gas station to fill their sleds up from the pump.”
“As a kid we would ride up to Stan’s or St.Peter’s Store if we made it that far. Then grab the nearest gas can which no one knew what was in it. Could be rust or half a can from somebody else with dirt and everything else in it. You would mix gas and oil at the pump and dump that in your sled. That would be half your problem.”
“In the early 70’s a couple manufacturers began experimenting with oil injection. Yamaha, at least in my mind, was one. Everybody at that time laughed at that saying there is no way oil will flow at 10 below zero. Little did we know that would be a godsend for moving the trail system ahead.”
Ski Doo Formula Twin Tracker
Though neither Kieffer brother ever raced the Ski Doo Formula they now own one of only two in Maine. “The twin tracker was developed about 1982, ” according to Rob. “It came from the Villeneuve brothers who did a lot of car racing. The first year it did not work that well but with their input it became a great racing machine.”
“They (the Villenueves) helped develop the front end on it and also the rear end. The machine actually has two 7 1/2 inch tracks. There is a clutch system between the two tracks so that when you turn left the cable managed system cuts power to the inside track. That is what makes them corner so well….to the left. They aren’t so good going right because they were designed to do ovals.”
“Villeneuve and all those characters had these. They only made about 20 per year for ten years. They raced these in Presque Isle one year. You had to have a good racing resume to get a hold of one of these.”
“The SkiDoo Formula Twin tracker had the 340 Super Mod engine. They won the World Championships in Eagle River, Wisconsin in their class 10 or the 11 years they had them.”
In 1968-70 the Kieffer & Plourde SkiDoo dealership sponsored a race team. Their drivers include Ronnie Thibodeau, Tommy Peters, Leo Kieffer, Bobby Plourde, and George Kelley. Rob and Scott would drive in the junior classes.
Rob remembers,”We used to take this race team to races in Ashland, Limestone, and Fort Fairfield. Every week there would be a race. They would take a field essentially that day and make it into the race course.”
“I remember driving to Ashland with Ronnie Thibodeau’s truck which was like a farm truck. We had six or seven sleds piled on that truck and would come home with a cab full of trophies.”
Scott and Rob dabbled in races prior to 1975 mostly racing the 10 or 12.3 horsepower sleds in local races. In 1975 the Kieffer team got serious. They raced a twin 245 cc on ice ovals in Greenville, Woodstock, Houlton, and Lewiston.
Scott accumulated enough points that season in the Junior Class to be invited to the World Series in Weedsport, New York. They remember the race mostly for the warm sloppy weather that greeted the racers. I did not ask where Scott finished in the World Series race.
A memorable race for Rob was at in Lewiston. “We raced at Lewiston that year on a horse track,” said Rob. “It was Friday night I remember that. I made the finals. It was on a horse track and it was raining. So you had ice melting with horse manure, straw and everything. You go into the corner and get behind somebody then boom there you go, you get a face full. That sled stunk for two months after that!”
Leo laughed and said,” We walked him right into the shower, clothes and helmet and all trying to get that horse manure off him.”
“Another race we did (The International 500), Reggie Thibodeau, Mike Ouellette and I went to Minnesota in 1992. My brother went along as well. They have a 500 mile cross-country race that we thought was going to be on a groomed trail.”
“We got out there and it was on a “marked” trail. Let me tell you it was not pretty. It was 45 degrees with mud and stumps. A third of the sleds were out on day one of the three-day event including me. As I was nearing the finish for day one I went through the ice in a stream and could not get the sled out.”
“If you accept help you were done. The whole engine was under water. I had went over an island in the air and landed in the ice and went right under that ice. I went over the handle bars which I bent and took the windshield right off.”
Thibodeau and Ouellete both finished the 500 mile event which had started in Thunder Bay, Ontario and ended in Minneapolis, Minnesota. All men were very sore after the pounding they took at the race and still had a two-day drive to get home.
How did the Kieffer Family Racing/restoration team get to where it is today? According to Rob, “Part of what interested us being able to work together on something. Dad and I and my brother Scott and really the whole family like it or not have been involved in it. I have had my daughter out here helping to lift things or changing things around. She’s not thrilled about it.”
“I have three daughters. They enjoy riding things rather than repairing things. That was how I was when I was their age.”
“We have a combination of consumer sleds and part of our collection is race sleds. The race sleds, as you can imagine, are a little more pricey and more difficult to find parts for. If you raced the sled one year the next year’s sled was a little better so a lot of the old race sleds were hauled to the dump because they got wrecked.”
“We are fortunate to have some very good tradesmen around our area. We do not have a paint booth but we have friends who do a great job with that. Machinists are the key. Ben Damboise of Caribou is one of those key guys, not just for us but new sledders also. Some times we cannot find a part we have Ben build it. He is a very good fabricator.”
As you can see from my brief story that this family enjoys the time they spend together in a hobby that strengthens that father-son relationship and allows them to build a long-lasting bond.
You can see what the Kieffers bring to the Frozen Motor Mayhem II next Saturday March 14, 2015. Try as I might I was unable to get them to reveal what machines they will be bringing this year. So get out and enjoy the racing and displays of Vintage sleds.
A couple more notes
Under the “you would not believe” category:
In action at the World Rally Championship (WRC) Rally Mexico last Friday Ott Tanak and co-driver Raigo Molder in their Ford Fiesta RS flew off course after hitting a huge compressive bump. They ended up in a water reservoir. Both were able to make it out safely yet their car sat submerged for 9 hours. That did not deter the M-Sport team who had only three hours to get the RS back in action. This quote from Racer Magazine On-Line describes the work accomplished.
“M-Sport changed the car’s gearbox, fuel tank, turbo, cooling package, boost control valves, electronic components, brake components, front and rear suspension components plus a number of cosmetic components, repaired the engine block and drained the engine of excess water, in a process completed in three hours.”
“It was a crazy challenge, but I knew the M-Sport guys would be up for it,” said Tanak. “I have massive respect for my team. This was a huge task to do, but they have worked as hard as they always do and I am so grateful to each and every one of them.”
On their way to the Saturday stage of the rally, after running the car for one half hour, it stopped before they could get to the start. The problem was a wet coil. The team let it dry and entered the Sunday rally albeit with huge time penalties. Now that is true perseverance!
Check out the crash at
See at Frozen Motor Mayhem II. Be sure to stop and say hello.
Let’s Go Racing,
Soli Deo Gloria