While reading the “Marooned in Montana” story this week about fellow Woody Boater Paul Harrison, and his 3 day adventure dealing with the wind storm and giant snow drifts, the big rotary snow plow and wheel loader played a major role. Did anyone ever wonder how folks on the prairies got around during the winter in the days before Snow Plows and Snowmobiles?
In 1929 Karl E. Lorch, at 19 years of age, built and patented the first propeller-driven snow plane. This invention made winter travel much easier for thousands of people, including doctors, patients, police, mail carriers, geologists and the Armed Forces at times when roads were often impassable.
One day during the winter, while visiting near an airport Lorch watched a ski-equipped aircraft land and glide up to the hanger. The sight sparked the idea Lorch needed and the Lorch Snowplane was in the making. An engine was taken from a late model car and mounted on a welded steel frame. A five-foot propeller was fashioned from birch wood and bolted to the engines crankshaft. A single runner was attached in front to steer the machine, while two more runners in the rear completed the running surface of the Snowplane. The gas tank and battery were mounted on a platform under the engine. Below is an image of Karl Larch with one of his early Larch Snowplanes on the frozen Saskatchewan River in February 1935.
Aircraft materials were used for the aerodynamic shaped bodies… and in later years, 6-cylinder Lycoming aircraft engines were used exclusively. Here’s a shot of two Larch Snowplanes that were built for the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1930’s.
A facility in Spy Hill, Saskatchewan (Canada) produced Lorch Snowplanes in the 1930’s & 1940’s and Mr. Lorch also built snowplanes in Wolford, North Dakota for about three years. The Wolford models were designed so they could be switched from skis to wheels in the summer. Some reports indicate that with a good tail wind, the later Lorch Snowplanes could reach speeds as high as 90 MPH on the snow.
Snowplanes sold to the U.S. Post Office in Warwick, North Dakota.
And eventually when enough guys get together with their rides at the local filling station, before you know it you have a Gang… “The Spy Hill Sliders”… or how about the “Lorch Low Riders”… Just kidding, this is a vintage photo of a few Snowplane owners in front of the Spy Hill Garage.
In the 1940’s another manufacturer in Mossomin, Saskatchewan produced a similar machine named the Fudge Snowplane (shown below) which was powered by a Chrysler “L” head industrial engine, which was the same engine found on Massy Harris combines and stationary welders until the mid 1950’s.
Here’s another example of a vintage snowplane from the mid 1930’s powered by a Ford Model A engine.
This snowplane, appears to be built using wooden body work, probably a home built job which was often the case in the rural farm communities.
This photo from the U.S. Forest Service shows what appears to be a Price Snoplane in Yellowstone National Park. Price Snoplanes were built (I think) in Durango, Colorado in the 1950’s. The Price Snoplanes are easliy recognized by their cockpit design which resembled a light aircraft cockpit. They were later banned from operating in the National Parks for environmental reasons.
By the end of the 1950’s, commercial demand for the Lorch Snowplanes had dwindled, giving way to the modern track operated snow machines. From the time production began at the Sky Hill garage in the 1930’s until production sceased in 1955, Lorch manufactured and sold over 600 Snowplanes. At the entrance to the Village of Spy Hill, Saskatchewan this monument was erected by the citizens of Spy Hill and District in 1983. It’s dedicated to Karl E. Lorch in recognition of his contribution to winter transportation in North America.
So now we know a bit more about what folks in the mid-western prairies used for transportation in the winter months during the 1930’s to the 1950’s. And the next time your driving along one those secondary roads in the country side, keeping one eye on the road and the other on the barns and out builidngs and you spot an unusual looking vehicle with a propeller on the back inside the barn door, you can walk up to the owner and make like your an expert on vintage Snowplanes. If you buy it, there’s a good chance you will be the only guy on your block to own one…
For more information on this story you can visit The Village of Spy Hill, Saskatchewan web site by clicking here, or an informative blog which is also a good source of information on the subject of vintage Lorch and Fudge Snowplanes by clicking here.
Now back to our regularly scheduled antique & classic boat related programming…