What Did They Do Before Snow Plows & Snowmobiles To Get Around?

Vintage Lorch Snow Plane - Image Courtesy of ensign.ftlcomm

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.

Lorch Snow Plane - Image & Text Courtesy of the Village of Spy Hill, Sask.

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.

Lorch Snow Planes - Image & Text Courtesy of the Village of Spy Hill, Sask.

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.

Lorch Snow Planes - Image Courtesy Saskatchewan Archives Board

Snowplanes sold to the U.S. Post Office in Warwick, North Dakota.

Warwick, North Dakota - Image Courtesy of the Village of Spy Hill, Sask.

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.

Snow Planes - Image Courtesy of ensign.ftlcomm

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.

Fudge Snow Plane - Image Courtesy of ensign.ftlcomm

Fudge Snow Plane - Image Courtesy of ensign.ftlcomm

Here’s another example of a vintage snowplane from the mid 1930’s powered by a Ford Model A engine.

Early Snow Plane - Image Courtesy of H.A.M.B. / Jalopy Journal

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.

Image Courtesy of Western Development Museums of Saskatchewan

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.

Yellowstone Park Snow Plane - Image Courtesy of the US Forest Service

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.

Larch Monument - Image Courtesy of the Village of Spy Hill, Sask.

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…


15 replies
  1. anonymus
    anonymus says:

    They still use fan boats to access the Thousands Islands during the frozen months. I have not seen any with wood hulls though.

  2. Rick
    Rick says:

    During the summer months mount it on your house roof as a whole house fan. Neat stuff. Never know what your going to learn. Or where! Keep up the good work.

  3. Alex
    Alex says:


    Really fascinating posting. Thank you. (I take it large, spinning, low-mounted, exposed blades on the backs of fast moving ground machines was before the days of OSHA and trial lawyers?)

    Not sure if I can paste a link in here, but here’s trying:


    It’s an old video of a “Fordson Snow Machine,” so if the link does not paste in this comment, just look that up on Youtube.

    This machine was another cool way to get around (or above) the snow in the late 20s.

    Just think, if Paul had had one of these in the bed of his Dually, he’d have still made it home for Valentines!

    • Wayne Gessner
      Wayne Gessner says:

      Hello Tim, I was just snooping around looking up different articles about snowplanes and came across your note about having one for sale. Do you still have it? If so, may I ask where you live? I am in central Saskatchewan.

    • Dave
      Dave says:

      Hi Tim,
      Was wondering if you still have your snowplane for sale. Or if you happen to know where there is another. I appreciate the time and help.

    • Dave
      Dave says:

      Hi Tim,
      Was wondering if you still have your snowplane for sale. Or if you happen to know where there is another. I appreciate the time and help. If you could send me photos also I would love to see them.

      • Texx
        Texx says:

        Hi Dave – A while back, I attempted to contact the fellow who had the snow plane for sale with no success. They are certainly rare and haed to come by.


      • Vivian
        Vivian says:

        Hi Dave,

        I have recently seen your post looking to purchase a snowplane.

        Our family has a Fudge Snowplane, which has been lovingly restored to factory quality with a Lycoming 108HP engine. It is in mint condition has always been stored in a shed, out of the elements.

        Please contact me for photos or further details if you are interested.

        I can be reached:
        vsurfing (at) pobox (dot) com

  4. Darrell Lawrence
    Darrell Lawrence says:

    I came across this blog haphavardly and thought I would post this offer.
    I’m originally from Saskatchewan, now living in NS, and have several old photos of snowplanes and snowplane races held in and around my hometown of Nipawin in the 1930’s. I would be willing to e-mail them for use on your blog if you care to see them. Thank you.

  5. Doug Cole
    Doug Cole says:

    Am currently doing research for Ontario Provincial Police Museum on use of motorized Snow Vehicles used by them over the past 80 + years. Have several photos from the 1930′-40’s of snowplanes. Some are I suspect commercial and some are home made. Is there someone out there in the snowplane vintage world that would be interested in posting some of these early police vehicle photos on a website dedicated to heritage snowplanes? Please contact me. Doug Cole

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