OMC Classic: 1970 Johnson Skee-Horse & Cutter

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Waking up to 5-inches of snow sure changes a person’s outlook, and plans. Not to mention sometimes changing the vehicles that start to get into their psyche. Being raised in the upper-Midwest, where snow is a factor at least five months a year, is different than being from the south where snow isn’t even on the radar, literally. For those of you in snow country, here’s a 1970 Johnson Skee-Horse & Cutter. It’s listed on eBay with a current bid price of $610, but the reserve hasn’t been met. This one is located squarely in snow country: Swartz Creek, Michigan, 10 miles west of Flint.

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This Skee-Horse is in nice shape, no really! Some of you non-snowmobile lovers may be thinking, “Who in their right mind would want a rusty, faded, 46-year old machine to ride around on the snow with?” Considering that most snowmobiles of this vintage look like this, seeing a nice, original, easily-restorable-to-like-new Johnson Skee-Horse is fun for folks like me who live in northern climates. Look at the fun that these people are having in this old brochure! Ok, none of the adults have even a hat on and they’re probably close to being frostbitten, but, other than that!

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This is the Skee-Horse model 25-200RS and it was the top of the line for Johnson in 1970, and was about as nice of a snowmobile/sled/snowmachine as you could buy at that time. The factory Johnson Cutter sleigh is a nice addition. This Skee-Horse has both electric start and reverse, two unbelievably luxurious features for anyone who has ever pulled and pulled to try and start a flooded engine or gone down a trail only to realize that it’s a dead-end and then had to get off and somehow try to turn a 400-500 pound sled around while standing waist-deep in snow. Again, doesn’t that sound like fun?!

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This Skee-Horse is much nicer than any snowmobile that we had when I was growing up. Our “controls” consisted of maybe a headlight switch and that’s it. Normal wear is present on this sled and it wouldn’t be hard to restore this one back to looking like new again, or just maintain it and ride it as is. There isn’t even a ding on the underside, that’s pretty amazing for anyone who knows anything about riding these things and sometimes hearing a “clunk” from hitting a hidden rock or tree stump. Again, folks in non-snow-country just rolled their eyes and confirmed that folks from the frozen north are “different”..

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Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) was the parent company of Johnson, Evinrude, and Snow Cruiser snowmobiles and they were in the snowmobile business from 1965 to 1976, the golden era of what are now known as the classic, vintage snowmobiles. The Antique Snowmobile Club of America (a great organization which I’ve been a member of for years) defines an “antique” snowmobile as one made prior to 1968 and nice sleds from that era are getting harder to find now. OMC was famous for being makers of marine engines and outboard motors and they jumped on the bandwagon when snowmobiling was becoming like the wild west gold rush, or like the early days of the automobile at the turn of the 20th century. The early-mid-1960s saw the rise of hundreds of snowmobile companies trying to get in on the ground floor of this new fad. Companies like OMC with deeper pockets than most fared a little better than a lot of independent makers did, but they still saw the writing on the wall and exited the industry in 1976.

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This is a 437 cc two-cycle, opposed-twin (hmm.. I wonder if a Subaru 360 engine would fit in there?) with 25 hp and there’s even a new battery. The transmission is a variable speed unit with automatic “torque-sensor” and this one has a lockout neutral and reverse gear. Fancy! Ours just had a belt which would sometimes either fall off or break and if you didn’t have a spare with you, along with two or three spare spark plugs, you were walking, usually in mind-and-body-numbing below-zero temps. I’m tellin’ ya, you folks in the south are missing out! This looks like a great snowmobile to me. Being in Michigan will help keep shipping costs down since it’s about halfway in-between the snow country areas that would have any interest in this one, or in any snowmobile. This isn’t a speed demon, monster snowmobile, but for anyone interested in the classic era of snowmobiling, this is a good one. How many of you have owned or ridden a “vintage” sled like this 1970 Johnson Skee-Horse?

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Comments

  1. mark

    At one time there were lots (maybe dozens) of companies making snow mobiles. Sno-Jet, Scorpion, John Deere, Chaparall, Moto-Ski, Yamaha, Kawasaki just to name a few. About all that is left is Arctic Cat and Polaris.

  2. williamcleary

    Don’t forget SkiDoo!

    Like 1
    • Mike

      And Yamaha.

  3. S Ryan

    Ah. Fond memories on a John Deere 440. What a beast.
    This is one cool looking old sled. I live where I could maybe use once a year now. Don’t miss the frozen fingers.

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Hi S Ryan. I do NOT have many fond memories of a John Deere. I worked for a JD dealer out west in the Chinook Belt. When conditions were good, we had everyone show up after coffee time on Friday afternoon, expecting to have their sled ready to take to the mountains (or hunt coyotes) that day. No appointment and it all HAD to be done TODAY! More often than not, the shop was busy with other stuff and I ended up working on snowmobiles by myself. I used to love snowmobiling but that fixed my desire for life. I learned to love the years when there was no snow all winter, except for the mountains. We’ve had some bare winters, from Great Falls, MT, all the way up to Calgary, Canada. For example, this year it snowed about 4 inches the first weekend in October then was bare till today; snowing pretty good right now. It could be gone by Friday though….

      • Howard A Member

        Hi geomechs, some folks had good luck with JD, ( I think they were made in Horicon, Wis.) some models, not so much. I have a neighbor here that still has his “Liquifier”. Although, most of those early liquid cooled models had problems. I think all sleds from this era had their troubles. Underhood heat, probably the biggest culprit. To this day, I’d much prefer a fan cooled. Just so much easier.

  4. Elrod

    We had a 66 Johnson 25hp Skee Horse for almost 30 years. Similar engine, but only had a neutral and no reverse. Tilloston side draft carb that was very simple and worked well. Always started. It had a decent power band for small engine. The handling and traction of these sleds is down right dangerous by today’s standards. It would take a city block to turn these old Johnsons! I bet I rolled it a dozen times as a kid…LOL. my brother has it now and it STILL runs…Aqua and green colors – Johnson really wanted to stand out in a crowd.

  5. Dave Wright

    Highest and best use would be something to display in a mountain restaurant. These were difficult to keep running when new let alone as an antique.

    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      I’m thinking in front of a Bed & Breakfast here in the Northeast.

  6. williamcleary

    Is that a Rotax engine made by Bombardier in Quebec,Canada?

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      It’s an OMC engine, williamcleary. The smaller model line, the Challenger, had a JLO engine.

  7. David G

    Wow, what a clean package this is, especially considering its age. Brought back fine memories for me since in the mid 70s i attempted to restore a 1970 Mercury 250ER snowmobile. Also Electric Start and Reverse, only with that machine one needed to shut down the engine, flick a Starter Switch from the FWD Starter to the REV Starter, then restart the engine backwards!
    As i found out, not waiting until the engine came to a COMPLETE stop before running the REV Starter meant a bent REV Starter Armature, ugh..
    (I went through a couple of those, still available new from the Kiekhaefer-Mercury dealers at the time..)

    This one will be a good get!

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff
    • Loco Mikado

      The Mercury outboard motors had the same setup for years. One of the most stupidest things in the world IMO. I personally know of a few boating accidents because of this.

      • Guggie 13

        they were called dock crashers
        my 2009 Polaris touring 550 fan also has a push button reverse that stops the engine and then restarts in reverse , it always works , my 2000 Polaris 550 touring sled has a gear box for reverse , I like that system better
        old ways are new again

  8. Jesse Mortensen Staff

    I love this thing Scotty! I’ve dreamt about getting an old sleigh to make some Christmas memories with the family in, but with no place to keep a horse, it doesn’t really make sense. This on the other hand, makes perfect sense.

    • Michael S

      Man the real value is the cutter as those are really rare now. Put the kids dogs and groceries in the cutter, engage as slowly and take them to the cabin…

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      I like your thinking, Jesse! I could see this as the next Barn Finds restoration project!

      Like 1
  9. geomechs geomechs Member

    My dad had an OMC Sno-Cruiser, which looked almost identical to this one except for the color. And it didn’t have electric start. I remember the opposed twin and thought it was quite unique. I wonder how many other brands were built on this same chassis?

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Hey Geo. OMC made Snow Cruiser, Evinrude, and Johnson snowmobiles that were basically the same with different graphics and maybe some other small differences.

      • Ed

        What I remember about the OMC Snow Cruiser I rode in 70’s was the rich pre-mix for fuel. I recall the owners manual called for a 16-1 mix and you were to use 2 stroke oil or a good grade of 30 w motor oil!

  10. Jeffro

    I’ve never had the pleasure of riding a snowmobile.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      You don’t know what you’re missing, Jeffro! (breaking down in the middle of the woods – sometimes at night, smelling like gas and oil, numb fingers, toes, and nose, etc.)

      • Jeffro

        Oh snap! I’ve done that plentry of times.Except I was on 4 wheelers. In the swamp. In the Georgia heat. With mosquitoes. And gators. Snakes too.
        So yeah…I certainly need to do the snow thing. Sounds so much better.

    • philthyphil

      modern sleds are amazing, 12 inches of suspension and well north of 100 hp

  11. Sorted Corty

    My dad had a ’68 Johnson and an Evinrude of about the same year that he bought used. The Evinrude was the same except it was white. They had twin louvered panels on the hood and a dipstick fuel gauge. They didn’t have reverse. The engines were lifted right out of the outboard assembly line. One thing I remember is that on these older ones there was no “dash” – you sat with one of the cylinders right betwixt your legs and the “air cleaner” right in front of your belly. I remember my dad revving it up and slapping the neutral knob to get the thing moving if the track was iced up. They had “bogey wheels” – essentially an array of shopping cart wheels under the seats that the track ran on. Very primitive sleds and a lot slower than their contemporary Ski-doos, Yamahas and Polarises but seems they never broke unlike the Sno-Pony I had.

  12. Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

    Scotty, terrific find and I love the write up! Almost makes me wish for snow. Then I remembered that I’m off to the Midwest again tomorrow and decided maybe not!

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Thanks, Jamie. Safe travels, don’t forget your long johns!

    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      Jamie, you got your wish. At least here in the Northeast.
      First of the year snow makes for a messy morning commute.

      Time to break the ski gear out of storage!

  13. Thomas Stevens

    Just bought its sister at auction last week for $325.

  14. Chris

    My grandpa had one that was put to good use at his place on Green Lake, WI in the late-60s through mid-70s. That was the first “sled” I ever rode on.

    Lots of great memories. His “Skee-Horse” is featured prominently in this vintage super 8 footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aPA-6FZmZQ

  15. erikj

    I have a Kawasaki 440 drifter. I think it is a 70,s model. I bought it for a spare motor for a formulaIV racecar. sold the car ,keep this. I just moved to Spokane wa. and we get snow here so does anybody know if this is worth messing with? We do get snow here so I’m tempted to keep it . My house is in town with a field out back that is 67’x 680′. I got thoughts of doing speed blasts out there LOL fun

    • Jay E. Member

      Sleds from that era really needed a yearly tune up. Remove and clean the carb (possibly fuel pump too). Remove and clean the drive and driven clutch (may take specialized tools). Check the rear suspension and assure all the pivot points move freely or remove and clean/grease. Make sure you have brakes.
      On your model I would check for spark before doing this as they had ignition issues. Parts are not plentiful so it must be a complete sled to start with.
      This sled is just perfect for what you describe, just driving around a field. Easy to unstick.
      As a counterpoint a 1990+ Polaris Indy Trail is 10x the sled and I see these sell (running) for $500.00 all the time.

  16. Howard A Member

    Yeah, just another one of Milwaukee’s defunct industries. OMC was huge. I’m not sure these ( and sibling Evinrude) were a big success, as they were more well known for their outboard motors, but people were “brand loyal” and most of the snowmobiles I remember from this era were OMC’s. It doesn’t surprise me to see these surface( thanks Scotty, he knows my love of snowmobiling) as back then, EVERYBODY had a snowmobile ( or 2) It was a great outdoor FAMILY activity, and cheap. $1,000 bucks, you could get 2 sleds AND a trailer. I know we look at the brochure and gasp, OMC,,,I mean, OMG, NO HELMETS, what about the children??? Remember, comparing snowmobiles of today to these, is like a modern Formula 1 car to a B&S go-kart. You didn’t barrel down the trail at break neck speeds, like today, just a slow putt. HOWEVER, modern snowmobiles are really the way to go, and we tend to forget what a pain these were. You’ll find many with low miles, because they broke on a regular basis ( mostly because guys like me pushed these old units too hard, they did fly through the air nice) They were loud, vibrated, smelly, pre-mix gas ( that was ALWAYS a mess) screwed up peoples TV reception ( with mixed results there) and handled like a barrel on ski’s. But you had to start somewhere, and this was as good as it got. As a side note, I know a lot of folks in warmer climates think flying across the snow, at a high rate of speed on an open machine in freezing weather is crazy, but some of the scenery is beautiful, I’ve had several sleds and my days of screaming down the trail are over, I still enjoy going fast, just not like my younger days. This would be great for puttin’ around the bay of the lake cottage,( preferably after it freezes) or rural setting, but if you want to do some “riding”, take my advice, get a newer model. Great find.

  17. G2

    A few years ago, when the ‘vintage snowmobile runs’ were very popular here in Minnesota, I had a ‘fleet’ of restored 70’s Johnson & Evinrudes. The full-size OMCs were marketed as more of a utility sled with the ele.start, reverse, wide 19″ track and ample storage (24 cans of beer) under the seat – and most even had a cigarette lighter on the dash. I restored a few of the OMCs with the 35 hp and 45 hp rotary engines – ran smooth with lots of lugging power, but ran extremely hot and melted and cracked the exhaust componenets. (69′ Corvair alum. exhaust donuts worked well as a replacement) The full-size OMCs were advertised as being ‘quiet’ (Evinrudes were the ‘Quiet Flights’) with sealed/unvented hoods to insulate the engine noise. Worked well with the flat twins but only made the rotarys run hotter. Also – the rotary engines used a special spark plug – a 12mm surface gap plug only made by Champion – and nearly impossible to find after 1976. Any other plug (with the extended electrode) would chip the wiper and ruin the engine. The key to the fuel is to use the Amzoil 2-cyl. concentrate at 1-oz per gallon of non-oxy gas – no smoking and runs cooler.

    • Howard A Member

      Hi G2, 24 cans of beer, LOL! Our compartments had the usual 2 worn belts ( that “clopped” with the sides worn) and a pile of semi fouled plugs ( that might work again), oh, and don’t forget the piece of rope for winding around the clutch when the recoil broke(DANG) I got a Johnny Rotary for nothing once, had about 50 miles on it, looked like brand new. Had it’s own special oil too. Never did get it running. Weighed a ton. Ended up taking it to the dump. Probably worth a million dollars today. http://www.vintagesnowmobiles.50megs.com/1975_JOHNSON_PHANTOM_45_35_6A_THUMB.jpg

  18. Edward Brush

    The OMC machines were very popular. The thing about the OMC snowmobiles is, when they were introduced in 1965, they were one of the few brands that actually had the resources (financial, engineering, distribution, etc) of an established industrial company. And it shows when you compare their machines to the other offerings of the day. OMC developed their own dedicated engine, clutches, and drive-trains. They worked with Gates rubber to develop the track bands, sprockets and drive belts. The track cleats were heat-treated alloy steel. The only other machine at the time as sophisticated was the Ski-Doo by Bombardier.
    At the same time this machine was released, Arctic Cat was still using a track made with steel conveyor chain driven riding on steel sprockets and hardwood slides – powered by a cast-iron industrial engine. The offering from Polaris was little different.

  19. Ed

    The other thing about this era of sleds and the multiple numbers of manufacturers was dealer network or lack of them. The Snow Cruiser I rode the bogies off, was my Uncles machine which was purchased at the local Marshall Wells hardware store. Others were sold out of home garages. I think you could even order a sled from Sears catalogue. These sleds were designed to go through snow. There were no trail groomers and I don’t remember being so stuck that I could’nt get out on my own. Compare that to current sleds that get off a hardpacked trail,weigh a ton and you have a tough time getting moving again(sleds set up for mountain powder riding being the exception)

  20. Glen

    There was an OMC factory in Peterborough, Ontario. It closed several years ago. BRP (Ski-Doo) now makes Evinrude outboards.This old sled would be a good machine to go out to a fish hut, and the bogey wheels can handle dirt better as the snow melts off the roads/trails.

  21. Guggie 13

    Back in the day (1969/ 70 ) went to the local OMC dealer for outboard motor parts during the winter , an older couple were in there with 2 of these Johnson sleds for service one might have been a rotary ,the older one had the opposed motor they had bought the first one when the husband retired and set out to ride every trail in upstate New York , The older one had 15000, K miles on it and the newer one had 5K , at that time sleds weren’t that dependable and I was amazed at the miles and conditions of these sleds. Ask the dealer about them , said the guy was a retired engineer and very fussy about his sleds , they both looked new . they were on there way to Canada because they had ridden every trail in New York state . They heard about the great trails up in Canada , They also had an enclosed trailer to transport them in which was very rare back then. I was impressed .

  22. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Auction update: this Johnson Skee-Horse was a no sale at a high bid of $790.

  23. Guggie 13

    Should have taken the $$

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