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How one man’s passion turned into a snowmobile museum

<i>WCCO</i><br/>A worker at Water Gremlin is blowing the whistle on what he says are systemic problems at the manufacturing plant.
Arif, Merieme
A worker at Water Gremlin is blowing the whistle on what he says are systemic problems at the manufacturing plant.

By John Lauritsen

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    ISLE, Minnesota (WCCO) — Winters in our state mean lots of snowmobiling. And with that comes lots of memories.

In the Northstar State, there are thousands of miles of snowmobile trails running every which way. And it’s a safe bet that Les Pinz has been on most of them.

“You always remember your first snowmobile, your first car, your first love,” said Pinz.

For Pinz, that love began in the late ’60s. He and his family opened a dealership to sell Scorpion snowmobiles and other brands.

“They were just like a Model-T back then. The parts fell off. You towed them home half the time,” said Pinz. “They’d only go 20 or 30 mph, but the smiles are so great and that’s why it’s so fun.”

Eventually, selling snowmobiles led to racing snowmobiles and racing led to collecting. One by one, he started to put together a vintage collection, to the point that in the early ’90s he and his wife Donna opened a snowmobile museum right on their property.

Pinz likes to highlight the little-known facts of snowmobile history. When the sport took off, everyone was getting in on the act, trying to figure out if they had a sled to sell.

“Like this Mallard Snow-Wing from 1969, it was made in Wisconsin and they made campers,” said Pinz.

Arctic Cat even went the other way and dabbled in lawn mowers for a couple years. You’ll find Minnesota brands, as well as snowmobiles from the other side of the world. Like a Caribou snowmobile from Sweden.

“Pretty soon we needed more space, and then we needed even more space,” said Donna Pinz.

As co-curator, Donna took it upon herself to make sure one corner of the museum was dedicated to her husband’s racing victories and the good, old days.

“People come and say, oh, ‘I rode that sled. I never thought I would see it again’,” said Donna Pinz.

From motors, to suits, to expeditions and even sleds that aren’t really sleds. Les and Donna are here to preserve the past through their museum – which, they admit, also serves as a snowmobile rescue.

“And the main thing was, my passion was to keep them away from the scrapyard and being destroyed,” said Pinz. “The goal is to pass the fun on and everything else.”

Les and Donna have 80 snowmobiles on display right now and another 40 that are being worked on. Many are donated to the couple.

To tour the museum, people can contact Les Pinz at 320-360-5002.

There is also a Midwest Ride-in, which takes place on Jan. 27-29 at ERX Motor Park in Elk River.

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