Octave Pease & the First Snowmobile in Maine
Well, my Christmas decorations are all put away. The only thing I keep out for the winter are a pair of children’s snowshoes, though I do take the little red bows off. I like having them around. They were my mother’s when she was a kid, handmade by her uncle, Octave Pease. The webbing is made from the hide of a deer he shot himself.
Octave: now there was a character. He come from a big family, I don’t know how many brothers and sisters. And they were all liars. You should have heard them when they’d get together. One would start to tell a story, and they’d all try to out do each other:
“I remember the time I was up to Rangeley, two days before hunting season opened. I come into a field, and there were five deer in that clearing, two of them bucks. Broke my heart to let ‘em go.”
“That’s nothing. I was hunting up to the old Billipp farm a few years back, and I come across fifteen deer, eleven of them bucks. I fired one shot. It ricocheted off a tree, killed two bucks and wounded a third.”
“Well, last year I see twenty-three deer in my yard, twelve point bucks, all of ‘em. I says to my mother-in-law, “Sadie, come out onto the porch, take a gander at these deer.” Sadie had just gotten up, house coat, big fuzzy slippers, hair in curlers. Those bucks took one look at her and dropped dead!”
When them Peases got together, you had to be sure to wear your hip waders, because the manure piled up fast!
Octave never set foot in a school room, but he was smart as a whip. The kind of fella that could do anything with wood. He had a workshop behind his house where he made canoes, sleds, snowshoes, you name it, and repaired stuff for people. In the winter, he’d fire up the old pot bellied stove in that shop, and there’d always be a few old timers there, hanging around, shooting the breeze. My father told me he used to drop by, just to listen.
When my sister Irene and me were kids, we had these little wooden snow scoops with our names painted on them that Octave made for us. They were just like our Dad’s, only a third the size, and we used to help him shovel the driveway. Which means we just got in the way, and made more of a mess for him to clean up!
Now, Octave Pease invented one of the first snowmobiles, right here in Mahoosuc Mills, Maine. This was back in the ‘40s. Octave and his wife Lina, my grandmother’s sister, were caretakers for Henderson’s cabins, up on the far side of Moose Megantic Lake. Though it was only open in the summer, they looked after the property all year ‘round. In the winter, the road was closed, and it was a long snowshoe into the cabins. The quickest way was across the lake. So Octave decided that what he needed was a lightweight vehicle of some sort, and he set about to build one.
What he did was, he took a sled like you used back then to haul wood, the kind with them wide runners. Octave cut a hole in the bottom and dropped in a motorcycle with chains on the wheels, and hooked it all together somehow.
Now, the wind makes big snow drifts on the lake. So he added these small wings for stability, you know, to keep the thing from nose-diving. And it worked pretty good, too. But Octave being Octave, he kept wanting to go faster. And the faster he went, the more the thing would “catch air,” as my nephew Jimmy says.
So one day, Octave is ripping along the lake when he hits this snow drift, and the whole contraption goes airborne, way up, before flipping over and crashing back down on it’s side. First plane to land on Moose Megantic Lake!
Octave was stove up pretty bad, but God, he was tough! And stubborn. It wasn’t long before he’d built himself another snowmobile. He kept tinkering with it, making improvements. You can see two of his later versions up to the Mahoosuc Mills Historical Society, dings and all.
‘Course, Octave never applied for a patent or anything. Didn’t occur to him. He had a problem, and we figured out a way to solve it. End of story.
That’s it for now. Catch you on the flip side!
(Listen to the podcast of Ida's column here.)