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1969 Thunderbolt Story as told by Henry Leseman
1969 Thunderbolt Story as told by Henry Leseman In the spring of 1969, I decided to build a snowmobile. Having observed the weak points of snowmobiles under the stress of racing, I soon learned that of the 150 to 200 machines competing, a large number of them were disabled before they finished the race. I kept written records of these weaknesses on all brands that I could get close to or information on. When you build a product and bring it in front of a customer, his usual question is, “What are your strong points?” With my experience in manufacturing and racing and engine modification, my goal was to build a machine with as few weak points as possible. After extensive testing in the summer of 1969, I feel that our goal was very nearly achieved. I built 2 machines and both were involved in the testing. The one that is currently in North Dakota has many more hours on it. Probably close to 200 hours of vigorous testing. This same machine had a 440 Yamaha engine and Salsbury clutch. These were later removed to build my 3 sons a high performance go-cart. Both machines were shown at the 1969-70 Snowmobile Show in Minneapolis, MN. My East coast distributor showed the other machine at the Montreal, Canada Snowmobile Show and then returned to his home with it and proceeded to set up dealer in his area. After the snowmobile shows, it was apparent that the industry was going into a mild recession. About a month after the shows, my finance people bowed out of our agreement in principle and my production plans were put on hold. I continued the production of snowmobile components and engine modification until 1974. In July, 1971 I arranged a meeting with a senator, a congressman, and the ex-president’s nephew and the president of the largest bank in Venezuela. I went back to Venezuela in the fall and incorporated a company. For the next 3 years, I continued to run my plant in Minnesota. In 1974 I bought a house in my home town of Mizpah, MN. I sold my equipment in Ada at a public auction and sold the building and property to a friend of mine who was an established machinery dealer. I then moved to Mizpah, set up an office and pursued my Venezuela venture. I gave my forwarding address to the Ada, MN post office when I left Ada. I arrived in Mizpah and still had about 8 or 10 snowmobiles, lots of components and several thousand snowmobile pistons, plus quick jacks, megaphones, throttle linkage, etc. I placed an ad in the Fargo Forum newspaper about my surpluses and one of the people who responded was Ervin Anderson. He called me and ended up buying the Thunderbolt, without the motor, from my back yard. During the 1960 to 1984 years, I started six companies – some alone and some with partners (about half and half). Within these companies, I have designed and built over 30 products. Some of them have been quite significant – 150hp and 200hp four-wheel drive articulating tractors, potato equipment, bean cutting equipment, saw mill equipment, mobile homes, freighter sleds, propeller driven snowmobiles, and 100hp land leveling equipment for irrigation.

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Top of the Lake Antique Snowmobile Museum
P.O. Box 2
W11660 US-2
Naubinway, MI 49762
Call 906 477-6298 for museum hours or call 906 477-6192 for an appointment.


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