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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.

On Sept 20, 2019, The Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum was awarded a grant of $12,500 for Operational Support from the State of Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA – ART WORKS). The grant was awarded through the MCACA peer review process and was one of 561 applications to compete for MCACA fiscal year 2019 funding. The grant requires a 1:1 match and helped the museum leverage the $12,500 of support from its annual income and the many donations from supporters. In particular the museum has received grants from the Graymont Community Economic Development Fund and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. It has also received significant donations from the Antique Snowmobile Club of America, The Midwest Vintage Snowmobile Shows, Inc., many snowmobile clubs, several recreational and snowmobile shows, the museum’s internal $1,000.00 Challenge, and many museum members. The grant funds will be applied to museum operating costs. Applicable costs include internal operations, marketing, travel to shows within the State of Michigan and cost of employees. The MCACA peer review process allows for each grant applicant to be competitively considered by a panel of in-state and out-of-state arts and culture professionals. This ensures the taxpayers, who support this project through legislative appropriations, and all other visitors or residents in Michigan will have access to the highest quality arts and cultural experiences. A complete list of grant awards around the state is available by contacting MCACA at (517) 241-4011, or by visiting the MCACA website at www.michigan.gov/arts
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Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum
P.O. Box 2
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