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Drift Dusters Snowmobile Club - History

It all started in the late 1960’s. A group of local people from Derby had found a pastime that they loved so much. With the introduction of snowmobiles into the Derby area through the local dealership, Walt’s Sales and Service, the sport was growing and enthusiastic snowmobilers were looking for places to ride.  A local businessman, Carl Hackett, purchased a late sixties Ski-Doo Alpine and took it upon himself to build a homemade drag. Carl recalls using the Alpine to groom a 4-foot wide trail from Derby to Holland, and turning around in what is now the State of Vermont Bill Sladyk Wildlife Refuge.  “It would take us all day to get to the Ben Cole clearing” he said, “we would turn around and head back home and get ready to go back out with ladies the next day. We wanted to make sure the trails were smooth for them, or they wouldn’t go out again.”  The following day, the group would ride out to the Ben Cole clearing, have lunch and then return before dark. This was a 30 mile loop that now a days takes less than an hour.  The Ben Cole clearing still exists to this day less than a mile from where we meet the Northeast Kingdom Snow Blasters in Norton. Carl Hackett, along with Rod Barrup, another founding member, ended up purchasing a Bombardier B-12 Snow-Bus that would also groom the trails. The excitement of snowmobiling continued to grow as more people traveled throughout the private lands of the Northern part of Orleans county, and the need for an established marked trail system to prevent renegade snowmobiling, was realized and the group got to work. In 1971, a small group of snowmobiling businessmen from the area got together at Paul’s Sugarhouse in Derby and started one of the first snowmobile clubs in the county, Drift Dusters Snowmobile Club. The group of founding members included: Wayne Flynn, John Price, Rodney Barrup, Walter Jenness, Carl Hackett, Robert Taplin, Russell Sykes, and Armand Pepin. Drift Dusters is also proud to have one of their founding members, Wayne Flynn, to serve as the first President of VAST. Wayne has since passed away, but memories of his dedication to the club and VAST are still brought up by his wife Betty. “I remember when he was a part of the group starting VAST, they would meet in Chittenden County a lot. He spent a lot of time getting things organized for the establishment of VAST and Drift Dusters.”

The use of an Alpine as a groomer eventually became impractical and the group decided they needed to try something else. The group contacted the local snowmobiling club across the Canadian border, Three Villages Snowmobile Club, and set up an agreement where they would drive their full size groomer across the border to groom the trails. Drift Dusters paid the Stanstead club $100 per season according to Rod Barrup. “Once a full size groomer was being used on our trails, we had to make them wider. That’s when I took my John Deere 850 bulldozer and started widening the trails out. It took a month or so, but I ended up doing all of our trails going all the way from Norton to Derby and down to Burke. We didn’t ask for much permission back then, most of the locals knew snowmobiling was good for the area. I even remember when the Interstate was being built, we used to ride snowmobiles down the unfinished road bed to Orleans.” Rod was also responsible for constructing the infamous “River Trail” (Trail 14) that goes underneath the Interstate to this day. By the mid seventies, the trail system was growing. The trail system covered all the towns East of Lake Memphremagog as far south as Burke into Caledonia County. By this time, the board decided that they needed to purchase a full size groomer for the club. Cecil Wright, a club volunteer, located a Late seventies Bombardier Ski-Dozer 252 that was being sold by Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. Rod Barrup, along with Carl Hackett, traveled to New Hampshire to pick up the 6,000-pound machine. They split the cost of the machine because the club didn’t have the money to. They were able to acquire a used drag from Three Villages Snowmobile Club in Stanstead, Quebec, and they retrofitted it to work for the trails. “It had a gasoline engine and operated with two sticks and I couldn’t ever steer that sucker, Carl said, I had to add hydraulic cylinders to the drag to help maneuver it. It’s no wonder that Cannon Mountain sold it to us for so cheap.” The poor maneuverability of the Ski-Dozer never stopped the dedicated group from grooming the trails throughout the evening to maintain the trails for everyone to enjoy.  “We only paid $6,000 for the Ski-Dozer, but that was a lot of money back then”, said Rod. In the early eighties, the club traded the Ski-Dozer for a newer Bombardier Ski-Dozer 302 Diesel groomer. The newer groomer made the long trips to Burke tolerable. “It took us so long to groom the Burke run, that someone would groom all day to Burke, and switch out with another operator at night to drive it back, said Ed Jenness a past President, past groomer operator, and current director for the club. Ed, now in his 43rd year of service to the club, has served in many capacities including serving on the Board of Directors.  “We had a dedicated group of volunteer operators that would run the Ski-Dozer for hours, just to get a days worth of riding in the next day.”

The 1980’s brought even more members into the club, eventually reaching 1,100 snowmobilers. The trail system grew fast thanks to the gracious local landowners and the need for a second groomer pushed the board to buy a 1984 Tucker Sno-Cat and split the mileage between both machines. “The Sno-Cat was great until it would de-lag in the middle of the woods, commented operator Dan Gosselin, and it would happen often!” Dan is Drift Dusters current Groomer Coordinator and an active operator. He is in charge of maintenance and scheduling of the groomer. “The steel tracks on that thing would make it go anywhere, but it would be a rough ride.”

Now in the late 1980s, with almost 200 miles of trails, Drift Dusters board of directors really needed help from more volunteers. Groups of residents from other towns began starting their own clubs to help manage the trails and reduce the span of control. The neighboring clubs eventually bought their own groomers and Drift Dusters was able to focus on the Northern part of Orleans County. In the early 90’s, the board was looking to replace their current fleet, the Ski-Dozer and Tucker, with a new groomer. The idea of purchasing a Ford Tractor and installing tracks came up. It was decided to purchase a tractor since it can be used year round and Carl and Earl Hackett already had experiencing working on tractors. “It seemed like the most practical machine at the time”, commented Ed Jenness. It didn’t take long though, to figure out that a tractor was not the right piece of equipment to be grooming the clubs tight and twisty trails. It was top heavy and not very nimble through the woods. This became very apparent when the tractor tipped on its side while grooming on February 24, 1994 underneath Interstate 91 in Derby. This close call prompted the club to move back to a smaller twin track design and they purchased another Bombardier groomer, a BR 180.  Since then, the club has had a 2003 Bombardier BR 180, a 2009 Prinoth Husky, and now currently a 2016 Tucker Sno-Cat. In 2015, the board of directors received a USDA grant and decided it was time to support a local business, Get-Sno (formerly Cooks Equipment) and give Tucker another try.

With the development of new clubs in the area, Drift Dusters began experiencing relief with trail mileage and their final jurisdiction consisted of trails within the towns of Derby, Holland, Morgan, Charleston, and just over the town line into Norton.  The clubs area is divided by Trail 105 to the North and Trail 14 to the South. Trail 105 C connects the two trails and runs through Derby’s business district within yards of the Northeast Kingdom’s only Walmart and meets up with the North Country Mountaineers. Trail 5 connects the system to the south meeting up with Orleans Snowstormers. Trail 105 A runs along the Canadian Border East-West through Holland into the Bill Sladyk Wildlife Refuge and through some of the same trails that our founders used to ride. Due to the close proximity of the border, it’s not uncommon to see the blinking lights of the Canadian groomer that runs parallel to ours. Trail 105 A was established over a decade ago to provide relief to Trail 105 which runs in the same direction and sees hundreds of snowmobilers a week. In the East we meet Brighton Snowmobile Club and Northeast Kingdom Snow Blasters. In 1978, the club made history by establishing the first international snowmobile trail crossing the Canadian Border in the country. This trail still exists today and is called Trail 105 D. In the Spring of 2016, the board of directors voted to name the trail the Dave Berube and Dana Parenteau Memorial Trail after losing the two in a plane crash. Both of them have devoted hundreds of volunteer hours over the past several years, some of which were to keep Trail 105D into Canada open. 

In 2001, the club had just had its thirtieth birthday and had strong roots in the community with a large membership base and a diverse trail system. Only one thing was missing, a clubhouse. In 2002, the board began the arduous process of finding a place to call home. They reached an agreement with the Derby Fish and Game Club to have a 99 year lease on a piece of their property that was crossed by Trail 105 on Fish and Game Road in Derby. The club built it’s own building, and since then has run the organization out of that building with a diverse amount of volunteers that have come and gone throughout the years - too many to mention. The building is big enough to house the clubs groomer and drag, as well as the rest of the clubs tools and equipment. Director meetings are held there monthly. The location of the original club meetings, Paul’s Sugarhouse, is still active today and serves as the location of the clubs annual meeting in January and the annual Winter Bash and Landowner Appreciation Dinner every February.

To this day, we at Drift Dusters prides ourselves on being one of the few clubs left in the state to provide access to a busy, commercial area in a growing town. As the Derby area develops, the board is constantly at work making sure our members retain the access to the services they have always been used to. Snowmobiling isn’t just a sport to us, it’s a way of life. We strive to maintain a presence on social media to stay connected to the people that matter most, our members. As one of the first clubs to have a website, presence on social media, and online TMA’s, Drift Dusters works to meet the needs of the changing generations. We strive to maintain a consistent presence on social media to stay connected to the people that matter most, our members.  Our sport is built on traditions and our club vows to maintain those traditions while redefining the sport to meet the needs of our current members and riders. As our volunteers come and go, the mission will be the same: to provide trail access to the Northern part of the Northeast Kingdom and make sure those trails are as smooth and as safe as possible.

Drift Dusters Snowmobile Club – Snowmobiling Redefined.
Roger Gosselin, VP
Past President 2008-2012

Snowmobile Vermont Magazine - Winter 2016
Featured Club Article