24 | Snowmobile VERMONT By Jeff Porter thought? Had my father gone mad? I reluctantly commenced tugging on the chrome plated rear bumper and together we dragged the machine out of the truck and down the backside of the snowbank. The man produced a key from his pocket, inserted it into the ignition, flipped a lever on the glossy black dashboard and then said, “Always give her some choke to get her started.” I would later learn that “choke” meant cutting off the air supply to the carburetor and richening the fuel mixture for easier starting, but at that instant the word conjured up more images of suffering and death. Wrapping his oversized hands around an oval shaped handle on the machine’s right side, the man jerked his arms backward and pulled the snarling animal to life. A cloud of blue colored smoke fanned out from somewhere underneath the sled and the motor roared a lion’s roar telling us that it had been awakened from its hibernation. The man then smiled a tobacco stained smile and said, “Once she fires up, take the choke off and let her warm up before you give her hell.” He then straddled the machine and using a small, thumb sized lever on the right handlebar, he urged the machine forward. As he pulled away, I caught a glimpse of a chrome nameplate on the side of the hood that read “Cheetah.” The man crossed our plowed driveway, drove the machine up over the snowbank and into the soft deep snow, creating a swirling cloud of snow dust behind him. He traced a path around our house and I followed in the sled’s tracks long enough to see him descend the hill behind our house and head out onto the lake. As he became a tiny black dot on the white horizon, I went back into the house, not wanting to witness a tragedy unfold. The man must have returned safely because the machine stayed, taking up residence in our barn. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the Cheetah became the object of neighborhood adulation. The neighbor boys came buzzing over on their bumblebees when they saw my older brother playing chauffeur with my younger siblings aboard. The machine was the talk of the morning bus stop amongst the local adolescent population. While my three brothers would fight over who was going to get to ride the snowmobile first, I abstained, preferring instead quiet time outside on my snowshoes. I cited the righteous pursuit of keeping the air clean and the snow free of petroleum pollutants as the reason behind my refusal to accept the Cheetah, but the simple fact was that I was scared. The cold wind stung my cheeks as I made my way from the house out toward the barn. The sun was barely visible behind an icy curtain of haze, and snow crystals blew in sheets across the path ahead of me. I reached the corner of the barn and saw my father talking to a man I did not recognize. The man was very tall and, to my eye, bore a striking resemblance to Chuck Connors, the famous television actor. He had a broad square shaped face, high cheekbones and sharp steel blue eyes. “Definitely a tough guy,” I thought to myself as I observed his grease stained overalls and plaid flannel shirt. He finished the last couple of puffs on a cigarette and flicked the butt into the snow with his massive, oversized hand. A red pickup truck pockmarked with a shotgun blast of rust holes was backed up to a nearby snow bank. In the back of the truck was a machine that I had never before seen the likes of. I knew immediately that it was a snowmobile, but it was not like the motorized bumblebees that I had seen the neighbor boys buzzing around out on the lake with. This machine was starkly different, low slung, angular and black, with scooped vents on the hood that gave the impression of a carnivore ready to take a bite out of anything that crossed its path. The seat was covered with a curious leopard print fabric which reminded me of the lingerie featured in the dirty magazines hidden under my older brother’s mattress. At that point in my life, snowmobiles had not made any more of an impression on me than being noisy, pollutant spewing, dangerous contraptions ridden only by He-men who possessed the desire to die a horrible death. The images of a Saturday morning six years ago flashed into my brain. A man standing blue skinned, shivering violently and dripping wet in our kitchen after the machine he was riding with a buddy went through the ice in front of our house. The State Police frogmen in their fish eye masks and skintight suits sent to recover his friend’s body. The shrouded corpse being carried up the hill to a waiting ambulance. I quickly dismissed the notion of ever riding a snowmobile, and turned to go back in the house. “Hold on a minute son,” my father called out. “Can you give us a hand unloading?” Unloading? Why on earth would that deathtrap need to be unloaded in my yard, I