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1965 Johnson Skee-Horse

We've come a long way since this sled built for family fun and winter adventure
1965 Johnson Skee-Horse snowmobile
Back in the fall of 1964, Outboard Marine Corp. (OMC) of Waukegan, Ill., decided to get into the fast-growing sport of snowmobiling. With three years of testing already done, OMC was ready to hit the market. The company produced three variations out of their Peterborough, Ontario, facility: the Johnson Skee-Horse, the Evinrude Skeeter and, in Canada, they changed the name of the Skeeter to Snow Cruiser.

The Johnson Skee-Horse was green, the Evinrude Skeeter had a blue tunnel with a white hood, and Snow Cruisers came in blue. All had the same powertrain, features, and a color-impregnated dent-proof fiberglass cab with a rubber-mounted shatterproof windshield. However, I think they found out these two things didn’t always work as planned when they actually started selling to real snowmobilers and not just having field testers approve it.

Power came from a 14 B.H.P. at 4500 RPM -22 cu. in. displacement 2-cylinder “opposed” 2-cycle 360cc motor. The opposed cylinder design canceled out vibrations. In OMC company parlance, it was known as a “hammerhead” because both spark plugs fired at the same time. OMC put in its brochure that you could run the Skee-Horse wide open all day long without harm: “Its rugged engine gives speeds of over 30 mph, and has enough spunk to tow heavy loads and climb steep grades.” Today, our sleds almost idle at 30 mph!
1965 Johnson Skee-Horse snowmobile
1965 Johnson Skee-Horse snowmobile
They said what?
“Eas-A-Matic rewind starting.” What’s that?  Johnson used this phrase because a lot of snowmobiles just had rope-starting engines back then. The Skee-Horse had a variable speed transmission with a great positive “Lock-In” neutral clutch control for easy engine warmup on cold days.

It came with a nice 16-inch-wide track with rubber belting and steel cleats attached for good traction … at least for back then. Braking was done with a disc-type assembly. Seating capacity was listed as “2 or 3, depending on size of riders.” Excuse me?

The fuel tank capacity was 5 gallons, and the sled had a 32-inch stance. Weigh-ing only 369 pounds, it had a length of nearly 9 ft. and a height of 44 inches.

One thing that was left off was a front bumper. It made for some interesting times getting this sled unstuck if you buried it. I believe the next year’s 1966 Skee-Horse came with one standard.

The Skee-Horse had one sealed beam headlight and a taillight. The brochure said they used a muffler, but no DBAs were listed back then. The warranty was for 90 days after first use, and list price was around $895, plus freight and taxes.

Valdi Stefanson, president of the Antique Snowmobile Club of America, did a restoration of his beauty 1965 Skee-Horse. His goal was to make it as it was delivered from factory before recalls and upgrades. For his efforts, he won first place at the 2015 VSCA National Show in Midland, Mich., last summer.

Recall upgrades included the drive clutch, rear swing arm on the rear of the track, and the tunnel. The 1965 skis came without wear bars. The replacement part was a traditional ski with a single wear rod for turning and increased ski life.

Thanks to Valdi for giving us a close-up of his Johnson Skee-Horse! We know snowmobiles have come a long way from their beginning. That’s why it’s always nice to get a quick history lesson!
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