From the January 11, 1870, Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman, “Some of the boys have constructed an iceboat which runs by means of machinery and sails. They had it up on the skating park Sunday, and the time made would astonish a locomotive. It don’t exactly fly but just scoots along fast as the wind. The machine carries four persons and ought to be very popular with the ladies. Tom Maupin has charge of the critter, and will probably turn her loose again this afternoon. “
In the Idaho Daily Statesman of December 29, 1932, there ran a story about a mail carrier in Mountain home who had ordered a “snowmobile” so he could better make the trip from there to Rocky Bar and back.
In January, 1937, The Idaho Daily Statesman had a story about a local man whose “gimmick is a propeller-powered plane fuselage mounted on three skis—two in front in the usual place for landing gear, and the third in the rear at the tail skid.” The article noted that similar devices had been used on the ice on Payette and Coeur d’Alene lakes.
An Associated Press story from Arco appeared in 1937 stating that “James Taylor of Boise is testing on the snowbanks of south central Idaho this week his newly invented 'snowmobile.' He brought the machine, a sort of automobile on skis, from Boise on a trailer and is giving it a thorough ‘workout’ in this drifted area.”
That same year, Tom McCall, of McCall, Idaho, was using a 225 horsepower propeller-driven snowmobile to sled along at 50 mph. That snowmobile was to be put in service at Sun Valley Lodge.
For a number of years reports of snowmobile use could mean tracked vehicles or those using airplane engines with propellers. In the early 1940s, newspapers began calling the propeller-driven sleds “snowplanes.”
By 1947 they were holding “national” snowplane races near Spencer, Idaho, the first of which was won by Thomas Katseanes of Hamer. The second annual national snowplane race was held at the airport in Duboise, with Gov. C. A. Robbins in attendance. Tom Katseanes repeated his win.
Snowplane races went on for a few years, dropping further and further back in newspaper pages. The last mention of snowplanes in the Idaho Statesman was in 1972, when a young man was killed near Leadore when the machine he was riding in struck a cattle guard, hurling the spinning prop into the snowplane’s cab.
By the late 60s and early 70s the much more practical tracked snowmobiles, forerunner of the popular recreation vehicles of today, were starting their rise in popularity, thanks in no small part to a friend of mine, Chuck Wells, who started the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation’s snowmobile registration program that provides thousands of miles of groomed trails for riders each year.