Driftrunners, the early years
Thu, 01/21/2021 - 11:09am admin
—Club keeps trails groomed safe for over 50 years
Marcie Klomp ~ News Editor email@example.com
HOWARD COUNTY - Without snowmobile enthusiasts, the Driftrunners Snowmobile Club would not have been formed.
In the late 1960s though, the sledding hobby was just getting off the ground, figuratively and literally!
At the time, there weren’t as many activities for a person to do in winter, and the idea of getting on a snowmobile and making your own mark in the freshly-fallen snow was exhilarating. Throw in a few friends or couples going along for the ride, and it was the social event of the season.
There were several groups of snowmobilers who made their own trails. They ended up working together, forming Driftrunners.
The club got started in 1969 after Bud Combs and brother, Bill were taking a shortcut (they were lost) while bringing a load of six Ski Doos back from Duluth, Minn. The pair had stopped in Amery, Wis., for supper, and while there, a number of snowmobilers came in and joined them.
The enthusiastic riders shared with the Combs’ that they had ridden from a neighboring town 14 miles away on a trail. From there, they were going back by another trail almost 10 miles. The group offered to share their trail riding experience with the brothers the next weekend, and the Combs couldn’t refuse.
It wasn’t just the Combs brothers who showed up for the riding experience the following weekend. The first group also included Ted and Mildred Crow, David Reinhart, Vince Hornberger, Joe and Jan Bruns, Jack and Darlene Byrnes, Darlene and Clifford Albertson, Don and Rosie Gooder, Don and Arlene Carroll and Ed Kostohryz.
More importantly than those on that ride was the result — the need for a local club and joining snowmobiling communities with a trail system.
Within a week or two, a meeting was set up at the Heritage Supper Club at Vernon Springs. It was agreed that each community would have a representative and no snowmobile dealer could hold an office. It was also agreed that a trail system would be set up between communities as soon as possible.
Bud Brown became President; Darlene (Albertson) Byrnes, the club secretary; with David Reinhart representing the Ridgeway area and Bob Carroll (Lourdes and Schley), Dave Foote (Lime Springs), George Johnson (Granger) and Leonard Fencl (Protivin).
That same night at the tables of the Heritage Club, a contest was held to name the club. Jan Bruns came up with the Driftrunners. From that very next day until today, the Driftrunners became synonymous with snowmobiling not only locally, but in the tri-state area as well.
The club was formally organized in January 1970 as Driftrunners Inc. Today, the club continues to run strongly.
The number one goal of Driftrunners members is to get out and sled! The easiest and safest way to do that is on trails, and the Howard County club has some of the best trails around. Besides being a favorite of their own, other riders also enjoy riding those trails because they are mostly on farmers’ land — about 95%. Many other groups have trails that run mostly in ditches. Not so with Driftrunners.
In the early days, riding was fairly limited to Vernon Springs Mill Pond, the race track at the Howard County Fairgrounds and a farm family’s field(s). Riding was rarely done at night and most often took place on a Sunday afternoon, especially for those in town.
• Although her husband, Paul is gone, Mickie Sir recalls the early days of snowmobiling. “There was no such thing as trails, back then,” she noted. “Paul and Aaron Dusheck had a snowmobile business together. Through their business, we got interested. There was never a club. It was a group of us couples who would ride and end up at someone’s house.” She added Paul was never in charge of Driftrunners as he was too busy working, but he was very active just the same.
• Dusheck, another old-timer said it was tougher in the infancy of snowmobiling. “There was no vehicle to prep the trail. We used to pull bed springs to make the trail.”
Driftrunners was only the second club in the state of Iowa to get a groomer. With the aid of a state grant, one was purchased late in 1975 and was used to condition the snow trails. The groomers made the trails safer, more consistent and overall a more enjoyable riding experience.
Some of the pioneers of snowmobiling in northeast Iowa were milk haulers who knew the farmers and could easily talk them into allowing friends to ride on their property.
Dusheck compared yesterday’s sleds with the ones coming off the assembly line today. “The vehicles weren’t equipped like today with heated handlebars. Not as cozy! But we enjoyed it. The farmers were good about opening up the land for trails. We never tried to force a farmer to agree. Most were pretty good. One guy even walked and cut the fence for us to go through! I miss it.”
He added that he and his crew used to go to Wisconsin a lot. “We got to know the people up there. Our wives would go, too.”
Locally, Dusheck said his group would ride the trails to Schley and Ridgeway on Thursdays and Protivin, Kendallville and east on the weekends. “We made good friends. It’s a time to remember.”
• According to Jan. 31, 1991 Lime Springs Herald, a new 13-mile segment of trails from Schley to Lime Springs was added. Only 5% of trails was in road ditches. That is pretty accurate even today.
• In 1994, just in time for Snowfest, Driftrunners connected to a major new trail loop linking up with Lost Riders club of Festina, which would connect both systems at Decorah. The east connection of the trail was from Ridgeway to Protivin.
• Also in 1994, the State Line Trail Bridge, 180 feet long and nine-and-one-half feet wide was built. It was located on the Cresco to Florenceville/Granger trail. Funds were also coming from the federal Department of Transportation under the National Recreation Trust Fund.
The bridge connects a major trail change on the Florenceville to Lime Springs trail and the extensive trail systems of southeast Minnesota.
• Times Plain Dealer news editor Ken Becker wrote about riding the trails for the 29th Annual Snowfest in 2000. He noted all the trails were beautiful in their way, but he found the trail between Kendallville and Lime Springs added plenty of wildlife to the scenery.
It was not uncommon to stop at Bigalk’s Creek and watch the trout in the open water, see a flock of 100 turkeys or watch deer foraging for food.
It is always best to stay on the trails. A rider knows that a groomed trail is safe. Otherwise, a snowmobiler may run into hidden fences or machinery partially buried in the snow.
• Before 2000, the open crossing of the Upper Iowa River was south of Granger, but changes in land ownership and land usage or the addition of cattle and fencing, forced a change in the route. The new routes are generally minor changes and occur annually.
• Around 2010, the Decorah area’s snowmobile group took over grooming the trail from Ridgeway to Decorah. It also took over the Burr Oak trail. Since then, the miles groomed by Driftrunners members have stayed steady at around 200.
The best trail system in the state that snowmobilers can enjoy today is the result of the hard work of the snowmobile pioneers in this area.
The club is one of nearly 60 across the state of Iowa that grooms and maintains a total of 8,000 miles of trails.
The club, in addition to sponsoring, organizing and working Snowfest, continues with rides and other fund-raisers for charity. Each year, a male and female members is given a Most Miles Ridden award. Past winners have had over 2,000 miles each in a single season.
Charlie’s Chili Feed continues to be a staple, and more importantly, the family-centered club enjoys the simple joy of riding together, sharing memories and talking about their next sled.