For most of the Heritage Days festival, just to the left of the stage on South Avenue in Two Harbors, sat an unassuming Polaris 1966 Colt snowmobile.
The sled once belonged to Two Harbors native Jim Langley and in 1966, it carried him and his ride partner, Clark Dahlin 4,018 miles from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast.
Langley was back in town to share the story of his ride, along with the tale of how Roseau residents Mitch Magnusson and Monica Dohmen came to find the long lost sled.
From coast to coast in snow
In the early 1960s, Langley was a Polaris dealer in Minneapolis. After his friend signed him up for a Winter Carnival snowmobile race where he took third place, Langley met Allan Hetteen, owner of the Polaris company.
"This nice big guy came over to me and said, 'You aren't going to run that little sled, are you?'" Langley said. "Then after the race when I took third, he came back and said, 'Young man, you don’t know who I am, but I’m Allan Hetteen, the owner of Polaris. You beat every one of my factory drivers today.' And that’s how it all started."
Langley started to race with the company, even occasionally returning to Two Harbors to beat the locals in the Winter Frolic races. But he really wanted to do something bigger.
He'd heard about a Ski-Doo racer who planned to travel to the North Pole on snowmobiles. Langley wanted to beat them to the punch, but Hetteen said no. When the idea came up to try to travel from coast to coast, Langley pushed Hetteen to approve the plan.
"I called him and said another company will give me a team and two sleds and pay me," Langley said. "He said, 'Jim, I doubted you one time in St. Paul about racing. I don’t think I’ll doubt you again. The sleds are being built as we speak.'"
The sleds had to be completely road-worthy, with seat belts, taillights, emergency brakes, turn signals and wheel kits to be used when no snow was available to cross. Langley recruited Clark Dahlin to join him on the trip and the two headed up to the starting point in Vancouver in November 1966.
Eastbound, they went through the state of Washington and then crossed Idaho into Montana where they were stopped by the state patrol at Missoula and instructed not to travel on the highway.
However, a photographer from Sports Illustrated who was covering the trek contacted Montana Gov. Tim Babcock and gave them special permission. In fact, he ordered the patrol officers to accompany the two as they left the U.S. border into Saskatchewan.
The pair crossed back into their native Minnesota at Roseau, where about 50 Polaris sleds met them, along with some 500 people, including a young Mitch Magnusson. The trip passed through Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and finally, Maine. They were crowned "World Champion Endurance Snowmobile Drivers."
The reappearing sled
After the trip, the sleds were put on display for about a week outside Langley's dealership, then shipped back to Polaris. And Langley didn't see his again for another 50 years.
Back in 2016, Mitch Magnusson bought some land a mile from his home outside Roseau, near the Polaris factory. The land was owned by a former Polaris dealer. In the woods, Magnusson found several old, rusty snowmobile chassis. He scooped them up and brought them to his house.
"There was just something about it that was familiar," Magnusson said. "It was the lights on the back. Back when these two guys went across the country, my dad took me to the border to see them pass by that night. I kept thinking, 'It could be one of those sleds.'"
Magnusson took a visit to a museum in Roseau to review old photos of the sleds and found they matched. The headlights were in the right place, the seat belt brackets were right and he even found himself in the photo from the visit.
Monica Dohmen set about looking for the two snowmobile riders. She found an obituary for Dahlin and many phone numbers for Jim Langley.
"I just kept calling them until we found the right one," Dohmen said. "It must have cost me about $400 in phone bills."
Finally, Dohmen got the right Jim Langley, now living in Colorado, who said he didn't have time to talk right then — until Dohmen and Magnusson said they thought they'd found his sled.
"it was just amazing," Langley said. "It felt too good to be true."
The pair met up and Langley was reunited with the chassis. Soon after, Magnusson set out restoring the rest of the sled to its former glory. Now, the two meet up occasionally to take the sled to special events such as Heritage Days and share their stories.