Manawa event celebrates 50 years
By Jane Myhra
Fifty years of snowmobile racing will be celebrated at the annual Manawa Snodeo on Feb. 18-19, at Bear Lake.
Many things have changed over the years, including the sleds, type of events and how the queen was chosen.
The first annual Mid-Western Snowmobile Derby was held Jan. 27-28, 1968, on Lake Manawa (Mill Pond). It was sponsored by the Manawa Knights of Columbus Charities Inc.
“There was a parade on Lake Manawa and a Saturday evening event at the Blue Haven Ballroom,” said 1968 runner-up Sue (Mittlestaedt) Griffin. “The first-place prize winning ticket took home a 1968 Trade Winds ‘Tiger’ snowmobile.”
Griffin said the court promoted the event at several Knights of Columbus meetings and on the Dick Rogers TV show.
“When I was a candidate, we had to sell admission tickets and there was an interview at Cedar Springs,” Griffin said. “Members of the press, radio and TV interviewed and selected the queen.”
She vividly remembers riding snowmobile on rough trails over plowed farm fields.
“Snowmobiling today is so much more enjoyable,” she said, noting she continues to ride the trails in the Eagle River area.
The 1978 queen, Katie Schuelke, said she had more fun years ago.
“Snowmobiling back then was so much more fun,” she said. “It wasn’t about speed – it was about how many friends we could get together and how far we could ride with our ‘milk jug’ of extra gas.”
Schuelke said, “A ride to Wings Inn was a long one and if we could get to Circle J (in Marion), that was a good ride.”
In 1978, she said the queen was determined by ticket sales.
“I was very excited to win,” Schuelke said. “That meant I got out of working at Cedar Springs for the weekend.”
She continues to ride snowmobiles in Montana.
Jody (Baumer) Rowland recalled winning the 1975 snowshoe race wearing her queen sash and tiara.
She still remembers the JiLo (pronounced EEE Low) engines.
“The machines were loud; people were really into who won, both from the racing side of things as well as the spectators,” Rowland said. “The snowmobile suits were bulkier, snowmobile patches concentrated on the rivalries between the different brands, and it was a badge of honor to wear crutches.”
“Sleds were super heavy and there were a lot of dual tracks,” she said.
Jeanne (Baumer) Bauer was runner-up in 1978, when the Snowfest candidates were chosen by ticket sales and an interview.
“I recall snowmobiling being very popular back then and it seems we were always blessed with enough snow to participate,” she said. “I was so fortunate that my dad, Connie Baumer, was a Polaris dealer in Manawa and we could count on him to have a snowmobile for my sisters and me to use.”
During the 1978 Snowfest, her parents were on vacation, but they left a Polaris snowmobile for her to use.
“The throttle of that snowmobile was tested often during the weekend on the open spaces of Bear Lake,” she recalled.
Bauer’s best snowmobile memories were with her friends.
“I had a group of friends that had snowmobiles and we would get together to ride,” she said. “I remember riding to Jeff Diehl’s house in Manawa and hanging out as a group.”
Although she no longer rides, she fondly remembers those days and the first time she drove alone.
“My dad had me take a Polaris Colt 175 way out into the field and make one turn to bring me back to where I started,” she said. “I thought that was a big deal, especially the corner and leaning into it.”