WOODSTOCK — Phil Smith finally made good on a promise he made years ago when he got an antique ice sled moving again on Lake Christopher in Bryant Pond village earlier this month.
Smith got the machine in a deal years ago and fulfilled a promise to the previous owner of his 1914 Aero-Sled, a gasoline-powered ice sled, when he got it working again this year.
A century-old newspaper advertisement for the sled with the headline, "Over the ice a mile a minute. Whee! There's the sport," also bragged: “Racing down the wind like a bird a-wing, cheeks glowing, nostrils dilating, every nerve tense with the thrill of this newest, most exhilarating outdoor sport — Aero-Sledding.”
Smith has owned his two-person sled since 1979, when he spotted it in a stable in Ardmore, Pa.
He was working with a crew there to move the belongings of a 92-year-old woman.
“I got it from her for the $22.50 in my pocket, working for free to clean out the stable, and a promise I would ride in it,” Smith said.
The sled had belonged to the woman’s grandfather, who operated it on Lake Placid, N.Y. She told Smith she had a ride in it during World War I.
She told Smith the sled was so fast that it beat out a Sopwith-Camel mail plane over the lake, he said.
The pilot asked to use the sled to deliver mail under weather conditions unsuitable for the plane, she said.
The wooden propeller that drove the sled was made by the same company that built the airplane propeller for Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Smith said.
He said he didn’t get around to making the sled operable right away. Over the years he moved it from storage place to storage place. It sat on a friend’s woodpile in pieces for a time, then at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, where workers vowed to fix it. That didn’t happen, and eventually the sled disappeared for about nine months. Smith was able to track it down.
Finally, with the 100th anniversary of the sled approaching and his friends encouraging him, Smith decided it was time.
With the help of a mechanic who got the magneto generator to operate dependably, Smith was able to get the 5-horsepower, two-stroke engine running.
On Jan. 2, Smith and friend John Clukey took the Aero-Sled out onto the glare ice of Lake Christopher for a test run.
The sled moved, Clukey said.
“I was scared, and I don’t scare easily,” he said.
Smith said the sled was traveling more than 60 mph.
There is no throttle. The speed is controlled by adjusting the timing and the fuel mixture, Smith said. A steering wheel guides the front blade and the brakes — sort of — by digging two metal rods into the ice.
Smith took the sled back out on Lake Christopher last week. The speeds were much slower, however, because an inch of snow had fallen and adhered to the ice.
He plans to continue to work on the sled, sharpening the blades and tuning it up. If glare ice conditions return, he’ll head out for another try at higher speeds.
How fast does he think it can it go?
“It’ll go until you chicken out,” he said.