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Location: Woodruff, WIsconsin
Source: The book Northern Frights
by Dennis Boyer (published 1998) pages 44-47.
The Phantom Snowmobiler
Dennis Boyer's Introduction
Wisconsin's archetypal outdoors ghosts count many a fisherman,
hunter, and logger among their number. Most of the stories have deep
roots or at least established traditions to draw upon. Even outdoor
ghosts of relatively recent origin can be analyzed within the framework
of familiar settings like the fishing camp or the hunting shack. The
feel of flannel, the scent of pine, and call of the loon are as much a
part of such stories as the usual haunted place features.
Deep winter settings produce fewer tales unless there is a connection
to winter madness or cabinfever. Fewer still have a thoroughly outdoor
winter setting (The Ice Fisherman
is an exception). It may also say something about ghosts and the
tellers of ghost stories that even most noisy ghosts are disconnected
from the sounds of machinery. There is not much evidence of ghost
linkage to power boats, jet skis, and all-terrain vehicles.
This makes the Woodruff tale of the Phantom Snowmobiler all the more
surprising. Like the motorcyclist ghost of Ridgeway (Driftless Spirits,
Prairie Oak Press, 1996), there is an unmistakable anti-traditional
element to the story.
The narrator personifies the Wisconsinites who rarely get to tell their
stories and feel alienated because no one listens. He is a large man.
He sweats profusely in the summer heat even as we sit directly in the
path of the tavern fan. He longs for winter. He lives for winter. His
Marine Corps bicep tattoos jump as he clenches fists in emphasis of his
points. He explains that he really did not want to hurt the TV
weatherman who he threatened after a forecast of snow fell through.
Dale seems to be like a man who is not afraid of anything. At least
until you get him on the right subject.
The Story From The Old Marine:
I didn't believe in ghosts before. I probably still wouldn't give a
crap ifl hadn't run into the one we got up here. They call him the
Phantom Snowmobiler. I called him a nut-cutting son-of-buck.
They started talking about him about ten years ago. Back then people
saw him running late on Highway J out toward Pickerel Lake. I remember
thinking that the taverns were using cheap stuff in those Korbel
bottles. I saw funny things once on cheap tequila.
But then about two years later I saw it myself. A bunch of us were on
Woodruff Road south of Hemlock Lake. An old clunker Arctic Cat pulled
out of the gravel pit road-almost wiped me out. It was the most beat-up
piece of crap I'd ever seen.
But when I tried to catch it he left me eating snow. He must have hit a
hundred miles per hour when he got on the straightaway of Highway 47.
Then he doubled back on Mid Lake Road. When we made the beer and pee
break down at Lake Tomahawk, the others told me it was the ghost. I
told them that no dead treadjumper was going to get the better of me.
So I set about trying to catch him. Saw him two or three times a winter
for about five years. Chased him all the way to McNaughton one time. He
ran me off the trail twice, dumped me off a bridge once, and led me
onto thin ice on Minocqua Lake. He made it across. I didn't. I was fit
to be tied I wanted a piece of him in the worst way. I even thought
about mounting assault rifles on my tread job. Silly, huh?
Well, I mellowed a little. A big guy like me can work up a belly full
of hate that will kill him. You get ticked off, you get that grease and
booze cooking in your gut, you get that cigarette smoke boiling in your
brain, and the next thing you know you're working on ulcers, high blood
pressure, blood clots in the head, and popping hemorrhoids. That's when
a guy will knock around the wife and the kids. So it's good that mine
left long ago.
But one of my good semper fi buddies from the Corps told me I had to
learn to accept things I can't change. And just to make sure I learned
the lesson he cold-cocked me good with a beer bottle the next time he
caught me after a high speed ghost chase.
Then a funny thing happened. I stopped chasing the ghost and he
starting finding me. Yeah, riding just ahead of me. Sometimes alongside
of me. This is when I started getting a good look at him. I think I'm
about the only one who's spent that much time close to him.
Others have described his old Arctic Cat snowmasher. And I can vouch
for its crappy looks. But I'd swear that thing could leave Woodruff and
make the North Pole in thirty-six hours. The ghost himself is a
throw-back. No fancy clothes or boots. No shiny helmets. He's wearing a
set of greasy gray insulated coveralls. A G.I. earflapped hat on his
head. Buckle overshoes on his feet.
But when you get up close you notice something startling real quick.
You look at his face and there is none! Yeah, just a blank space under
the visor of the hat. So there's no talk and no eyes to give you
signals. About all I could ever figure from him was from his hands.
Sometimes he'd point. Sometimes he'd wave. And sometimes he'd stick up
his mitten thumb.
His old snowbeater has an odd sound for a snowmobile that age. You know
the new ones have high-pitched whines. The old ones sounded like big
chainsaws sawing railroad ties. But the ghost's snowbanger just has
kind of a hum. Almost like it's running on electric.
So I guess if you keep your pie-hole shut and watch and listen you can
learn something. Not that the mucky-mucks and butt-wipes up here would
want you to know. No, they don't want the story told. Don't scare the
tourists. Don't you know it's bad for the bar and resort business?
But I know that if you follow the patterns you can find omens. The
ghost has blocked trails and those who went around him later found
themselves through the ice. He tried to run some drunk punks off
Highway 47 to save them. But one of those fools gave an electric pole a
sixty-mile-per-hour kiss. So I know he's trying to tell us to tone it
down. But that's not part of the official plan around here.
I like to wail on my machine as much as the next guy. And I've been
known to fuel myself on a bottle of brandy and a twelve-pack so that by
bar time I'm twice the legal limit. But I know the trails and I know
what I'm doing. What we're getting up here now is a lot of Milwaukee
and Chicago rum-dumbs that can barely find their way up here.
Then they get on high-performance machines that they get no practice
driving. Then they drink double what they can handle. They go in the
night to places they have no experience with. And they think the whole
northwoods is an open park.
The ideas of guide wires, private lane cable gates, and barbed wire
fences are totally beyond their brain capacity. They're surprised when
they're decapitated or have their skulls bashed in. They're shocked
when they trespass and cross private land and end up cracked up in
somebody's foundation hole.
I think the ghost is trying to stop it. But maybe all those other dead
snow jockies left ghosts that are working against him. We better help
him or there'll be a snowmobile ghost at every intersection from
Stevens Point on up.
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