Arago: Exhibits

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A Model T on Skis

A Model T on Skis

The biggest challenge rural letter carriers faced was finding a vehicle that could take them on their daily rounds. Unlike their city counterparts, rural carriers have always been responsible for providing their own transportation. Northern carriers needed to find ways to make their cars useful in winter months when deep snow was too much for the vehicles of the day to overcome.

This 1921 Ford Model-T was owned by rural carrier Harold Crabtree of Central Square, New York. While the car worked fine most of the year, New England winter snow often stopped the car before Crabtree was able to start his daily rounds. After suffering through a few winters of using his back-up horses and sled instead of the car, he decided to buy the Model-T snowmobile attachment kit advertised as the “mailman’s special.” The kit included skis that replaced the front tires and caterpillar treads that wrapped around the back tires.

The attachment manufactured by Farm Specialty Manufacturing Company of New Holstein, Wisconsin, had its history in a series of designs and adaptations dating to the first decade of the 20th century. One of the most successful transformation kits was a direct descendent of Crabtree’s purchase. It was the work of inventor Virgil White. In 1906 White began trying to convert automobiles into snowmobiles using a Buick Model G. After the Model-T’s popularity made it the go-to car of the early 20th century, White turned his attention to creating a kit for that vehicle, devising a series of designs that he patented over the next few years.

By 1922 White was sure enough of his latest design to begin marketing it to the public and sold just over 70 kits in the next year. White sold the kits for $250 to $400 each, depending on size and complexity, from his new Snowmobile Company in West Ossipee, New Hampshire. A few years later White sold his snowmobile patents to the Farm Specialty Manufacturing Company which quickly recognized the kits’ appeal to rural carriers and advertised the attachment kit in postal association publications. Rural carriers across the northern United States were able to keep their cars on the road through the year thanks to the “mailman’s special.”

Ford Model T Automobile

Model T on skis, part of "Customers and Communities" gallery.