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Snowmobile chopper with Bob Sawicki and Toby Weisser.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
McMurdo Station snowmobile mechanics Bob Sawicki, standing, and Toby Weisser show off their snowmobile chopper. They built the machine using parts they salvaged out of recycle bins, such as a bent crowbar that serves as the brake.

Easy ridin'

Snowmobile mechanics turn station junk into the coolest machine on the continent

One man’s garbage is another man’s tricked-out snowmobile chopper.

Snowmobile mechanics Bob Sawicki and Toby Weisser at McMurdo Station did some heavy duty dumpster diving this season to assemble the hippest ride on rubber track anywhere on the continent.

“This is what McMurdo is throwing away,” Sawicki proudly pointed out to a visitor gawking at the heavy-framed snowmobile. The brake is a bent crowbar, the accelerator handle an old tent pin. Pre-bent pipes found in a waste metal recycle bin worked perfectly in shaping the frame.

“This was all stuff we found in the garbage — or headed to the garbage,” Weisser said.

The two mechanics, who work in the station’s Mechanical Equipment Center (MEC), spent their weeknights and Sundays off constructing the snow machine. They estimate it took about six weeks to build from start to finish, including a week salvaging parts out of recycle bins.

A discarded pickaxe, latched onto the long front forks, serves as an emergency break. So far, they haven’t had to test that feature. The tired motor, Sawicki said, really can’t pull the heavy frame too quickly.

“We like to say it does 60 [miles per hour] in the shop and 6 on the snow,” he joked.

The Easy Rider-esque machine even sports an air horn, which required quite a few hours to rebuild, according to Weisser.

Weisser, in his first season on the Ice, is a mechanic and fabricator from Colorado Springs, Colo. He said he would eventually like to open his own shop in the States. Sawicki, who worked here last year, calls Dubois, Wyo., home, and does similar work there when not keeping the U.S. Antarctic Program’s large fleet of snowmobiles up and running.

The duo first displayed the chopper in January at the McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery (MAAG), an annual show highlighting the creative and crazy artistic talents of the community.

“The MAAG was the excuse to build it,” Sawicki said.

The following day, they took it for a spin at the annual rugby match between the American station and New Zealand’s Scott Base that takes place on a snow pitch on the ice shelf. (The Kiwis retained their decades-old boasting rights with another win, by a score of 12-0.)

Weisser said they did some research online and believe their chopper is the only one of its kind. The mechanics hope to get a picture of it published in a motorcycle or snowmobile magazine. They heard a photo of their machine is already making its way across the United States via an e-mail daisy chain.

The two men, who would seem to be ideal contestants for television’s Junkyard Wars, say they have some other projects in mind, but are taking a break for now.

“We set the bar pretty high with this,” Weisser said. 

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs