When Greg Veldhuizen reached the road after many hours of grooming snowmobile trails, he happened to look back through the cabin window to see plumes of black smoke.
Then the flames.
“Fire, I thought,” said the president and groomer operator of the West Carleton Snowmobile Trails Association. “I reached for the extinguisher and emptied. Then after about four or five seconds the flames came back. That’s when I got out and called 911.”
It was Dec. 31, 2012, at about 11 a.m. Veldhuizen had been grooming since 4:30 a.m., a typical day for him, when he emerged onto Canon Smith Drive. The groomer machine was purchased just two years ago, and has never overheated in the past. So operating it for a long period of time wasn’t to blame. It was designed for long periods in the woods and fields throughout areas such as West Carleton.
“We’ve had no problems with it in the past,” he said. “This is the first time.”
It was an early start to the snowmobiling season, an activity enjoyed by about 500 area residents. Already the machine had logged hundreds of hours over its lifetime. But when a machine decides to have an electrical fire, as is what happened in this case, it doesn’t matter how robust the rest of the vehicle is. The damage is set at $180,000, with insurance covering it all. Because an electrical fire is such a rarity, Veldhuizen doesn’t anticipate the association’s premiums will be jacked up.
The driver wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t even that worried, knowing diesel vehicles don’t explode. As for hopping back in again when the new one arrives in the next few days? Veldhuizen – and his wife – will have no trouble with that.
“Sure. Why not? It’s not dangerous.”
The association and its groomer play a vital role in keeping area trails intact. Good trails mean fewer snowmobilers are wandering off to possibly dangerous destinations. Good trails mean those who are passing through West Carleton to tourism destinations like Calabogie can breathe a little easier knowing that a formal organization is looking out for their safety.
But the association is important in another way. Being a member of the West Carleton Snowmobile Trails Association means you can legally ride on the trails. It means you made your contribution, the $210 membership fee, to ensure trails for everyone to enjoy.
Those who don’t belong to the association run the risk of getting a $240 fine from police; or even a $120 trespassing ticket from field patrol officer. Just recently a field patrol officer, who is a member of the association, stopped 25 snowmobilers in the Constance Bay area. Eight didn’t have a permit.
“They will spend $8,000 to $10,000 for a snowmobile, then use the excuse that a $210 membership is too expensive,” Veldhuizen said.
For more information on the association and its trails, or to volunteer, log onto wcstai.com.