Don Amber d/b/a
Busco Bullet, Inc
At Busco Bullet, we specialize in taking old John Deere sleds and making them new again. While we will create a "Trailer Queen" for you, our preference is to build you a sled that starts on the first or second pull and allows you to hop on and go riding. We love seeing the smiles after the "first ride".
My first ride on a snowmobile must have taken place in the late 60’s when an employee invited me to ride his 4 cycle Arctic Cat. He had it so that he didn’t have to walk to his ice fishing holes on Blue Lake. I really don’t remember being impressed……..
It was 1970 or 1971 when I really caught the bug and added a Scorpion dealership to my Chevrolet dealership. We spent many a night and weekends riding sleds because the Indiana winter was longer and contained a lot of snow, something that disappeared in the 80’s and didn’t reappear until 2007.
The local Polaris dealer held an open house in 1971. At his open house he showed a movie (Forrest Tucker was the narrator) about a race from Winnipeg, Manitoba to St. Paul, Minnesota. I immediately became intrigued and made an almost immediate decision that I would participate in that race. It was evident from the start that to have any success at all in the I-500, a rider really needed to be on a Polaris or Arctic Cat. I decided on Polaris since the local dealer was as excited about the project as I was. Our goal was to participate in the 1973 I-500.
It was decided that our sponsor would be the “Town of Churubusco (Indiana)”. We even held a contest to name our sled. The winning name was “Busco Bullet”. As I recall, the winner didn’t receive anything for her efforts. It was also decided that any winnings would go to the local food bank which was in it’s infancy. Today, the food bank serves over 500 folks weekly in our small community.
So, in January of 1973, we set out for Winnipeg and the start of the annual I-500. We were clueless but an adventurous foursome. We were given a new motorhome to use by the Franklin RV company but didn’t realize that the heating systems of the 70’s RV’s was less than reliable. We spent most of the time bundled up inside the motor home.
We arrived at Winnipeg, checked in the sled and in the process I met a fellow racer who actually was a radio personality from a station in Fargo, ND. While he was participating, he also was doing his radio thing with remote reports as the race went on. He became intrigued with our efforts and followed us closely. We would not have been considered a “finisher” had it not been for his efforts. At the end of the first day’s running our suspension was “shot”. No big deal I figured. I walked up the the Polaris support semi and asked if I could purchase a new suspension. The man in the trailer asked me where I was from. I told him Indiana and he suggested that I load up my sled and go back to Indiana. I’m not sure if I was more mad or humiliated but either way I started back to our RV to tell the crew that we were done. Along the way I met my radio friend who asked how I was doing. I shared my story about the event at the Polaris trailer. He said that we will go back to the trailer and have a visit with them. Upon arrival at the trailer, he indicated that he’d like to interview someone from Polaris and of course they were quite willing to do so until they learned that the subject was about how I was treated. A few minutes later I was walking away with a new suspension that I was “allowed” to purchase for $125.00 (and I was happy to do so).
The 1973 race ended abruptly at Alex that year when freezing fog kept us from finishing the run to St. Paul. Stan Hayes was declared the winner and I finished somewhere around 70th. This past February (2008) I had the opportunity to meet Stan Hayes at the Snowmobile Hall of Fame “Ride with the Champs”. I asked if at anytime I had him worried knowing that only sixty some sleds kept me from beating him!
As a finisher we received a check for $107.00 which was promptly turned over to our local food bank upon our arrival back in Churubusco. We arrived in town somewhere around 1 AM to a large crowd gathered to greet our return.
1974 was a bummer! Again I rode a Polaris. For 1974, the St. Paul Winter Carnival officials wanted the start of the race instead of the finish. (or Winnipeg officials wanted the finish, I don’t remember which it was). The weather in St. Paul was mild with a real lack of snow. After 125 miles of snowless conditions, my track exploded leaving me along side the road and out of the race on the first day. It was a long, quiet trip back to Indiana.
In the spring of 1974 a young man, named Bob Irvin, walked into my Chevrolet dealership and asked if we would service his company car. It turned out that he was a territory manager for John Deere and had moved with his wife to our small town. Bob quickly became my best friend as his wife and my wife became best friends. When Bob found out about my “racing” career he told me that John Deere was planning on a real concerted racing effort in 1975. John Deere was even building a new, radical designed sled for the event. It didn’t take long for us to decide that we would ride this new John Deere in the 1975 Winnipeg-St. Paul International 500. We had most plans in place before the first 340/S even rolled off of the assembly line. At the time, the Columbus (Ohio) branch did not want to sponsor a sled but instead would encourage it’s dealerships, or in our case a group of dealerships, to sponsor them. Our sponsors became known as “Northeast Indiana John Deere Dealers”.
Unlike our experience with Polaris, the John Deere organization made a great effort to see that independents such as us had the latest information about modifications that needed to be made if we were to be successful. The John Deere race team, later to be called Enduro Team Deere, was riding the newly created 340/S anywhere that they could find snow. I recently learned that Ed Kruel would search all of North America for snow and when they found some they’d load up and head there to test the sleds. They even went to Alaska to race early in the season. Again, whenever they found something that made the sled faster or more reliable it was shared with everyone. John Deere even had a “race school” in Horicon, Wisconsin (the snowmobile assembly plant). They held schools for drivers and mechanics. It was first class all the way and they made every effort to provide the latest information to every rider regardless of where they were from.
We received our 340/S in November. Several weekend trips were made to Michigan to break it in and attempt to break it up. We’d come home following our weekend trips, completely tear it down, make the most recent modifications provided by Deere or our own findings. Put it back together and head back to Michigan the following weekend and start all over again.
In 1974 we decided to attend the Park Rapids (Minnesota) race prior to the I-500 for a “shakedown”. It was the most fun I ever had racing. It was a great race and a great town for the race. So, for 1975 we decided to do it again. This time with our 340/S. We loaded our truck and headed for Park Rapids. I remember stopping for supper in St. Cloud and when we headed out it was snowing pretty hard. Keep in mind that we’re from Indiana where a “lot” of snow is 6” to 8”. This snow was a LOT heavier than that but we figured that since we were in Minnesota it was the norm. As we continued to Park Rapids it became evident quickly that we were the only ones out traveling that night but we went on. We decided that if we could see the fence posts on each side of the highway and stay in the middle we would be ok, and we were. We arrived pretty late in the evening at the motel where we had reservations. It was dark in the lobby but we walked on in and rang the bell or whatever to get the attention of the motel owner. When he entered the lobby he looked at us like we were from Mars and asked “where in the world did you come from?”. We told him Indiana and he said “you guys must be nuts, this is the worst blizzard to hit this parts in 50 years!”.
To my knowledge, it was the first time a race was ever “snowed out”. We waited a couple of days for the roads to get plowed and made our way back to Indiana only to reload and head back to Winnipeg a few days later.
The start of the 1975 Winnipeg-St Paul I-500 was memorable as well. The temperature was -30 with wind chills estimated to be in the -80 range. They delayed the start of the race for a couple of hours so the officials could decide whether or not it was safe to even have the race. Thankfully someone decided to proceed with the start.
During the wait, several Enduro Team Deere drivers waited inside our support truck as we had heat. However at one point a John Deere official made them get out because they needed to warm the 16mm cameras that they had hired to film the race. It seems that in -30 weather the oil in movie cameras thickened to the point that they wouldn’t work. Remember this was way before video……… I hated to see the ETD guys get the boot by their own bosses but our deal with the camera crew was to guarantee our sled be in the film. It was but you have to look closely, when the film starts you see our sled still under it’s cover and if you have a VHS copy you might even miss it because the beginning was cut……………..so much for our end of the bargain!
Once the race started, I totally forgot about the temperature and headed on the the first day’s finish at East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Fortunately the weather did not bother me but a majority of the first day riders suffered from frostbite and were treated at the local hospital.
Day two started uneventful but it sure didn’t end that way. Keep in mind that I was never a threat to win the race but instead the goal was to finish. So I kept up a decent pace and raced several miles with the same group. We entered a wooded area and when we came to a “Y” in the trail we turned right because the left trail had a pennant over it indicating it was the “wrong” way. After a few miles we realized that the trail played out and there were no race markers. We stopped and as a group realized that we were off the trail. The snow was fluffy and I had a hole in the belly pan of my sled. When I stopped the snow on my intake hose turned to ice so when I restarted the sled and took off again it acted as though the choke was engaged. Eventually the engine died so I removed the hood, broke the ice ball from air intake and started back, now by myself as the rest of the group was gone, to find the race trail. I estimated a 10 minute loss but it was likely longer. I found the trail again and by this time someone had changed the pennants back to where they should have been (blocking the right trail instead of the left) and I proceeded on. I almost had the finish line in sight when a road guard stopped me. He said that I could not proceed because my headlight was not working. I now realize that I should have just gone on but I was tired and frustrated so I obeyed him and ended my race almost within sight of that day’s finish line. Following my disappointed finish in the 1975 race, I returned to Indiana where I would attend to my business and family. I put the 340/S away where it stayed until I got it back out during the “Blizzard of 78”. It served me faithfully delivering medicine, food, and even the local doctor to a home where a lady was in labor. Following the blizzard it was put away again not to see daylight for another 27 years
I turned my attention towards my Chevrolet dealership and then to becoming a Paramedic where I served almost 30 years with Whitley County EMS until my retirement.
My hobby became horses until my favorite horse was tragically killed. While deciding how to move on my son Bob purchased a 1977 John Deere Cyclone which became my first restoration. Recently this Cyclone became the highest selling Cyclone in history.
Son Bob Amber continues to be a part of the organization and is the main engine builder specializing in the Kawasaki engines.