January 8, 2021 — A Fargo postal carrier reported the success of his new winter contraption on this day in 1928. The winter of 1928 proved to be one of the worst on record for North Dakota in terms of snowfall and blizzard-like conditions. Many people around the state, notably doctors and mail carriers, found it impossible to drive their automobiles, or even horses, through the large snow drifts that blocked the rural roads.

To solve this problem, North Dakotans devised a new way of traveling through drifts and ice. Removing the front wheels and fender from their automobiles, and replacing these with skis, and then reattaching these front tires right in front of the back ones, and wrapping a “caterpillar”-like track around the sets of tires, these innovators created what came to be known as a “snowbird.”

The snowbird was capable of breaking through snow drifts up to five feet in height. And, although strange to look at, they reached speeds up to thirty miles per hour.

O. H. Woodridge, rural mail carrier for southwest Fargo, reported to the Fargo Forum that his snowbird allowed him to complete his twenty-nine mile mail route in “little more than two hours.” He claimed that on many days he would not even have been able to complete the route with traditional means of transportation.

Woodridge was the first of Fargo’s mail carriers to employ a snowbird, and he built the vehicle himself using his old Ford automobile. The mail carrier spent a total of $165 on the alteration, purchasing an additional axle for the adjustment of the front tires, the two front skis, and the wheel track around the four back tires. Woodridge reported that the snowbird was “…the best outfit he [had] ever seen for ‘bucking’ snow.”

It is ironic that the vehicle created to help rural North Dakota make it through the tough winter of 1928 was named the snowbird, considering that today the word is used to describe residents of the northern Midwest and Canada who choose to flee south before the first flakes of winter even begin to fall!

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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