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Snow-Mower built to ride

Wyatt Kram shows off part of the snowmobile engine on his John Deere Snow-Mower. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Reile's Acres, N.D. - When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, English mountaineer George Mallory famously replied, "Because it's there."

Wyatt Kram's ambitions weren't quite as grand, but the Fargo man's reason for merging a snowmobile and lawnmower was similar to Mallory's philosophy.

"I just thought it would be doable," said Kram, 23, a Langdon native and manufacturing engineer at Crary Industries in West Fargo.

His one-of-a-kind John Deere Snow-Mower combines the frame and guts of a 1980 John Deere Liquifire snowmobile with the body of a 1977 John Deere 210 lawn tractor.

Kram bought the snowmobile - one of five John Deere sleds he owns - from a friend in Napoleon. The mower was donated by his college roommate's parents in Litchville.

Before diving into the project, he measured the mower's body to see how far apart his feet would be.

"Because I knew that (body) was going to have to go over the snowmobile tunnel, and they were the same width," he said. "If they weren't the same width, I probably would not have done it."

Kram began working on the project on June 14, 2009.

"It was crazy, as I went along, how things just kind of came together," he said.

He built a custom suspension system using vintage John Deere bogie wheels and a "long travel" type of suspension that lets him drive through deep snow as well as on hard ground in the summertime without needing snow to lubricate the suspension.

He fashioned the engine's side covers from scratch using 19-gauge sheet aluminum he bent by himself. The covers pop off with just a couple of wing nuts and a few screws for easy access.

Because he's an engineer, even the seemingly quirky add-ons have a practical purpose. The chopper-style motorcycle handlebars keep the steering from hitting his knees, while the straight vertical muffler pipe with flapper keeps the exhaust out of his face while also giving the Snow-Mower a farm-tractor feel.

After painting the machine in John Deere green, Kram finished it Jan. 4. The next day, he took it to its first snowmobile show in Fort Ransom.

"It was 20 below, 30 below in the morning, so it wouldn't start," he said. "But a lot of them wouldn't start that day."

Since then, he's entered the custom-labeled SM440 - which stands for Snow-Mower with a 440 Kawasaki liquid-cooled engine - in about half a dozen shows, winning a handful of plaques and trophies.

Kram, who lives in north Fargo with his wife and 3-year-old son, stores the SM440 at his parents' place in Reile's Acres because his own garage is full.

While the Snow-Mower turns heads, Kram said that's not why he built it.

"I like to ride it," he said. "Last winter, I put on about 100 miles."

The machine tops out at 45 mph and is "quite a bit different" than riding a regular sled, he said.

"On a snowmobile, you can put your legs back and you can balance yourself better, kind of control it. On this one, you're at the mercy of the trail. You feel every bump," he said.

However, with carbide runners on the skis, the Snow-Mower handles quite well, he said.

"This one actually turns better than any of my other snowmobiles," he said.