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STUFF IT! (in a snowbank )

The 1975 MOWOG Winter Carnival Road Rally

A look back of winter. So who wants to look back?

by Bruce Jaeger (Published in Midwest Motor Sport, June 1975)
Photos by Armand Peterson

2002 Note: I couldn't find (if I have one) this issue, so I had to use a photocopy, one of those ishy chemical-type 1975 photocopies! It's been deteriorating for 26-27 years. The text could still be read, but as you can see the photos are pretty well gone.
The time was 12:16 plus 25 seconds, Saturday afternoon, February 1st. As our car, no. 17, waited poised at the exit of the Capp Towers Motor Inn parking lot, the rallymaster handed us a thick sheaf of rally instructions and started a countdown to 12:17. 1 fastened the instructions to the clipboard mounted between the driver, Bruce "Bigfoot" Thompson, and myself.

The rallymaster waved us off at exactly 12:17. As I punched the stop watch, Bruce read the first instruction, "Right out of Capp Towers parking lot . . ." I dropped .the stopwatch between the seat and transmission tunnel of our Cortina, never to see it again. "Left onto Cedar" read Bruce.

"Right," I agreed as I began to calculate mileages for the odometer check--we had no trip odo.

"Right?" he questioned. "OK!" He pulled into the right-turn lane.

"No! Left! Left! I meant correct, not right!" I dropped the calculator on my foot.

We made the turn property, and were off and running in the 1975 MOWOG Winter Carnival Road Rally.

The "MOWOG," sponsored by the BMC Club of the Upper Midwest, Inc., has always held a special place among Twin Cities road rallies. Affectionately known as "The Car Wrecker" among some rallyists, the MOWOG is a pure driver's rally. The course instructions, in many rallies designed to get people lost, are quite simple to follow on the MOWOG--even the comedy act in car no. 17 didn't get lost . . . much.

To make up for the easy rally instructions, the roads used on the MOWOG are always the most hateful, vile, treacherous paths imaginable. While 40 mph may not seem fast on your ordinary, paved street, only a madman would attempt to average 40 over the icy, narrow, serpentine backroads of Pierce and Goodhue counties.

With 39 teams entered in this year's MOWOG, that makes at least 78 madmen…

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Cars line up for the start of the rally at the Capp Towers.
Because so many drivers have buried their mounts in snowbanks and ditches in past MOWOGS, all teams are required to carry signal flares--and are also asked to carry snow shovels. A Jeep or tow truck is sent around the course after the rally to extract the unluckier Fangios from the white stuff.

The rally was held under the auspices of the St. Paul Winter Carnival this year, lending it instant respectability. Police and county sheriffs, who usually take a somewhat dim view of a bunch of damned fools smashing. up their cars around the countryside, were more willing to cooperate. Local business donated awards, and, for the first time, cash prizes were offered the top finishers.

Registration, technical inspection and the starting point of the rally were at the Capp Towers Motor Inn in St. Paul. At registration, both driver and navigator had to sign waivers, freeing the organizers of any responsibility for smashed cars or smashed

rallyists. Cars were checked for the required flares and obviously unsafe operation. Many drivers then left to top up their gas tanks and make final adjustments while the navigators-- - the experienced MOWOG navigators at least--gathered in the bar.

After our Abbot-and-Costello bit with the left turn, we completed a short tire warm-up, and then compared our odometer to the Official Rally Mileage in an odometer check that to us across the St. Croix river into Prescott, Wisconsin. As we left Prescott behind we also left behind the luxury of paved roads. Fortunately, the forecasted snow never materialized, and it was cold enough to keep dust from forming.

We had yet to come upon any of the MOWOG's famous shut-your-eyes-and-pray roads when we steamed into Checkpoint No. 1, somewhere near Trimbelle in Pierce County. Bruce walked back to the control car to get our time, while I picked up scattered pencils and broken doughnuts from the floor.

The white-knuckle, palm-sweating rallying began as we left Checkpoint No. 1 and headed south. These were true backwoods roads, so narrow the trees often met overhead. Sometimes the rally road paralleled creeks 20 feet below road level--and no guardrails. Every hill and tree seemed to hide a sharp curve, lurking to catch the unwary.

At one point, we rounded a blind corner only to see a mean-looking blue pickup truck barreling along toward us. Even in the summer, the road would have been hard pressed to let us pass. Bruce looked at the snowbank, looked at the truck, and looked at the snowbank again. We climbed the bank on the right side, burying our nose and right fender. The truck passed, its driver grinning.

We managed to back out, and tried to make up for lost time by going still faster. Several miles later, we came skipping over a hill to see one of those safety flares burning a hole in the snow.

There, head-down like a terrier rooting out a rabbit, was a MG Midget. The driver forlornly waved his tow cable to us as we charged by, telling ourselves that the Cortina couldn't pull him out anyway--besides, we were late! Car no. 14, a Jeep Cherokee, later pulled him out.

We left Checkpoint No. 10, somewhere on Bogus Creek near the southern half of Lake Pepin, and came upon the following instruction:

112.46 (Official mileage) 68. Left at tee … Depending upon weather conditions, you may have to cross a small, shallow ford over a creek.

Oh great.

At 112.46 miles, the road came, to a tee, all right--but the route to the left had never been plowed! We looked at each other--"Naw, that can't be it!" As we took the right-hand branch, I rechecked my calculations, hoping I had goofed.

1 hadn't. As nothing else made sense--including why two grown men were wasting their time out in the middle of nowhere-- we turned around and cautiously churned our way down the snow-covered trail. There were a few tracks in the snow before us, but they could just as well have been made by some forest ranger or revenue agent.

We drove a few hundred feet, and again lost faith--"This can't be it!" We tried to back up. No go. We tried to continue forward. Also no go. (The navigator is always the one who has to push!)

By this time, several rally cars had lined up at the tee, trying to decide if we were crazy, or if that wide snowmobile trail was really the correct road. It was unanimous. They all thought we were crazy, and they all took the right-hand turn.

The Jeep Cherokee was the first to return. As they couldn't get around us on the narrow road, they were forced to help us get moving. We struggled down the trail, wondering if it actually led anywhere and getting stuck once again. There was absolutely no turning back, as the trees came to within a few feet of either edge. A deep gully on the right threatened disaster.

After sliding another quarter mile, we plowed out of the trees to see The Creek.

"Hey! We were on the right road!" I exclaimed.

"Don't get too worked up over it. We still have to get across the creek." Such a realist!

The rallymaster had thoughtfully stationed several bodies at the ford to help the cars get through. As we backed to make our run at the creek, they shouted and motioned "Take it on the right side!" So we did, and were promptly stuck, tail down and squatting in the stream. The Jeep motored serenely by on the left, not even breathing hard, as we sat hubcap deep in the water.

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The author stuck in The Creek.
"Let's go find some nice country tavern, and sit there `till they kick us out," I said to Bruce.

"Even if we get unstuck," he pointed out, "We'll still have to follow the rally instructions--because we don't have the slightest idea where we are!"

Finally, with much buffing and puffing, the drones pushed us backwards out of the creek. We tried again, this time really getting a good run at it. We bounced safely across, bunging up the muffler in the process. With our little Cortina bellowing like a Trans-Am racer, we pulled triumphantly into Checkpoint No. 11, the last of the daylight section of the rally.

We were directed to the rest stop in nearby Red Wing, and returned to Minnesota. While I sat in Nybo's Cafe with the rest of the rallyists, stuffing myself to make up for the weight I'd lost screaming and sweating and pushing, Bruce fixed our exhaust system with a Coke can and two large hose clamps.

As we left Nybo's and drove along Highway 61 east from Red Wing to the starting point of the night half of the rally, we discovered that a little light had burned out, and we couldn't read the odometer in the dark. This was going to hurt.

We came to instruction No. 5 of the second section:

8.77 No. 5. Right first opportunity after "Caution Farm Implement Crossing."

We missed the tiny sign, and, as we couldn't read the odometer, we sailed past the turn.

Car No. 19, following close behind, did see the sign. Would they turn onto the correct road, letting us see them headlights swing to the right and realize our mistake? Not a chance! They slowed to a crawl until we disappeared over a hill, and then made the turn.

By the time we'd realized we'd made a major dumb-dumb, we were over eight minutes late, and collected the maximum penalty at the next checkpoint. We were act to see car No. 19 for a long time.

As we skidded and swore our way through the rest of the rally, we agreed that, scary as it had been, the daylight driving couldn't hold a candle to late-night rallying. The road always seemed to be following the edge of a cliff--the roads in Goodhue County, Minnesota, were easily a match for Pierce County's finest.

At last, a joyous sight, for us, at least! Another flare signaled a warning; there was Car No. 19, soundly stuffed head-first in an unforgiving snowbank. We slowed, offered kind words of encouragement and advice as the driver muttered curses, and made our way through the rest of the rally.

Back at the Capp Towers, after nearly 12 hours of rallying, we watched the other competitors stagger in, the drivers stiff-legged and vacant stared, the navigators with white knuckles and red-rimmed eyes from squinting at too many tiny figures.

Again, the question comes up, "Who is braver (or crazier), the driver or the navigator? No one can decide. The driver must flog his expensive machine sideways down terrible roads at unreasonable speeds--but he, at least, has some control over the situation. The navigator can only sit helplessly and watch his entire life pass before his eyes at every corner.

Some don't even look. Said Bob Shapiro, winning navigator. "I only saw about 5 of the last 120 miles--I just kept my head down!"

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The winning Saab on "The Trail."

Top Ten Finishers
(39 teams competing)

Place Driver Navigator Car No. Car Prize Money








































Saab 96

MG Midget



Cortina GT

BMW 2002

Datsun 2402

Jeep Cherokee

Toyota Corolla


$ 100

$ 60

$ 30

$ 20