North

Memories flood back for Yellowknife woman reconnected with her first snowmobile

Mary Tapsell's first snowmobile was a long-track Bravo that took her to work and to the floe edge, serving her growing family well for nearly 30 years. She thought it was a goner, but a handyman with a soft spot for the old machines brought it back to life, and to her, 4 years later.

Second life for 34-year-old Bravo, left for dead in 2014

Mary Tapsell was reunited with her original snowmobile, a 1985 Bravo. She started it up for CBC North's cameraman Randall Mackenzie and Trailbreaker host Loren McGinnis this winter. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Mary Tapsell gives the seat of her 1985 Yamaha Bravo two affectionate thumps with her mittened hand.

It's –35 C and the fur trim of Tapsell's parka is frosty with her own breath.

"Like a rock," she says, laughing. "They may be dependable, but there's nothing comfortable about them!"

The 34-year-old snowmobile was pretty much built for this kind of weather. The light, basic machines, which came out in 1982, became popular with northern hunters for their pulling power and developed a reputation for punching above their weight in deep snow.  

Tapsell got her Bravo in 1985, when she was working in Iqaluit, then known as Frobisher Bay.

She used it to commute the eight kilometres from her home in Apex, to work.

The first long-track Bravo in town.

Mary Tapsell driving her first snowmobile, a Yamaha Bravo, near Apex, Nunavut. In the 1980's hers was the first long-track Bravo in town. She became known for cruising around with her dog, Dylan. (Submitted by Mary Tapsell)

It was the perfect machine for a single woman who was up for any adventure.

"You know it went to the floe edge, and went hunting seals [and] went on searches for people. I went everywhere on this thing. All over ... Baffin Island," she remembers.

Tapsell's red snowmobile was also one of the first long-track Bravos in town.

"There was this one," Tapsell said, "And the hunters and trappers [organization] had the other one."

Have Bravo, will travel

Tapsell became known for whipping around town on the red machine, with a surprising passenger on the back — her golden retriever Dylan.

"I had a piece of carpet here," she points to the flat bottom of the gas can rack behind the seat. "He put his feet behind me and I could go any speed. When I slow down he'd jump off and run in front of me."

"He was just the snowmobile dog, he just loved it."

Mary Tapsell and her dog Dylan out for a ride on her Bravo. (Submitted by Mary Tapsell)

People in Iqaluit loved it too.

"They would say 'Miali,' which is my name in Inuktitut, 'How do you teach your dog?'"

Six years later, when Tapsell negotiated her move to Yellowknife, she didn't leave her Bravo behind.

The little "beast" with a lot of torque served her and her growing family well for trips to their cabin outside of Yellowknife, and over the years.  

Bravo bites the dust

Then one day in 2014, Tapsell and her husband were on their way out to the cabin.

All of a sudden her dependable little Bravo stopped dead in its tracks.

They took it to a friend of her husband's who works on machines, and the prognosis wasn't good.

"He said, 'Aw Mary, this is just too big a job.' I had three other Bravos but this was my fave. So I said goodbye to it." She gave the mechanic the broken machine.

Fast forward four years and Mary's retired, enjoying travelling and spending more time at her cabin.

One day scrolling through a Facebook buy-and-sell page she spotted a long-track Bravo for sale.

"So I contact him and I say, 'If you don't sell and if you're willing to maybe come down in price, let me know,"' Tapsell said.

She told him about her old Bravo, and sent him a couple of pictures of it.

The reply floored her.

"I think this could be your old Bravo."

Handyman on a budget

In 2014 Daly Cook was new to Yellowknife, and looking to get out on the land with his buddies.

The tricky part was, he didn't have a lot of money to spend on a snowmobile, so he kept his eye out on a local buy-and-sell website and waited for a good deal.

When Daly Cook moved to Yellowknife he was looking for a low-cost, fixer-upper to get him out on the land with friends. He bought a Bravo, for cheap, on YK Trader. He's pictured here in his garage, sitting on a friend's Bravo. (Loren McGinnis/CBC North)

"That one came up pretty cheap … It wasn't running, kind of beat up. But I know how to fix things," Daly said. "So I decided to bring it home and see what I could do with it."

In about a month he had the old Bravo up and running.

Cook rode the machine for a couple more seasons. Although he often needed a bit of extra time to catch up with his friends on faster machines, the dependable Bravo proved it was worth all the work he put into it.

"It just never quit," he said. "Towed quite a few of those faster machines home."

There's just something about a Bravo

Standing in his garage, surrounded by parts from another friend's machine, Cook talks about what makes the Bravo such a great little snowmobile.

"They seem to just have a lot of character, it's hard to describe. The noise they make when they fire up, it's just different than any other snow machine. They are very basic, there's not a lot of extra wiring. To take the engine out it's just three bolts."

Eventually, Cook got tired of being left behind, and was in the market for something bigger and more comfortable. He put it up for sale on Facebook.

That's when he heard from Tapsell.  

When Cook saw her photos, he knew right away his fixer-upper was Tapsell's old machine.

"When I first bought it, it had this white canvas seat cover on it that was pretty ugly, but certainly very distinctive."

It turned out the mechanic Tapsell gave it to was the one who sold it to Daly.

Reunited, and it feels so good

Cook had to dig the Bravo out of a deep pile of snow, but as soon as Tapsell saw she knew it was her old machine. "I knew 100 per cent that it was the Bravo … And so we talked and figured out our price."

Cook had added a backrest and heated grips, plus wider skis, but the best part for Tapsell was when she yanked on the pull cord.

Cook's upgrades to Mary Tapsell's old Bravo included heated hand grips and a backrest. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

"I went and started it and it was 'Boom!' First pull! I took it out for a spin up behind Parker Park [in Yellowknife] and stuff and it was great, handled just great."

"I never really wanted to sell it," Cook said. "But after finding out her back story and her relationship to the machine and the fact that basically it's only ever had two owners it was kind of neat."

"Seemed like it was going back to the right person, going to a good home."

Tapsell promised Cook that if she ever decided to get rid of her Bravo again, she'd get in touch with him first.

"He kind of put a lot into it," she said. "But my kids would never let this Bravo leave the family now. I mean they grew up with it, so yeah, that's not going to happen."

Written by Joanne Stassen, based on interviews by Loren McGinnis

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