Dokken: ‘3 Old Guys’ story leads down a rabbit hole to ‘Wild Bill’s Run’
On their attempted trip from Minnesota to Moscow, they ran Moto-Ski snowmobiles, a now-defunct brand manufactured in Quebec that ceased production in 1985.
My recent coverage of the “3 Old Guys” – Paul Dick, Rob Hallstrom and Rex Hibbert – and their 4,000-plus-mile snowmobile trek from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to Fairbanks, Alaska, prompted a call from Jeffrey Waldhal on Tuesday evening.
The trio of snowmobilers left Grand Rapids on Monday morning and after spending the night at Oak Island on Minnesota’s Northwest Angle, reported with the Canada Border Services Agency and rode into Canada on Tuesday morning, according to an update on their Facebook page. They spent Wednesday night in Swan River, Manitoba, and if all goes according to plan, the trek through some of the most remote country in North America will take about a month.
I was off the clock for the day and away from my desk when Waldhal called Tuesday, and so his call – a Duluth number, according to my Caller ID – went to voicemail. He’d seen my story and wondered if I knew about the snowmobile trip Bill Cooper and a crew from Willow River, Minnesota, made to Alaska in 1969 and another trip they made in ’72.
“The first trip was … to Fairbanks, and then the second one was Willow River ultimately to – well, they ultimately made it all the way to Greenland,” Waldhal said.
His father-in-law made one of the trips, Waldhal said, and his wife’s uncle went on both of them.
“There’s a lot of history,” Waldhal said in his voicemail.
I wasn’t familiar with the Willow River crew’s two trips, but Waldhal’s voicemail piqued my curiosity. Some poking around on Facebook led me down a rabbit hole to a Dec. 28 post on the “3 Old Guys ride to Alaska” Facebook page, which describes a 1972 trip in which Cooper and a half-dozen young, adventurous snowmobile partners set off on an adventure they dubbed the “Trans World Snowmobile Expedition” – aka, “To Moscow with Love on a Moto-Ski.”
They ran Moto-Ski snowmobiles, a now-defunct brand manufactured in Quebec that ceased production in 1985.
The Facebook post also included a link to a website about “Wild Bill’s Run,” a 2012 documentary by Minnesota filmmaker Mike Scholtz about the snowmobile expedition. The website describes the film as follows:
“This is the strange but true story of Wild Bill Cooper. Part Arctic adventure and part crime caper, ‘Wild Bill’s Run’ is an unforgettable ride with a true American folk hero.
“In the winter of 1972, Wild Bill Cooper led a ragtag crew of mechanics, ranchers and photographers on a grueling expedition across the polar ice. During some of the darkest days of the Cold War, their goal was to snowmobile 5,000 miles from Minnesota to Moscow.
“They didn’t quite make it.
“After the expedition returned home, Cooper embarked on a startling new adventure. Accused of leading a massive drug smuggling operation known as ‘the Marijuana Air Force,’ he was named one of America’s Ten Most Wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service. But the wily outdoorsman was never caught. He refused to surrender to the law, just as he’d refused to surrender to the Arctic. Even today, his whereabouts remain a mystery.”
Continuing further down the rabbit hole, I came across a July 22, 2012, story in the Duluth News Tribune about the film and Cooper’s wild pursuits. As explained in the story, “Wild Bill’s Run” was named Best Documentary Feature Film at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival earlier in 2012.
I did some more poking around online trying to find the film, only to hit dead ends, so I sent Scholtz an email to see if “Wild Bill’s Run” is still available out there somewhere in the clouds.
He replied early Wednesday evening.
“It used to be on Hulu and Amazon and a bunch of other places, but time marched on, and now it’s only available on DVD through old-fashioned mail order, by contacting me via the website,” Scholtz replied.
He did, however, send me a link to a password-protected site that allowed me to see the one-hour film.
All I can say is wow, that’s one heck of a story!
The documentary is probably old news to Duluthians, but it was news to me, a cool story I never would have known about, had it not been for Waldhal’s voicemail Tuesday evening. I tried returning his call Wednesday but hadn’t heard back before the deadline for this column.
Venturing down rabbit holes can lead to some cool places, and the story of “Wild Bill’s Run” certainly did just that.
For more information on the documentary or to order a copy by “old-fashioned mail order,” check out the website at wildbillsrun.com or email Scholtz at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For daily updates on the “3 Old Guys,” check out their Facebook page.