Ford thought they had come up with something that was going to do away with the wheel. Then the hitches began to develop. The sled worked well on a lake, on any small body of water. But in a large lake or on the ocean, it was useless. The waves swamped it, for it rode on the water, not above it like a flivver. Ocean travel was out. Secondly, and far worse, further testing proved that the magnetic sled would not function on land. It required a surface with a high degree of give and resilience, such as water—or snow. When driven on the ground or a pavement, the aluminum was shredded away in seconds, the wire grid torn loose immediately afterward, and the sled came to a slamming, banging halt. Finally, Kesey discovered that there was a limitation to the size of the magnetic sled. A one-man sled worked exceedingly well. A two-man sled was slightly more difficult to handle. A three-man sled required a competent and experienced driver. A four-man sled required two men and two separate wheels to control the bucking. A five-man sled was too erratic for use. The Kesey-Ford dream of revolutionizing the world suffered a severe setback.
The sleds went into production as pleasure craft. It wasn’t long before they had replaced the small boat as the favorite middle-class luxury item. The snowmobile, so popular for thirty years, died overnight. The magnetic sled could never get stuck, could never break a tread, and moved faster. It could also go places the snowmobile could never reach. Ford made money. Kesey was kept on at his research lab. But the revolution never came.
Now I rested outside the cabin on the snow, drifting slightly forward. I accelerated a bit more, brought the craft smoothly ahead, and took it around the cabin, under the trees. I pointed the front end down the white stretch of the long slope below the cabin and stepped up the propeller speed. They whined behind me. I surged forward, the trees and mounds of snow flashing past. I kept the machine at twenty, not daring to go much faster. There was just enough light reflected off the snow from the pale moon to see by, and I kept a sharp lookout for sharp rises in the landscape. If the land dropped abruptly, the sled would fall gently back to the surface without disaster. But if there was a rise that I did not pull back on the wheel to compensate for, the sled would glide into it, smash nose-first and tip over. Even if I didn’t get hurt, such an accident would damage the sled so that I would be forced to walk the rest of the way. And that was not a pleasant prospect.
When I came to the first section of woods, I decided to circle it rather than hunt a wide enough path through. Even if I did find a deer trail, I would have to slow up, for the woods were very treacherous for a sled. I soared past, curving in a wide arc around the trees. It would be an extra couple of miles around the stand of pine, but the increased speed would more than compensate for it. I moved sharply in the last moments of the high point of the arc, sending a spray of snow in a long geyser behind. The ride was exhilarating. For the first time in a long time, I felt like laughing.
I crossed more open fields beyond the wood, bringing the speed up to thirty, now that I was more sure of myself. Five minutes like that brought me to another section of forest. As I approached, I saw that it stretched to both sides, far out of sight. It looked as if I would be forced to go through the trees here. I slowed to fifteen and cruised along the edge of the woods, looking for a path. I disregarded the first two because they were windy and narrow, but the third showed regular use by elk or deer and had been beaten into a fairly well-traveled and wide thoroughfare. I turned into it, dropped my speed to eight miles an hour, and proceeded with care.