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CPC Revisited: Episode 1 – The Overview


(7/1/2012)

CPC Revisited: Arctic Cat History image by ArcticInsider.com

For a four year period beginning in 1982, Certified Parts Corporation of Janesville, Wis., and its owner, Jim Grafft, were an integral, brand-saving chapter in the Arctic Cat story. In fact, after five decades of Arctic Cat, only two individuals have ever owned a controlling interest in the entire company at one time: Edgar Hetteen when he founded the brand, and Jim Grafft (via CPC) when he purchased key elements of what was left of it when Arctic Enterprises went financially insolvent beginning in 1981.

For the uninitiated, here’s an abridged history lesson: When Arctic Cat liquidated its business operations in the spring of 1982, it was CPC who bought the parts, tooling, licenses, the “Arctic Cat” name, the Scorpion line of parts and other pieces of the company. From that point forward, it was CPC that sold new Arctic Cat parts to dealers.

Over the next year, the beginnings of the brand’s rebirth as a snowmobile manufacturer would unfold, starting with its first production of snowmobiles for the 1984 season after two years of having “Gone Fish’n.”

In 1986 Arctic Cat and CPC arranged for Arctic Cat to also sell service parts for all 1984 and later machines, with CPC supplying parts for all 1981 and earlier machines. Later, the companies agreed to terms in which the entire parts business, tooling and licenses were sold back to Arctic Cat.

It’s been said that after the agreement, when it came time to retrieve the parts supply held at CPC in Janesville, that more than 100 truckloads were needed to move everything back to Thief River Falls. Every brake disc, decal and tie-rod. Every seat, hood and shock.

For many in the Arctic Cat family of employees, dealers and such, this return of all Arctic Cat snowmobile parts and licenses from a so-called “outside” owner represented the truly complete return as a snowmobile company. The company was whole once again.

I know that when I’ve read the book LEGEND: Arctic Cat’s First Four Decades, I silently cheered when the story highlights these milestones. But I also realize now that while CPC might have been an “outsider” of sorts, that it was also a definite savior to the Arctic Cat brand.

When companies go bankrupt and liquidate their assets, sometimes other companies or individuals acquire them. Often times, the new owner disolves the various elements of the company in a financial whirlwind, literally shredding to pieces that which was once whole.

CPC could have scattered the various elements it purchased to wind. It could have refused to help launch Arctco. It could have retained the “Arctic Cat” name indefinitely, which would have undoubtedly produced all kinds of problems down the road.

But it didn’t. It kept the key pieces of the snowmobile business together and helped rebuild the brand strong enough that it could eventually buy itself back into business.

In hindsight, this company of less than 100 people and owned by sharp businessman who was only in his 30s at the time were critically important to the success of Arctic Cat’s return to the snowmobile business. Jim Grafft himself says that he was quite instrumental in the rebuilding of the company in order to produce new snowmobiles, more so than the history books have indicated. I don't doubt him.

Yet while the details of exactly who was responsible for what role in the rebuilding of Arctic Cat have been clouded by everything from pride to Father Time, there is little disagreement that, after Arctco repurchased all of the Arctic Cat snowmobile assets and licensing from Grafft, that CPC retreated from its large role in the snowmobile industry. The large ads in magazines ended. The amazingly-cool CPC calendar, loaded with vivid color race photography, stopped.

 

CPC Revisited: Arctic Cat History image by ArcticInsider.com

An ad in Oct. 1982 edition of Snowmobile Magazine.

 

CPC Calendar

Loaded with wonderful, full-page racing images, the CPC calendar was a must-have for snowmobile enthusiast.

 

While Arctic Cat grew in leaps and bounds, entering new markets while strengthening its position in the snowmobile industry, CPC seemed (in my mind at least) to gently fade away, rarely to be seen or heard of.

But for collectors and history buffs, CPC remained something of an enigma, even a source of speculation.

First of all, CPC still retained and sold service parts for such vaunted brands as Rupp, Chaparral, Speedway, Brutanza and even Scorpion. It was (and still is) business as usual. And there were still floor-to-ceiling racks of new parts for these brands and others.

When companies go through massive ownership upheavals, with wholesale inventory exchanges and moves, there almost always exists rumors of “forgotten pallets” or never-discovered parts lurking in unchecked corners of old buildings.

Such was the gossip with CPC and its snowmobile holdings. There were rumors of prototype Scorpions from the last days of Arctic Enterprises still lurking on pallet racks within the CPC warehouses.

And even for Arctic Cat collectors, wishful whispers of small parts caches of El Tigres, EXTs and Zs fueled many conversations on telephones, at swap meets and various vintage shows. After all, even after more than 100 truckloads of parts that went back to TRF, surely some parts must have remained? Maybe a prototype engine or Sno Pro hood? Something?

It was with this hopeful anticipation that Snowmobile Hall of Fame board member and Arctic Cat/Scorpion fan Tom White actually contacted Jim Grafft a handful of months ago.

White asked Grafft if he could stop by and chat with him, which Graft obliged. A date was set and White arrived, unsure of what he’d see.

Four hours, multiple stops at various CPC warehouses and many oh-my-gosh moments later, White left Grafft and Janesville like a kid on Christmas morning when he first sees the spread of presents under the tree.

Grafft indeed retained some snowmobile treasures, and though he’s adamant that these artifacts are NOT for sale, he does want to share them with snowmobilers who appreciate such history.

Having sat, mostly untouched, for the past 30 years, some of these artifacts were long since forgotten. Grafft himself had little reason to do anything with them except to store them in the recesses of various buildings he owns in Janesville.

Fortunately, Grafft agreed with White’s request that Arctic Cat historian/collector/dealer Tom Rowland of Thomas Sno Sports have the chance to come and see the CPC compound, to see some of the treasures that have been unintentionally hidden for three decades.

Being the kind gentleman that he is, Rowland asked if was okay that he be joined on this expedition (or excavation, as it sometimes seemed) by his nephew, Eric Bergstrom, as well as some journalist hack whom happened to produce an Arctic Cat-focused Website. Grafft granted the request, and last week the three of us embarked on a journey to Janesville, where we would meet with Grafft, see the CPC operation as it exists today, and uncover the remnants of what remained of its four years with Arctic Cat.

 

CPC Revisited: Arctic Cat History image by ArcticInsider.com

CPC Revisited: Arctic Cat History image by ArcticInsider.com

As far as road trips go, the one to CPC with Tom Rowland (left) and Eric Bergstrom (though he looks strangely evil here, he's actually one of the nicest guys in the world) was an all-timer for me.

 

We didn’t know what to expect, but we were hopeful to see some things that would capture our vintage imaginations. I’m glad to say, we weren’t disappointed. Not by a long shot.

Stay tuned for Episode II: Meeting Jim Grafft (and the First Warehouse)



Comments (19):

Don M says:
7/2/2012 10:57:00 AM

Wow!!!!!! I can hardly wait, always wondered about that end of the situation. Just great................
Adam says:
7/2/2012 4:48:00 PM

I have to wait for Episode II!? Ugh! This is significantly worse than waiting for Christmas as a kid! This is exponentially worse than waterboarding! I can't believe you would do this to us John!..... Ok, I feel better now. I'm going to call Rainville and swear at him now.

Thanks for posting this awesomeness!
Tom Rowland says:
7/3/2012 6:18:00 AM

Hey Adam, I was thinking of you and Rainville while driving home from this trip. You guys would have found this stuff just as interesting as we did...and...we were only about an hour away from Joes holy land of Horicon WI.
Bob says:
7/3/2012 8:08:00 AM

It is 6:15 out here in California and I am waiting for the next story. Come on John, we are all waiting.
Ogilvie says:
7/3/2012 9:07:00 AM

Im pretty sure thats the only time Eric has ever looked up to someone! BTW - Tom, didnt you get the memo to wear your "Good Times" t-shirt?
John Sandberg says:
7/3/2012 12:03:00 PM

Adam (and Joe), there are crates and crates of Liquidators and prototype IFS Deere, as well as several original race sleds that Stan Hayes competed on, all tucked away nicely at CPC... at least I think I saw them???

Ogilvie: Eric and I always plan our wardrobes together, and we always leave out Tom.

Next episode to come later today (I hope).
Paul Nadeau says:
7/3/2012 12:57:00 PM

Ok, John, your assignment for today is to complete episode 2, get it posted, and include all the photo's possible that you took. Did you parent's tease you like this at Christmas or your birthday ?? LOL ! Bob, I am on the opposite side of the country in Northern Maine where the 2 seasons will be decided tomorrow the 4th. winter and 4th of July LOL !
Thank you John for sharing with all of us the history of this great company and people involved. Keep the the info coming !
John says:
7/3/2012 3:19:00 PM

Will CPC ever be able to keep pace with the kart/mini-bike industry demand for drive components?

Just wondering
Tom Rowland says:
7/3/2012 7:03:00 PM

John: from what I gathered during our visit to CPC is that they are already providing drive components to some pretty major manufacturers of vehicles ranging from Side-by-Side UTV's, go-karts, snow blowers, grounds equipment, golf carts, ATV's and everything in-between. Plus, the sales of replacement components for existing equipment.

The Journalist may have more to say on this topic in a future installment.
Joe Rainville says:
7/3/2012 9:50:00 PM

John,

Thank you so much for giving Furious Adam another reason to give me a hard time:>) Looks like you, Tom and Eric went on a trip that Adam and I would have loved to been on.

Eric, drop a Liquidator on John's foot for not inviting me. Adam is on his own, LOL!

-Joe Rainville
Adam says:
7/4/2012 12:16:00 PM

Joe,

The next time I go to Winnepeg I will remember that "I am on my own". Forget the fact that it was your truck we went in. That's minor. I will also remember that "I am on my own" when you want to go riding in Colorado and need a place to stay.

Thanks again for the reporting on an epic trip.

Adam
Auggie says:
7/4/2012 4:15:00 PM

Yup, that was a real sad day for me and a lot of Arctic employes. I was the general manger of the service dept. at the new Central Distribution Center (CDC) at that time in Plymouth, MN. Broke my heart but I did rebound and went to work for BMW of North America about a year later. Nice article John.

Auggie
Kyle says:
7/5/2012 10:23:00 AM

Cool read ! I still have that calender !
400Brian says:
7/6/2012 1:43:00 PM

One of the cool things about running the Vintage Challenge the past few years, is that I have met all the guys mentioned in this story.

Sounds like an excellent adventure indeed!
Dan Larson says:
7/13/2012 1:09:00 PM

Cool story, can't wait to read the rest.

Tom, I can't believe you didn't call me, there may be some 'stuff' there for my 1982 Cougar prototype!!

I too still have that calendar.
Tom Rowland says:
7/14/2012 11:38:00 AM

Dan: Clean the carbs on that Cougar so we can go ride it this winter...lol!
Ajay says:
1/14/2015 5:04:00 AM

I'm sure after the high winds and frigid temps died down that it was wietnr wonderland for most kids, but a time of anxiety for adults in regards to transportation to work, grocery stores, roofs caving in, ice damage etc. Georgia was a wise move..LOL
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