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.
Having given a very short history CPC and how I ended up there, please CLICK HERE for Episode 1 of CPC Revisited.
Our day in Janesville to see the CPC operation began at the warehouse that served as repository for much of the inventory of Arctic Cat service parts in the 1982-1986 timeframe that CPC owned that business.
For Tom Rowland (middle), Eric Bergstrom (right) and myself, getting to meet Jim Grafft (left) was an honor. None of us knew exactly what to expect, including Jim.
All that Tom, Eric and I knew was that Jim was going to show us some of the CPC properties that housed their operations, plus a storage facility that contained some old sleds.
It's a good sign (pun intended) when one of the first things to catch your eye is a VERY rare Arctic Cat sign, hanging outside the door of the warehouse.
Inside, there were other Arctic Cat signs and posters to capture our attention. Indeed, after years of speculation about what treasures sit inside of CPC, coupled with the five hour drive to get to Janesville, we felt like we'd "Waited Long Enough." Our eyes were searching for anything Arctic Cat related.
I thought this poster, located in an area where they pack boxes for shipping, was funny for the double-meaning. I wondered how many times Jim was literally asked, "Why did you buy Arctic Cat?"
When I asked him the question in a round-about-sort-of-way, his answer was that he saw opportunity. I imagine it was the same opportunity he saw when he bought nearly a dozen other discontinued brands.
"Paging Brad Hulings, you have an autograph seeker in aisle four. Brad Hulings to aisle four please."
Gazing down an aisle of snowmobile parts and seeing a Scorpion sign at the far end is enough to confuse any vintage fan. Yes, confuse. Because part of you wants to just stop and sort of take it all in, while another part wants to start digging into the bins.
Chaparral is one of the companies that Grafft/CPC purchased. For those who might not have known, CPC has a HUGE supply of NOS Chappy parts.
Same goes for Bridgestone motorcycles.
While I knew going in that the gargantuan supply of Arctic Cat parts that CPC owned were long ago bought (and brought) back to Arctic Cat, there are moments when, looking at pallet racks stocked from floor-to-ceiling, with an Arctic Cat sign hanging above them, I secretly hoped to find a stashed 4-cylinder Kawasaki engine out of a King Kat, still wrapped in plastic and waiting for a home.
Grafft graciously escorted us through each aisle, answer an endless barrage of questions as well as remarking about parts that he saw along the way.
For me personally, I had as much fun watching Rowland and Bergstrom discover items as I did seeing the stuff for myself. As a serious collector and Arctic Cat historian, Rowland has a keen eye not just for the black-and-green stuff, but even for some of the "other" brands.
There are still enough parts at CPC for non-Cat brands that it seems as if you could build a decent fleet of complete machines.
I wonder how many Chappy parts CPC sold prior to last year's Waconia Vintage Ride-In, given that Chaparral was the featured brand?
Or better yet, how many items might CPC have sold had the company brought a fully-stocked truck to Waconia!?
With many bottom-shelf items wearing a thin layer of dust, the scene felt a little bit like American Pickers, when they uncover a seldom-seen stockpile of amazing stuff.
For instance, we were walking by some shelving when a red steel box caught Grafft's eye. He stopped and said, "Oh, here's a brand-new Chaparral tool kit."
Literally an NOS kit with the tools still wrapped in plastic!
I'm not a Chaparral guy, but I know that if I found a similar-condition Arctic Cat kit, I'd be jumping like a high school cheerleader who slammed four cans of Red Bull.
This stuff is for sale, folks!
After we surveyed the ground level of the warehouse, Grafft invited us down to the basement, where there might be a few more items to see...
Indeed, one of the first things we saw was a roll of Spirit outboard decals. CPC still sells service parts for Spirit (aka rebadged Suzuki) motors.
If you need 569 "Rupp Riders Club" patches, give CPC a call.
I wonder if there are any people out there still waiting for the renewal form for the Rupp Riders Club to arrive in the mailbox?
Can you say, "New Old Stock?" I can.
For so much of this day, I felt like I was in a 1970s time warp. And seeing goodies like this 7-up soda machine (complete with a couple portions of Arctic Cat Sno Pro hood decals) only reinforced the feeling.
Thousands of decals, be it "Speedway" or "Scorpion," filled boxes in the basement area, which made Bergstrom smile.
Oodles of Indian motorcycle parts filled several pallet racks. For a brand that has gone through an endless cycle of bankruptcies and ownership exchanges, I couldn't help but wonder if Polaris would one day call CPC to buy some inventory?
Here Grafft holds a Bing carburetor that, in his words, was the start of the entire CPC operation. Back in the mid-1970s, when he had trouble getting small parts for Sachs engines, he found a work-around by buying loads of assembled Bing carbs, then disassembled them and sold the individual parts.
I love how huge success stories often have their roots in such small, humble beginnings.
Seeing an Arctic Enterprises box with a dozen throttle cables sure gets the heart racing a little quicker.
And the heart beats even faster when you find a bag of Arctic Cat windshield bolts!
Rowland grabbed a pen and pad and wrote down a half-dozen part numbers on few items that caught his eye...
... including a few suspension arms and an aluminum slide rail that, at first glance, looked unlike any production Arctic Cat rail. As I write this now, I just got off the phone with Rowland who promises to look up these numbers in the next couple of days.
While we'd hoped to find a pile of vintage Arctic Cat goodness, we had to settle for a few odds and ends at the first warehouse.
Thankfully, this was just the beginning of all that we'd see that day.
Stay tuned for Episode 3.
7/3/2012 7:53:00 PM
Wow, can't wait for episode 3. This is great stuff.
Joe Rainville says:
7/3/2012 9:41:00 PM
Awsome article on CPC! Please give Mr. Graft my contact info if has an extra Deere parts hidden in those warehouses:>) Need any guest for Episode III?
Tom Rowland says:
7/3/2012 9:56:00 PM
During this part of our tour, Jim spoke to us about the lack of Arctic Cat dealers in the Janesville area during the Arctic Enterprises "gone fishin" era. In addition to the wholesale parts business of CPC, they also started a retail dealership at the same location to meet consumer demand. The building shown above in the second-from-top image served as the service department for that endeavor. He said that a typical saturday of the winter season might see customers forming a line while waiting to be served. They soon named the retail side of the business Jim Dandy Motorsports which eventually required a move to its own location and carried many brands of powersports products for over a decade.
Eric Bergstrom says:
7/4/2012 12:40:00 AM
Tom, remember our off-the-top-of-our-heads debate regarding which model year featured the slogan, "You've Waited Long Enough?" I believe the photo above clears that up nicely. Can I play the "I wasn't born yet" card?
Joe Rainville says:
7/4/2012 10:35:00 AM
Tom and Eric,
Tell me you guys didn't have the time of your life at CPC! I love NOS parts from any brand sled, especially Cat, Kawi and Deere NOS Parts:>)
Aaron Thornton says:
7/4/2012 2:00:00 PM
Very interesting story.I live about 10 miles from the warehouse you were at. I bought my first ATV from Jim Dandy Motorsports in 1988. That dealership moved alot of Arctic Cat product while it was in business! I loved seeing the pictures of that basement. Its where as a kid I really became a diehard Arctic Cat guy looking over all the new machines lined up for sale.
7/4/2012 5:06:00 PM
John, when I was there we sold snowmobiles and outboards but we also sold Gemini motorcycles, Arctic Cat mini bikes, Arctic Cat bicycles and a whole bunch of Arctic lawn and garden equipment. Did you see any of that stuff hanging around??
John Sandberg says:
7/5/2012 11:52:00 AM
Auggie: We didn't see Arctic Cat mini bikes, bicycles or lawn/garden stuff.
Interestingly, Jim Grafft told us a story that, at the time Arctic Enterprises was liquidating, he could have purchased 6,000 Kitty Cats for $300 each, and that he regrets not doing so.
Tom Rowland says:
7/5/2012 9:02:00 PM
The part number on the n.o.s. aluminum rails appear to be for a 1976 Cross Country Cat, and a similar Pantera model from that era. You might find those used somewhere, but not easy to find as new-old-stock for sure. These were also in one of the "for sale" areas.
Joe: you will have to give CPC a call next time you need some Kawasaki or Deere parts. I wouldn't be surprised if they have something there for one of your favorite brands. (Have you chosen a favorite brand Joe...huh?...huh?)
7/6/2012 10:11:00 AM
All of the early Kitty Cats, Mini Bikes and Cat Cutters were built in Omaha Nebraska by a company called General Leisure Products which Arctic Enterprises owned at the time. They also built the Arctic Cat lawn mowers and garden tractors along with the Arctic Cat snow blowers. Alot of these parts were all gone by the time CPC purchased the inventory. The parts that CPC had of these products (which was very few) were offered to dealers and employees in a salvage sale. I purchased 2 Wankel engines that were used in one of the models of lawn mowers for $15 a piece, and some snow blower parts for my 2 Arctic cat snow blowers.
7/6/2012 2:35:00 PM
Dick, what about the WetBikes?? I had two of them for demo rides.
7/6/2012 9:54:00 PM
Okay, enough of this. How about the third story!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11
Rich Acre says:
7/6/2012 10:11:00 PM
I have been at the CPS wharehouse a couple of times. It is truely like being a kid in a candy store. The first time, I was there at 9 a.m. when they openned until 5 p.m. when they closed; this visit lightened my pocket to the tune of about $1800. I was there at 9 a.m. the second time but made it out around 2 p.m. and only spent about half as much. It pays to look in areas that are not brand specific for outside manufactured parts such as Salsbury cluthing & Mikuni carbs. I have purchased Mikuni parts in original "Spirit" packaging. The company has an outside arm that is also willing to get involved with reproduction parts. The bottom line is that they are still big supporters of the vintage hobby.
7/7/2012 9:51:00 AM
Auggie; I believe the Wet Bike prodject had been sold before Mr. Graff purchased the parts. There may have been some left over, but I think most had been sold.
On another note; On Thursday July 5th one of the old Arctic main stays and former racer died in a traffic accident. It was Wayne Konickson. I know Auggie and allot of old racers will remember him. I think he was 68 years old. RIP
7/7/2012 2:22:00 PM
Ah man, that is a bummer.
7/8/2012 9:20:00 AM
Thanks for sharing the story and showing pictures of the warehouse. I always wondered what it looked like. One of these days I want to make the trip there just to walk through the warehouse. Coming from CT thats a long trip but will be well worth it. I collect Scorpions and have an inventory myself and would be like a kid on christmas morning. Thank you very much for sharing.
7/9/2012 9:37:00 AM
I had to sort through all the CPC bins when they arrived at Arctco in 1986....all 700+ of them. We threw away so many new products...all "scrap" aluminum or steel or to be crushed by a D8 Cat. All waaay before E-Bay. It was amazing the stuff that came back....and what we threw away. Lots of Wankel's too, Krogie. Sad day with Wayne gone. Also lost Vern Adamson of RV Sports earlier in the week too.
Tom Rowland says:
7/9/2012 7:48:00 PM
artdcat: interesting memories you share on the discarding of certain things. I guess nearly every item goes through a period when there just simply is no demand for it. If someone offered up a pick up load of exhaust pipes today for a 2001 ZR, most of us are not going to get too excited (well, maybe I would). If someone were to offer up a load of pipes for a 1971 EXT, we all know it would be like a black friday sales event for a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll.
This basic law of economics makes me wonder about the Arctic Enterprises purchase by CPC back in 1982...looking back at that today it seems like it would be a no-brainer great idea to spend a truckload of money for the purchase. I'll bet it seemed plenty risky though back in 1982 when over a hundred other snowmobile manufacturers had just exited too. I wonder if other investors competed against CPC for the purchase?
Tom White says:
7/11/2012 8:41:00 AM
Tom, when I spoke with Jim Grafft he told me Polaris was very interested in aquiring the assets of Arctic Enterprises. It sounds like they thought they were the only player in town and tried to lower their offer at the last minute, when that happened it opened the door for Jim to move in and buy the Arctic Cat assets before Polaris could do anything.
Tom Rowland says:
7/12/2012 8:35:00 PM
Oh yea...Polaris, how could I forget? Here is some cool trivia...during the period that Polaris was considering the purchase of Arctic, one of the idled Arctic Enterprises lead stylist designers was brought in for a short period and was instructed to "make an Arctic Cat look like a Polaris". He took a stock production Arctic sled and applied Polaris colors, graphics and name plates to it. Now there is yet another sled that I would like to see a photo of or find sitting in the back of someones building.
Steve Leauber says:
8/3/2012 1:44:00 PM
This is a awesome series of stories! Was there any sno jet parts there, I know this is a long shot with Kawalski purchasing sno jet and all but, hey its worth a shot! Im restoring a 74 thunderjet and finding nos parts would be great!
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