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Inside THE Glass House: A Day with Kenny Halvorson, Fiberglass Artist


(7/7/2014)

You know the magnificent (and mean-looking) 1972 Arctic Cat EXT hood/belly combo? It was primarily designed and crafted in fiberglass by Kenny Halvorson.

The same Kenny Halvorson who produced most of the patterns and molds for Arctic Cat from the early '70s through 1981.

Ditto for the reproduction Z, EXT, big mouth Panther and Sno Pro hoods that grace the majority of rebuilt, restored and/or reproduced show sleds throughout the world.

Fact is, Kenny Halvorson has left some mighty impressive tracks, er, hoods on a career that goes back nearly five decades.

This past fall I spent a day at his shop on the outskirts of Thief River Falls.

 

Kenny Halvorson: Snowmobile fiberglass master. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Kenny Halvorson, standing in his shop on the outskirts of Thief River Falls this past November.

Kenny's career in the snowmobile industry began in 1960s with Arctic Cat, where he worked as a stylist, fiberglass artist and creator of design molds.

While he did a lot of design work, including the '72 EXT, Kenny's primary role was to cast others' drawings into three-dimensional objects, as well as making patterns and molds for these projects.

He's the guy who made all the fiberglass racing hoods and bodywork back in the Team Arctic Sno Pro era, along with hundreds of other projects.

He was (and is still) a master of fiberglass.

The fall of Arctic Enterprises in 1981 might have ended his employment at Cat, but it hardly changed his career.

With a stellar reputation for his artistry, Halvorson continued working as an independent for hire. He designed the cab/body for the original ASV TrackTruck, built hoods for oval race teams and otherwise became the go-to guy for dozens of projects for a wide assortment of industries.

Kenny was full-throttle into his solo career when the Cat came back, so he passed on the opportunity to go back into the Engineering department. But he remained close to the company and worked on various engineering projects.

In the mid- to late-1980s he started getting requests for reproduction hoods for older Arctic Cats. A '76 Sno Pro hood here, a big-mouth Panther hood there. So Kenny built some molds and started laying glass.

It was a decade before collecting and restoring vintage snowmobiles began in earnest, but it foreshadowed what was to come. And word got around that Kenny was the go-to guy for this kind of stuff.

By the time vintage sleds had blossomed into a cottage industry, Kenny was a great source for all the popular Arctic Cat hoods, bellypans and other body panels: Sno Pros, big-mouths (both standard and race versions), EXTs, El Tigres.

Likewise, he was the guy who could build a mold and produce hoods for any other brand, usually working off an original hood but often recreating a classic via pictures from a magazine.

In fact, Kenny built reproduction hoods for some pretty interesting projects, including the Kawasaki Shark and '74 Ski-Doo Sno Pro. He even built bodywork for two separate Boss Cat I reproduction projects, using only photographs to recreate the 20-ft. long fiberglass body.

And in an instant that spanned a few decades, Kenny Halvorson built a career and business of producing snowmobile hoods for collectors, restorers, race teams and even other companies.

That business takes place in Thief River Falls, Minn., in a modern building that replaced the wreckage of his first shop, which tragically burned down in 2004 (Kenny lost almost all of his molds and hoods. But he eventually rebuilt almost everything.)

He has three employees and roughly 200 molds. Together they produce upwards of 200 hoods a year, plus many special one-off projects.

Truth be told, it's the one-off stuff that Kenny enjoys the most. Projects like designing and building the hoods for Wahl Bros. Racing sleds/drivers (a role he's played for nearly 25 years); building molds for prototype snowmobile components; or any number of custom car and boat projects for former colleagues.

Yes, Kenny and crew are the go-to source for all kinds of snowmobile fiberglass needs. They are in such demand that Kenny works entirely on word-of-mouth referrals. There is no advertising, no social media and no outreach.

This is a 71-year-old guy who's perfectly content to keep his business manageable and enjoyable, working only on his terms. But lest you think he's terse or curmudgeonly, think again.

Kenny is a humble, kind and genuinely good soul with a sharp memory of his remarkable career. He's a bonafide motor head who loves cars, motorcycles and snowmobiles.

His passion for snowmobiles inspired two of his three sons to work for Arctic Cat Engineering (Trevor, who has worked as a technician, and Troy who is the Mountain Team Lead Engineer).

Kenny is one of those guys who goes quietly about his business, seldom divulging to strangers any information about his many professional contributions and accomplishments.

He was kind and gracious in allowing me to photograph his shop area, and to ask him a pile of questions for this story. (Thanks Kenny!)

I hope you enjoy seeing the pictures of his operation.

 

Kenny Halvorson: Snowmobile fiberglass master. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Kenny is holding a Ski-Doo collectors book illustrating a 1974 Blizzard Sno Pro, one of the many technical and detailed reproductions he's built in the modern era of vintage collecting/restoration.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Kenny and his crew produce hoods, bellypans, faux windshields and other assorted bodywork for snowmobiles.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Here Eddy does some sanding on a hood for the Wahl Bros. Racing team.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Mike, working on a different hood project.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Outside of the shop there are hundreds of hoods, pans and molds.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

I saw hoods and molds for Arctic Cat, Polaris, Rupp, Viking, Ski-Doo, Scorpion and more.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Arctic Cat has tapped Kenny to help with small-batch production on various engineering projects over the years. Here are some of the pieces used to create molds during the initial development of the ProCross and ProClimb prototypes.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Bodywork for a Scorpion Sno Pro racer.

 

Kenny Halvorson: Snowmobile fiberglass master. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

While Kenny and crew work primarily in fiberglass, they do dabble in carbon fiber on occasion.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Any guesses what this is?

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

If there's a popular vintage sled among collectors/restorers, chances are good that Kenny has a mold for the hood.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Arctic Cat Sno Pro hoods are a popular item, and one that Kenny produces in all vintages.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Pumas, Tigers, Big-Mouths, EXTs... they're all here.

 

Kenny Halvorson: Snowmobile fiberglass master. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Glittering metal flake on a sunny day.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Kenny also has a fair number of snowmobiles and cars that are waiting in the weeds.

 

Kenny Halvorson: Snowmobile fiberglass master. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Thankfully Kenny was in a nostalgic mood the day I visited him. He invited me in his home to look at a few photo albums, which was an awesome treat for which I'm very grateful.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Like so many people of the Arctic Enterprises era, Kenny did a fair bit of racing in his day, mostly in cross-country and oval competition.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Some of the coolest photos in Kenny's collection showed the original prototype of what would become the 1972 Arctic Cat EXT (on left in the photo above).

According to Kenny, the sled was built and ready to go out west for testing. All that was missing was the hood. Ever the resourceful guy, Kenny took a bellypan, flipped it upside down and did a little shaping.

"I built it just to have some kind of hood for the test trip, but everyone liked the shape," says Kenny. "Up to that point, all Arctic Cats had been kind of square-looking. But this was more rounded and different.

"When we returned from the trip, I did more work and refinement to the shape. And we ended up using it for the production models."

 

Kenny Halvorson: Snowmobile fiberglass master. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

One of Kenny's three sons posing on the original Boss Cat II.

 

In and around Kenny Halvorson's glass shop. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

A photo of the Twin-Track oval sled that Dave Wahl raced at the end of the 1991 season wearing Arctic Cat livery. Kenny designed and built the bodywork for this sled, and for almost all of the sleds raced since by the Wahl Bros. team.

 

Goodridge 100 snowmobile cross-country race results

I saw this race result from an early Goodridge 100 XC race among Kenny's albums. Some familiar names caught my eye.

Again, I'm grateful to Kenny for taking the time to show me his place and all the cool stuff.

Thanks for reading.



Comments (16):

Jim U says:
7/8/2014 5:45:00 PM

I'm all itchy now.
Mike F says:
7/8/2014 6:44:00 PM

Good stuff! The Goodridge 100 results are classic....and I am getting old!
John Zanon says:
7/8/2014 7:55:00 PM

So cool to see the history and some of the stories on how the shapes and sizes developed!
Great work Kenny, and you too John Sandberg, for all the hard work you put into reporting the history!
Tom Rowland says:
7/8/2014 9:04:00 PM

Kenny has built a few different hoods for some of my projects over the years. Genuinely humble guy, always helpful. I always look forward to my next visit with him.
Eric Leigland says:
7/8/2014 9:49:00 PM

John....the hood you asked us to identify is a 75 Lynx I believe??
Scott Watters says:
7/8/2014 10:20:00 PM

Another neat story....Thanks John.
Elna Lendobeja says:
7/8/2014 10:29:00 PM

It was great reading this article! Fun to read and see pictures of someone that you know. This was a Great article!
Paul Nadeau says:
7/9/2014 6:05:00 AM

Thank you Kenny for sharing with John all of your great contributions to the snowmobile world. You are an artist extraordinaire. Thank you John for another great story! If those molds could talk!
Kathy Grandbois (nee Stensrud) says:
7/9/2014 8:03:00 AM

I enjoyed reading the story. Maybe because I worked nights at Artic in '69 in the fiberglass department. Started out as a roller and ended up as head fiberglass sprayer. Was hot hard stinky work but I guess I liked the precision of it. The method has changed over the years. This story brought back a lot of memories.
Hammer (and LumberHead) says:
7/9/2014 8:12:00 AM

Had the priviledge of dealing with Mr. Halvorson last year. Just loved talking to this guy on the phone. It was like talking to a legend. A truly awesome experience. He's just another reason that Arctic Cat is the greatest Snowmobile Company in the world. Thanks Johnny!
John Zanon says:
7/9/2014 9:56:00 PM

Just curious about the metal flake colored hoods.
Were they made at the factory then sent out to get painted and gel coated, then returned to the factory to be installed, and then the machines were shipped to the distributors?

I have a 1970 Panther 399 Kohler with the gold metal flake hood. It was ordered from the dealer that color. In 1970 you could order gold, orange, red or purple
bing jowett says:
7/10/2014 6:37:00 AM

We were a large Arctic dealer here in Canada from 1969-/-1981 We certainly enjoyed the article. Brought back many memories of the progressive styling that Kenny helped made all of us,-
and Arctic successful! Thank you for sharing. Bing
Jim Walsh says:
7/12/2014 11:38:00 AM

I have had the pleasure of meeting Kenny at his old shop before it burnt down. He gave us a tour of the place, I never saw a place quite like it before. You could tell from the start this man had an amazing passion and imagination for his work, and to still be doing that kind of stuff is crazy. But just like some of the other older fellas ive met from Cat, they just cant see themselves doing anything else. When guys like these leave us will there be anyone kike them to replace them, I don't think so!
John Sandberg says:
7/15/2014 11:13:00 AM

John Zanon: I'm not exactly sure what you question is, but here's a stab at the answer. They achieved various metal flake hoods by using colored metal flake and clear gel-coat (rather than using metal flake paint).

This is the same method that Kenny uses on his reproduction hoods.
artdcat says:
7/15/2014 8:42:00 PM

Used to go out to Kenny's shop as a kid, my dad and Kenny go way back, used to design sleds together. Dad's gone, glad to see Kenny still doing this. I was tasked with crushing all (like 600 of them) the old hood molds back in 1988 or so...try swing a 20 lb maul on a thick fiberglass mold sometime...it doesn't work. Ended up renting a D8 Caterpillar to drive over them instead and crushed 'em. Sad to see all that go, I know Kenny and dad had a hand in a ton of those. Nice story, John.
Jim U says:
7/16/2014 11:34:00 AM

John is right. Next time you see a metal flake bass boat or old dune buggy (or metal flake snowmobile hood such as an old Scorpion) look real close and you will see the color comes from the flake in the resin which is on top of the 'glass structure. So if you want a purple flake hood you use purple flake, etc. On the other hand when a car is painted metal flake you paint a base coat then spray the flake with a special gun, then you cover it with a ton of clear. With a car the same color flake will look different depending on the base coat.

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