Upon the completion of the Arctic Cat display building in the summer of 1971, a special pull-out section commemorating the occasion ran in the Thief River Falls Times, the local newspaper. This is the cover page of that section.
Inside there were a smattering of images of the building.
These were heady times for the snowmobile industry and Arctic Cat in particular, which was reflected in the sheer size and features of the display area.
For sure the extravagance was possible because sales were astronomical and showing no indication of arching downward. For instance, in 1971 Arctic Cat sold 34,378 Panthers! Consider this, that single model from one brand sold what would be about one-third of the total world sales from all brands in 2012.
Arctic Cat would sell roughly 77,000 snowmobiles for 1971, a number that seems unfathomable by today's numbers.
In addition to displays of the company's products and a meeting room, the facility also featured gourmet food prepared by chef Gordon Henderson, aka "Inspector Henderson," who would also be utilized as the company's PR spokesman for safety.
"Lowell" is Lowell Swenson, the Arctic Cat President/CEO of the time. I imagine the company management gathering in this restaurant/meeting area of the display building... cigar smoke wafting through the air... the sound of hearty laughter punctuated by the clinking of ice in half-empty tumblers of whiskey.
Who would have guessed that this would be but a fleeting moment in company history?
The back page of the newspaper section.
On Sunday, May 6, 1973, less than two years after its official opening, tragedy struck the Arctic Cat display building. This was a photo section that ran in the Times the next day.
Even though the building was LONG before my time as an Arctic Cat snowmobiler, I can't help but feeling gutted when I see these images. Thankfully, no person was injured in the fire, which was believed to be electrical in origin.
For sure part of the "loss" I feel is that I sincerely wish that Arctic Cat had a display building today, in 2012.
Indeed, more was lost in this fire than just some snowmobiles, boats, mowers and mini bikes.
But that doesn't prevent me from hoping for the possibility that Arctic Cat again might one day have a display building in Thief River Falls. Probably not a $20 million dollar standalone structure next to the plant, but perhaps a sizable area of one of its existing buildings, or perhaps a renovated storefront in dowtown TRF.
I imagine this building displaying an amazing history of machines on loan from many of the amazing Arctic Cat collectors from across North America.
Red sleds, Boss Cats, Sno Pros, el Tigres, ZRs, Thundercats, Tigershark, mini bikes, Firecats and more...
The walls decorated with posters, signs, pictures and memorabilia from the past five decades.
A store where visitors can purchase new Arctic Cat clothing and items.
I realize that in the current business climate, it's EXTREMELY difficult for a company to justify any non-essential expense, or that doesn't contribute to the bottom line.
However, I also believe that you can't put a dollar value on pride and passion, two ingredients that have fueled the Arctic Cat family of riders and employees for more than five decades. I'm certain that the passion that currently burns for most of you reading this will be stoked a little brighter, a little hotter. And I'm confident that that flame would ignite the imaginations of many would-be Arctic Cat family members.
Thanks for reading.
(And special thanks to Pam Cwikla, who was the hostess at the display building and whose archives are shown in this post.)
Below is the story as it appeared in the photo section of the Times:
9/20/2012 10:53:00 AM
I used to sit on that Kitty Cat in front of the water fountain, I still remember swirling my hands in there. I got to hang with Inspector Henderson & watched the building burn from my grandparents place only 3 days before my 3rd birthday. It was a neat place. Thanks for digging up that piece, John.
Tom Rowland says:
9/20/2012 1:59:00 PM
I remember my dad taking me to that building when I was about 6 years old. Even at that young age I recall many of the things I saw there. It was there that I first became aware of, and first saw, one of the old red/white 2wd Cub off-road motor bikes...is funny to think that primitive bike was only a little more than 5 years old then!
It is a great idea to again have a building in TRF to serve as some form of a museum and destination for out-of-town visitors. The structure itself would not have to be the main focus, it will be the contents of the building people would come to see. It would be easy to get Arctic Cat products to rotate in-and-out of display. I think I speak for most collectors when I say that anyone of us would be delighted to have one of our old prized-possesions on temporary display at the home of Arctic Cat. The place could be something like a small-scale 50th anniversary celebration year-round where stories, memories and artifacts could be shared with others.
Should probably have a Monster Energy Drink vending machine in the lobby.
9/20/2012 3:40:00 PM
Yah, that was quite a building. I remember being at the meeting when management introduced the ten speed bicycles. They pushed a button and the curtins would close and another button and the movie screen would come down. Back then in the 70's I thought that was pretty cool and I also consumed quite a few ****tails at "Lowell's Inn". Good times.
9/20/2012 8:52:00 PM
There was till the early nineties a very nice display in the lobby of the factory which had from what i can remember at least a dozen machines of historical significance, and along the back wall was advertisements, posters etc. I could never understand why this was taken away.
Dan D says:
9/21/2012 1:06:00 AM
What an interesting building, so modern for the early 70's. Anyone lucky enough to have actually been in this building, is a fortunate snowmobiling/Cat fan. As I read the article ,I kept thinking what does this building look like today? Then I stumbled into the firefighting report , truly a sad ending. Dan D
9/21/2012 4:25:00 PM
This is truly a tragedy! I never had the pleasure of seeing this building. It breaks my heart thinking of the loss. I have always had a passion for cats since a wee little one. I remember visiting the local cat dealer, with my dad, and looking and dreaming of the new cats. My first sled was a brand new 73 El Tigre 250. I do not ride or have any thing else but cats. That also goes for what I wear. I always wear Arctic Cat for daily wear. Both vintage and new. I love the old purple and black from back in the day. The flying “A” is a true icon. I have a white flag and a ring with this on it. They are a true treasure.
I’m with Tom. Bring back another building. I have some vintage items they could put in it.
Thank you Arctic Cat for the passion.
Randy Arnold says:
9/21/2012 7:26:00 PM
I was 6 yrs old my mom and worked at the plant then but i still remember the sadness when that large building of memories was lost.
9/22/2012 1:27:00 AM
I agree with you John, it would be great to see a building dedicated to the history of Cat. I remember the first time I saw a picture of the inside of the old cat display building, it was an actual color picture of the lobby and I was just fascinated with the beauty of the place. You just don't see anything like that anymore. I was at the factory today and just the hoods on the wall inside the plant brings back a feeling of nostalgia. When you see a 2013 snowmobile going out on the line and you walk past the first red sled in the lobby of the plant you can't help but think of everything that brought the company there. Also you can't help but think what it would be like if Edgar never came up with the first arctic cat, where would we be?
9/23/2012 8:42:00 AM
Why did not the insurance company make Arctic cat rebuild the display building in 1973? If my house burned down the insurance would make me rebuild it not take the money and run!
9/24/2012 6:26:00 PM
Good luck with trying to get Arctic to have a display building of old sleds and clothing. I tried for over 30 years to talk them into doing it. I know it could be done, and there are still alot of machines and clothing people would lend to such a cause. John, work on it. I think you along with your friends at Arctic could get it done.
Greg Hallstrom says:
10/2/2012 11:38:00 PM
I remember it well.
10/24/2012 5:20:00 PM
This is a touchy subejct. Your pet cannot communicate to you to tell you what is happening. You should have your cat checked out by someone else to get a second opinion. Keep a close eye on her. Plus you can contact your local ASPCA to see if they have more information regarding this vet or what to do.