Without fail, the drive to Thief River Falls offers great eye candy that involves all kinds of vehicles for sale or parked alongside various buildings. The route on this trip brought me through Red Lake Falls, just south of TRF, where this Arctic Cat Panther was for sale at a consignment shop for (ahem) $350.
I wasn’t interested, but it was enough to draw me inside for a look at other snowmobile related treasures might be inside.
Lo and behold, inside and hanging on the wall was this print of Team Arctic’s Brad Pake, Kirk Hibbert and Brian Sturgeon, for sale for $200.
After that trip back in time to the 1990s, I made my way to TRF. Walking up to the Arctic Cat plant, I was happy to see that Kale Wainer (left) and Gary Nelson from Marketing were waiting to greet me. They were a little bit torqued at me because I was an hour late, so their arms were sore and the air conditioning was working overtime.
The first order of business is usually to see what’s rolling down the three production lines.
2014 Bearcat XT models were coming to life on the snowmobile line.
Lovely new Arctic Cat Wildcats were on the side-by-side line, looking ready to rip.
And 550 4x4s were rolling along nicely down the ATV line.
I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll undoubtedly say it a thousand more, you should treat yourself to one of the daily 1pm factory tours at least some time in your life. Seeing these vehicles take shape amidst the multitude of welding, painting, sub-assembly, parts restocking and other activity associated with manufacturing is truly an impressive sight to behold.
I was racking my brain to come up with a suitable caption for this image of ATV welding. Any ideas?
While of course Arctic Cat is a company that produces the snowmobiles, ATVs and side-by-sides we love, it’s the people who make it happen that interest me (and inspire me) even more than the machines themselves, so my next stop was the Engineering department, where I found Donn Eide (L) and Greg Spaulding.
It was great to see these guys smiling. As two of the key engineers guiding the development of the new Arctic Cat 600 DSI 2-stroke, they’re naturally excited about the upcoming production of their “baby.” This has been a massive, historic project for the engineering team, and all of the people involved have worked their tails off to make it happen.
For more background on the engine and the process of creating it, there’s a great interview with Eide and Spaulding HERE AT SNOW GOER.com.
After interviewing these two for a story that will appear here in a couple months, I moseyed my way over to some other people I needed to see.
In his office, Snowmobile Mountain/XF Engineering Team Leader Troy Halvorson (left) was showing some information to Snowmobile Vice President/GM Brad Darling.
In addition to discussing some future mountain sleds, these guys talked about some upgrades and expansion to the company’s R&D Test Center in Island Park.
When it comes to the myriad decisions they make on a regular basis, Halvorson and Darling are are both thoughtful and creative, yet who also like to hold the throttle wide open. It’s a great combo that is (and will continue) to produce new and exciting possibilities for Arctic Cat snowmobiles.
While I can’t talk about the exciting stuff that’s coming in the future, I will reveal ONE new piece of the upcoming 2014 Arctic Cat Sno Pro 600 race sleds.
What you’re looking at here is the new On/Off switch for the handlebar warmers! Shhhh… don’t tell the competition! Otherwise the guy in the background, Joe Lesmeister, will punch me in the throat.
Lesmeister works in the Arctic Cat Pilot Build room. On this day he was chasing a few components while putting together the new 600.
Seeing a pilot build of the new 600 come together in the Pilot Build room definitely sparked my interest in visiting the Team Arctic Race Shop, where I found Al Shimpa (left) and Mike Kloety busy with the day-to-day needs of administering the company’s snowmobile race program.
Shimpa was spending this day measuring the port dimensions of the new Arctic Cat 600 DSI for submission to ISR, the governing body of snowmobile racing. There will be some new 600s racing in various forms of competition this winter, so Arctic Cat must file the engine specifications to ISR in order that tech inspectors can evaluate them.
While Shimpa was measuring and recording port heights, Kloety was busy talking with various racers about the upcoming season, as well as making plans for the Team Arctic autograph signing that will happen in a few weeks at Hay Days.
After letting Shimpa and Kloety get back to the business at hand, I headed into the race shop where, after picking my jaw up and off the floor, I snapped a photo of Brian Dick’s Iron Dog race sled from last season.
This is a VERY COOL, interesting sled. So cool and interesting, in fact, that I shot several more pics for an upcoming story with Brian about the sled.
Speaking of Brian… everyone (including me) wants to know his secret for going so dang fast and winning so many races.
Well, we’re in luck. I found his bag, er, box of tricks. It was sitting outside the Race Shop, full of all the secret ingredients to winning cross-country snowmobile races.
My last stop for the day was Arctic Cat Special Services, aka “Salvage.”
Special Services is where old, excess inventory is placed for sale to Arctic Cat dealers. Picking through Special Services is a highlight of many of my trips to Arctic Cat because you never know what you’ll find.
A rack of snowmobile engines…
…bins of EFI injectors…
…and containers of pretty much every component you’ll find on sleds and ATVs.
I’m always shocked by what I see at Special Services, and I have to be careful not to feed my hoarding tendencies.
After a quick lap of Salvage, it was time to head for home.
On the drive south from TRF, farmers were busy harvesting the amber waves of grain that blanket northwestern Minnesota. While the corn and beans still have some growing to do, the wheat was coming in nicely.
It’s a telltale sign that autumn is just around the corner, followed by my favorite season of the year.
Thanks for reading.