It isn’t every day that you see Arctic Cat legend Roger Skime standing atop a weathered old forklift.
But this no ordinary forklift.
Roger himself built it not long after he was hired to work at Arctic Enterprises in 1962. For several years it touched every single Arctic Cat snowmobile.
And like a surprising number of things sitting in fields and in barns in northwest Minnesota, this old forklift connects Polaris and Arctic Cat and the generations who helped build both companies.
To understand the connection, let’s start with a brief history lesson.
Polaris Industries was founded in Roseau, Minn., in the mid-1950s by brothers Allen (left) and Edgar Hetteen (middle), and David Johnson (right), three remarkable visionaries. The three had already worked together for many years, but it wasn’t until Johnson designed and built the first snowmobile that they branded the company “Polaris.”
That first snowmobile would set in motion a series of events that would build two companies, help create a new sport and give millions of people a reason to love winter.
Five years after Johnson built that first Polaris snowmobile, Edgar pulled up stakes, left the company he helped found and headed 60 miles south to Thief River Falls, where he established his new company Polar Manufacturing in an unused grocery warehouse next to the river.
And in less than one year the first Polar snowmobiles emerged from the lower level of the old Barzen building. While the exact number is lost to history, it’s believed that roughly 30 Polar snowmobiles were produced that first model year.
As the fledgling company concluded its second year of business, Edgar renamed it “Arctic Enterprises.” Its snowmobiles became “Arctic Cats.”
The good news for 1963 was that snowmobile production numbers crept upward. The bad news for the employees was that each one had to be lifted up a long ramp from the basement level of warehouse before they could be loaded on trucks. Those rear-engine Arctic Cats were damn heavy.
The company needed a forklift, but it didn’t have the money to buy one.
So a few of the employees, including a recently hired young man by the name of Roger Skime, fabricated one.
And for the next eight years, that custom forklift carried every Arctic Cat snowmobile off of the assembly line, up the ramp and onto semi trucks.
Every red Arctic Cat. Every white Arctic Cat. And, for the first few years, a bunch of black Arctic Cat snowmobiles.
The forklift was finally put to pasture around 1970-71, when the company relocated to a newly built facility on the edge of Thief River Falls.
At some point in the 1970s, Edgar brought the forklift to his farmstead near Roseau, where he occasionally used it to move the various inventions he built at his shop there. And once he was done using it, it sat outside the barn like any old piece of tired, old equipment.
Fast forward 40 or so years.
A “For Sale” post for “the original forklift used at Arctic Enterprises” on an online forum caught the eye of Tom Rowland, an Arctic Cat dealer (and collector) from Ogilvie, Minn.
Over the years Tom has amassed a wonderful collection of Arctic Cat machines at his dealership Thomas Sno Sports. While the prospect of owning a forklift formerly used at Arctic Cat wouldn’t capture the imagination of most sane people, it did exactly that for Tom. Because, Tom.
For sure Tom was interested because it was an Arctic Cat forklift, so to speak. But he was also interested because the person selling the forklift was Aaron Johnson, youngest son of David, the inventor of the first Polaris snowmobile. Tom is a student of snowmobile history, and he knows that David Johnson is important and meaningful to that company much like Roger Skime is to Arctic Cat.
The forklift was at Aaron’s place, which just so happens to be Edgar’s old farm, and which also happens to be just a few miles from Roger and Bernice Skime’s ranch.
A plan was hatched, phone calls were made and in late July I found myself a passenger in Tom’s truck, along with Kale Wainer, as we headed north.
Six hours, 5 boxes of Mike & Ikes, several cups of coffee, three bottles of Pepsi and one package of Twizzlers later, we arrived at Skime Ranch, where we plucked Roger from the middle of feeding cows, then drove the final few miles to Johnson’s place.
When we popped out of the truck, Roger (right) and Aaron immediately embraced like old friends.
The Skime/Johnson bond goes back decades, to the very beginning of Arctic Cat and Polaris. Theirs is a friendship that ignores the brand label on the jackets.
Roger and David Johnson might have worked at companies that competed with one another, but they were also true friends. The kind of friends who know each other’s kids and grandkids. Who sit together at weddings and funerals. Who share the forging of character that comes with suffering through tough times while trying to build a company and a sport.
So when Roger sees Aaron (who works fabricating future Polaris vehicles), he sees a true and cherished friend…
…and then (on this day) he saw the old forklift!
And then just like that, the stories started flying as fast as Roger could get the words out.
He vividly remembered building it.
The front end is from an Allis Chalmers tractor, the engine and rear end from a Chevy truck. The fuel and oil tanks are repurposed fuel tanks from Model 500s, as is the seat base. Though it’s weathered and faded, it’s still wears the classic Polar/Arctic Cat red of the rear-engine snowmobile era.
That box with sprouting weeds was used for ballast. We shared a huge laugh when Roger pulled out some of the Polar metal stampings that were originally dumped into it some 56 years ago.
I can’t begin to tell you how happy these photos of Roger standing on the forklift make me.
If Tom (above, right) had any doubts beforehand about buying the forklift, the stories Roger told about building red Arctic Cats and its constant use completely erased them. History has a way of connecting people with things. Tom presented a check to Aaron. Done deal!
Then the beast was loaded onto a trailer for the drive back to its new home in Ogilvie, where it will be made mechanically operational (but kept original).
But some of the best stories were yet to be told.
A former airplane hanger housed another incredible machine: this “swamp buggy” that David Johnson built in 1958 for the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, for getting through swamps and lowlands to access remote areas in northern Minnesota.
It might look primitive by today’s standards, but Johnson’s 60-year old creation was a visionary foreshadowing of what Polaris would eventually become.
Another creation of David’s, this steel tracked machine they called the “potato digger” hauled the family’s gear to their cabin and blazed trails across frozen Lake of the Woods for decades.
This Cat Cutter is a leftover of Edgar’s, who converted it to be a rear-engine, propeller-driven machine. No, I’m not kidding.
In a nearby shed, among some of the machines that Aaron has accumulated while building his own collection, Roger spied an original metal shear used at Polaris, and later at Arctic Enterprises.
Next to the shed stood this bead roller that was also used at Polaris and later at Arctic, where it was rolled the edges of side panels on Arctic Cat Model 100 snowmobiles.
Like the shear, David Johnson gave the bead roller to Edgar when the latter started Polar/Arctic Enterprises.
When Roger saw these machines he shared something I’d never heard before: In the early days of Polar/Arctic Enterprises, when the company was behind schedule and struggling to meet production deadlines, David Johnson and Allen Hetteen sent Polaris employees to TRF to help them build components like gas tanks and clutches, and to assemble snowmobiles.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The president and leadership at Polaris sent their own employees to Arctic Cat, their competitor, to help build snowmobiles in order to meet production schedules.
There is something profound in that gesture that gives me pause and puts a lump in my throat.
I like to tease the other snowmobile brands, but the truth is I have tremendous respect for them. Especially for Polaris, because theirs is a story that is SO similar to Arctic Cat:
Same company founder. Same farmer influenced, make-do inventiveness. Built by humble people who embrace winter for five months of the year.
Polaris has also weathered some really, really lean times during its history which, like Arctic Cat, makes their success all the more impressive.
We’re at a turning point in the history of snowmobiling. Until very recently, most of the people who founded the sport/industry were still alive.
David Johnson passed away less than two years ago. Edgar Hetteen passed in 2011.
Roger is still very much here (and still helping bring future Arctic Cat snowmobiles to life). And so too are a handful of others from Polaris, Ski-Doo, Yamaha and other brands.
Their stories are crucial to understanding where the sport of snowmobiling came from, its struggles, its successes and lessons for tomorrow.
But the last of these original pioneers won’t be around forever.
After spending a couple hours listening to one of the originals talk about the old times with Edgar and David, as well as hearing Aaron’s own family stories, I was reminded about something that Edgar once said:
“We were all so dedicated to the little beast we called the snowmobile. That’s all we talked about. That’s all we dreamed about.”
My goodness, how lucky we are today for the dedication those pioneers had so many years ago!
I want to thank Aaron Johnson for being a gracious host and sharing his family’s history with us.
Thanks to Tom Rowland for having endless passion and an infinite desire for adventure.
And special thanks to those who were so dedicated to the little beast we all still dream about: David, Edgar, Allen and Roger.
Thanks for reading.
Thank You John….Just when I think your stories can not get any better….
Outstanding tale, Johnny. Thanks for sharing some “new” history.
An STP sticker makes any machine faster!
Man O Man I’m just shaking my head. What a GREAT story !
Thank you Tom for being the junk yard dog.. What a find !
There’s just no end to the Skime stories…
Fantastic story. Really fantastic. This is the kind of thing that I love about Arctic Insider – and the story itself stirs up enthusiasm and imagination for all things vintage Arctic Cat that I haven’t felt in a long time. The cool factor is off the charts!
Also, it has a certain Johnny Cash One-Piece-at-a-Time flare to it!
Fantastic story. That lift is part of three of the greatest brands of all time.
Allis Chalmers, Chevy and Arctic Cat. Sweet.
Here I thought way back that Edgar and Allen and David must have had a falling out hence the reason Edgar went on his own. But this story erases those thoughts.
Wow – WELL DONE JOHN! Best read I’ve had in some time! I’ve had the honor of hanging out at Aaron Johnson’s “Broken Cleat Junction” and it really is a special place – with Edgar’s history and all that Aaron has done there. When I first heard Polaris loaned employees to Cat.. I was stunned by that. Can you imagine ANY modern-day company doing that? Could you imagine Facebook loaning staff to Apple? No, neither can I. Just goes to show the amazing power of community that exists in Northern Minnesota, and how really close the two companies were. Again, fantastic read John and thank you!
This story brings back fond memories of my father, who also built his own forklifts out of need and lack of funds when he started Senger Lumber back in 1959. Very good read. Thanks for sharing!
Spending the afternoon with Aaron and Roger, hearing stories that only they could tell, walking on the very soil where some of these snowmobile pioneers walked/worked, and looking around at some of the things that they built…definitely gives me an even deeper appreciation for all that these people did 50-60 years ago to help create this sport and industry that we love so much!
Excellent, excellent story John, brings a smile to your face.
It was an honor to buy a new sled from one of these characters (Rowland) named after another (Skime) just I can come north to enjoy winter on a machine invented by Aaron’s father David. You all are gloriously bad influences, and we are all the better for it.
Wonderful story. I hope you can keep finding these great historical stories, while those from years ago are still with us.
I think it’s time for a sequel to the Arctic Cat “Legend” book. What does everyone else think?
I did visit the Bombardier museum this year. There is lots of history there also. Amazing what these men did back in the day.
Wow! Such a great story! Such a great industry!
Wow! You have raised the bar even higher John with another great story and photo’s. Thank you Tom Rowland for preserving more of Arctic Cat history. Would have paid (you name it) to see when Roger first laid eyes on that forklift after so many years. What was going on in that great memory bank of Arctic Cat history? thank you all involved! greatly appreciated by an old northern Mainer.
Great article and photos John. Keep them coming!!!!
Great Story John. I can can add to that story about my own dad who was hired by Edgar back in 68 to set up the clothing plant in Rainy River Ontario across from Baudette. Edgar asked my dad at the end of the interview what made him think he could train and work with a large number of women sewing up snowsuits. My dads answer? I grew up with 8 sisters. My dad got the job as plant maker for Arctic Enterprises new plant in Rainy River Ontario that made the famous one piece Cat suit with leopard and red lined hoods.
Another great story John, well done.
What a gem of a story! You’ve captured some great photos and history here. Thanks for sharing this, John.
Thanks for sharing that story Hal.
It seems we all forgot about the plant in rainy river Ontario.
After reading that I clearly remember dad had bought in the 70’s
a purple and white 68 GMC half ton with a cat head on the doors and Arctic Enterprises Rainy River Ontario in black letters below it.
He never took a picture. Oh how many times I told him he should have kept it that way instead of painting it.
Ran when parked?
I remember driving that beast at the river plant
Dave Beito: Do you have any snap shots of inside/outside/around the old original river plant? Or does anyone? That place continues to fascinate me and I have seen very very few images of that place ever.
Great job John…..I met you a few years ago at Hay Days and we started B.S.ing look old school friends. You do a great job with all your “stories” and we all greatly appreciate your dedication to Arctic Cat and the sport. Maybe we will cross paths again in about a month.
Thank you again, please keep up the great work!
Great story, enjoyed reading it.
“We were all so dedicated to the little beast we called the snowmobile. That’s all we talked about. That’s all we dreamed about.”
My God. Right in the feels.
Thanks for all the nice comments and added perspective from y’all!
That day was truly a gift for which I’m very, very grateful. Such great people and incredible stories.
There’s a Part II to this same trip that is coming here soon. Doesn’t have anything to do with Arctic Enterprises. But it’s a pretty fun and interested tale that is still being discovered. More to come…
Tom Rowland Sorry no pictures Back then more interested in cars and girls not pictures of where I worked
Awesome story and pictures!
John, you outdid yourself on this one! Great reading.
Fantastic story John. Thanks for sharing the adventure….Such cool history…
Consider the time get all the truth needed.
The ideal amount is 3 to 7 times every single single
100 words you write. They have to trust you before they’ll spend their money with a
person will. http://privatka.ru/ru/tips/?tip=ExternalLink&link=http://Oxudeshissush.Mihanblog.com/post/86
The purpose want to know , is to show you the way to earn money by using a
blog. Someone reveals that just about all of
the traffic today comes form top search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. http://Whois.Netseoul.com/?a%5B%5D=%3Ca+href%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.ezyget.com%2Findex.html%3Eplayboy+casino%3C%2Fa%3E
Duffy Kane has a reputation of being one of this best guiitarists in the Hagerstown spot.
Saturday night Duffy Kane and the band Freedom Train pla Hempen Hill BBQ in Hagerstown.
The show iis scheduled start off at 9 p.m. Of course you atrive earlier to saavor the delicious BBQ and rerreshing drinks.
Duffy hhas hinted on facebook that this show
mighht be the last onee in Hagerstown forr a while. That might mean a few weeks, lobers of
months, so if you’re aree a Duffy Kane fan this show is probably nnot
Video Keno- It shhould be only like online casino- fast
and factual. Yoou get to see thee same odds that you
cann enjoy within a live casino 888 Keno. It is favorable whjle playing video Keno you just can make
Some in the casino houses provide multiple options you.
From the menu you can come up the tasble of selectionn and you
join not reaoly the live dealer additionally other people who find themselves real and play the games
all of them. It is a welcome departure from the stereotyped online casino games you used to play earlier where most part oof the game was regulated coming from the computer or software softwares.
Some of the casino house offcer you twenty variations with the Livve
Dealer Casino betting games. The choice is with
you. Providing live dealers cost the casino house money.
Yet the provide such facilities and also in ssuch
nummber mrans the player understand wedding rings of
the typoes and require not and attract new players too the games but additionlly ensure
that current players remain glued to their games.
Playing iin the card-room can bbe intimidating for an individual who is playing thhe first time.
The very feeling of playing with and around pros allows the jjitters many people.
With, online poker youu don’t need to worry this. You get to play in your convenient home setting and to think only
regarding your game. If you feel like, hand calculators chhat
at a time other people.
A very vital regarding playing online iss that you should
do nnot might wsnt to pay the dealers, and for thee rent or power companies.
Also, the online games offer games at low limits.
So, the stakes are discounted. Thhis is a
big advantage oof onlline poker over casino
gambling. 100 % possibe actually start without investing any money at all and then move to as much as money consideration.
Online Keno- You are anle to enjoy the sport of Keno right there on personal computer in your property.
Wheen you play online Keno you like a faster game speed and in matter of seconds it iis simple to have a rround of online Keno.
These mentioned are 5 most popular online games’ apart remedies available the internet has many sports obtainable to enthusiasts.
So, people iff you arre bored and has nothing to make explore the web to ploay game this allso entertain and relax users. http://www.naismithrulesshop.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=just-your-fit.org%2F__media__%2Fjs%2Fnetsoltrademark.php%3Fd%3D3win8.city%2Fdownload%2F33-play8oy
The only pesrson standing inside your way basically. It’s not difficult to
shoot the breeeze oneself into not your step to an advaced status in primary.
Often it’s family that irritates us this means by which. http://De.A.Cce.S.S.C.S.E.V@Www.Elegbederafiukenny@P.Laus.I.Bleljh@H.Att.Ie.M.C.D.O.W.E.Ll220.127.116.11Burton.Rene@G.Oog.L.Eemail.email@example.com/index.php?a%5B%5D=%3Ca+href%3Dhttps%3A%2F%2F918kiss.poker%2Fcasino-games%2F67-3win8%3E3win8+download%3C%2Fa%3E
Howdy! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so
I came to give it a look. I’m definitely enjoying
the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
Great blog and terrific style and design. http://silkzdesign.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=demo.woltlab.fr%2Flite1%2Fwbb%2Findex.php%3Fpage%3DUser%26userID%3D2772046
Very cool article!
I have never been this happy in my life. I contacted LANX CREDIT SOLUTION 3 weeks ago to fix my credit and the process was supposed to last for 14 days. I was asked to check online to confirm my job on Monday and behold they kept to their promise. The negative items and hard inquiries and debts of $48000 were all cleared. LANX CREDIT SOLUTION, wherever ever you are God will continue to bless you. I recommend them to you for quick and effective credit repair. Their work is quick and affordable. Hit them up on LANXCREDITSOLUTION@GMAIL.COM / +1 (310) 879 2541.
I am totally amazed at how LANX CREDIT SOLUTION were able to complete my job in 10 days. I read reviews about them online. people were saying good things about them and how they helped them fixed their credit score and also cleaned up their report. I contacted them via their email, LANXCREDITSOLUTION@GMAIL.COMand later called them with (310) 879 2541 to know how the process works and what’s obtainable because I was ready to purchase a home but my credit was bad and my score 543. I had some charge offs, lots of student loans and late payments and needed a quick repair. Ten days after we got started, my score increased to 798 and the charge offs, loans, late payment removed. There is so much to be thankful for.
This is an unforgettable experience my score was about 450. I couldn’t get anything at all due to low fico. I had a few negatives, my profile was laden with hard inquiries. So I went online and found a credit company on a blog I contacted them on (310) 879 2541, and after further agreement I made with him, I made a decision that if he can help me, I will forever be in their debt, they assured me they will do everything possible to fix my credit. After 7 days I couldn’t believe my eyes, they deleted everything bad on my credit profile including my hard inquiries and increased my score to 790 and added two trade lines. They made me the happiest woman on earth. Please if you have a similar issues contact LANX CREDIT SOLUTION. Here is their mail LANXCREDITSOLUTION@GMAIL.COM. thanks.
Oftentimes, it could seem unfair when you are unable to afford the basic things. not being able to acquire a home, car or loan. Simply because your credit score is low. I had suffered terribly due to a low credit score caused by eviction, late payments and hard inquiries. I had to contact LANX CREDIT SOLUTION a credit repair company. They literally saved me from my traumatizing experience. They increased my score and removed the negative and derogatory Items on my credit report. This review is in order to encourage you to do something about your bad credit. It took just 12 days for things to change everything. LANXCREDITSOLUTION at GMAIL dot COM