A November drive to Thief River Falls is always good, especially when the ponds have a layer of ice and some skiffs of snow.
It’s interesting that, for me at least, there’s a different aura of Arctic Cat depending upon the season. The mood in summer always feels more laid back. Wintertime always feels a bit frantic, as everyone is moving at double-time pace.
In the fall, I always feel the tug of urgency and anticipation.
Walking to the door, with the heavy clouds spitting a mix of snow and sleet, I couldn’t help but think of the anticipation of winter contained within these walls.
Inside, one of the first things I wanted to see which machines were on the production lines.
Can you tell just by looking at the above shot?
If you guessed 2014 Arctic Cat ZR7000s, you win! Production was wrapping up on these models to make way for ZR6000s, which are probably being built as you read this.
2014 Wildcat X models were rolling off of the UTV line. There was a nice buzz in the air about the recent announcement of the Wildcat X Limited models, as well as discussion about the 50-in. Wildcat trail model that the company keeps hinting at.
Eye-popping 500 4×4 EFI models were flowing along nicely on the ATV line.
Together, the creation of three production lines gives this place an energy that’s palpable.
That energy definitely infuses Doug Wolter. As Director of snowmobile engineering, Wolter overseas all the energy, creativity and enthusiasm of an incredibly talented group of people.
Doug was happy to report to me that an engineering crew was in Alaska, knocking out 500 miles a day on production machines, with excellent results. If the medium range forecast holds true, pretty soon that group will be back and riding in TRF.
Andy Beavis (left) and Mike Larson are two snowmobile engineers with energy and creativity. I’ve interviewed both of these guys for this site (Andy Beavis interview HERE and the Mike Larson interview HERE).
On this day I listened to Beavis talk about his recent trip to Arctic Cat’s track supplier, Camoplast, as well as his ideas for snowmobile suspension design. Pretty fascinating stuff that put a huge smile on my face.
Both of these guys plugged IN. They know EVERYTHING about not only Arctic Cat snowmobiles, but also the competition and aftermarket.
Their desks are filled with magazine clippings from the world of motocross, industrial design, automobiles and of course snowmobiling. They understand production nearly as well as they know design. They’re into music, motorcycles and many other things.
If I chose a single word to describe them, it would be “inspired.”
I sometimes get a bit nostalgic and concerned about the reduced workload and inevitable retirement of guys like Larry Coltom and Roger Skime. However, I’m always comforted by what I know of the talent and passion of the current and more youthful generation of Arctic Cat engineers
The future of Arctic Cat is in very good hands
While 99.9% of my conversations at Arctic Cat are about snowmobiles, ATVs and side-by-sides, there is always some deviation from shop talk. With Minnesota smack-dab in the middle of deer hunting season, I had a nice talk with Kevin Thompson (right) and Erick Halvorson about our experiences afield this season.
After catching up with a number of people, I moseyed on over to find Ron Bergman for an upcoming story I’m working on.
A veritable dynamo of ideas, Bergman is definitely one of the most dynamic, creative and prolific engineers I’ve ever met. He’s been integral to the creation of the last three model families (ProCross, Twin Spar and Firecat) as well as a hundred other components, projects and even test evaluation equipment.
Ron’s mind operates at two-times the speed of most people, and it’s an absolute pleasure talking to him about whatever he’s thinking about at the moment.
On this day the subjects ranged from air-intake systems to reducing the cost of snowmobiles and the optimal track width.
While talking with him, I couldn’t help but notice the Jackson Pollock-like whiteboard behind him.
When asked about it, Ron gave me the lowdown on much of what is scribbled on it, and why. He prefers to draw ideas out for himself and as a means to explain his ideas to others. And because his mind is always in hyperdrive, he’ll just keep drawing on the same board instead of first erasing it, so in a couple day’s time it looks like this.
So if you want to know juicy details about future Arctic Cat snowmobiles and the intricacies of quantum physics, just decipher what you see here.
Greg Spaulding, 2-Stroke Engine Group Leader, is another amazing engineer I spent some time with on another story I’m working on. I thought it was funny and timely that, in order to explain to me the extraordinary effort to calibrate an engine fuel management system for a snowmobile, he got out the marker and started drawing!
Something else occurs to me about the engineers at Arctic Cat: they have great patience to explain the complicated details to average-IQs like myself.
Thanks you guys!
After completing my download session with Spaulding, we walked through an company break room where I saw this custom Kirk Hibbert cribbage board. I love the use of rivets!
Bonus points for anyone who can correctly identify where I captured the shot of Kirk used on this board.
Upon leaving Cat for the evening, I went to the Hibbert race shop to see what was happening with another group of talented, creative people.
Tucker Hibbert (right) had just returned from an evening of snocross practice at the Christian Brothers Racing practice track in Fertile, Minn., and he was giving an info download to Kirk (left).
Together with the team’s newest mechanic, Garth Kaufman, the Hibbert Racing crew are heading into the season as prepared and confident as I’ve ever seen them.
Following a pleasant stay at the Hibbert Bed & Breakfast (five star rating, highly recommended), I left the compound by grabbing this shot at daybreak, just outside the race shop, with the RAM windshields frosted over and the ground frozen solid.
On the drive to town, I crossed the iced-over Red Lake River at Smiley Bridge. Only a couple months from now racers will be WOT here while competing in the USXC Seven Clans Casino I-500 cross-country. It will seem like the time from now until then will pass in just the snap of my fingers…
On Friday, I was finally able to spend a few hours with man behind most reproduction vintage Arctic Cat hoods, Kenny Halvorson (above).
Halvorson is the kind gentleman who builds fiberglass snowmobile hoods of all makes and styles, as well as fiberglass projects that range from custom automobiles to aircraft bombs.
Stay tuned… you’ll read all about him in an upcoming story.
FYI: If anyone is looking for a nice condition 1975 Arctic Cat Cheetah, this baby is parked alongside Hwy 59 just a mile or so north of TRF.
After walking away from the Cheetah, I walked into the Team Arctic Race Shop, where the impending deadline of the upcoming race season was very apparent to these three guys.
Russ Ebert (left) and Mike Kloety (middle) were going through parts inventory for the Team Arctic Factory Snocross team that Russ builds sleds for, while Dean Larson (right) had been going through some belts in Special Services (aka: Salvage) and had some questions about a particular belt he found.
It’s funny… when Larson mentioned the five-year-old belt number to Ebert and Kloety, both guys knew exactly the year it came out, its relative durometer compared to other belts and whether it would be a decent option for a Sno Pro 500.
Several sleds were in the Race Shop, including Wes Selby’s torn-apart Sno Pro 600 (middle, front). Wes was in the middle of building his sled when the engineering trip to Alaska meant it was time to pack his bags and start riding.
Elsewhere in the Race Shop, various year-old sleds were waiting pickup by new owners, including several Sno Pro 500s and a couple 2013 Sno Pro 600s. I didn’t think to ask if Brian Dick’s Irondog sled (#23 in the background) was for sale. Hmmm…
It seems like every time I’m at the Race Shop, something different catches my eye. This time, a photograph of Team Arctic oval racer Dan DeVault and signed by Dan and his brother Ed. The photo was from the 1997 USSA race at Antigo, Wis., where the pair combined to win four finals.
On a different wall, this classic poster of Blair Morgan.
I appreciate that Arctic Cat continues to honor its great racers and heritage by preserving posters and images like these.
(Additional bonus points if you can correctly ID where I shot the Blair image used in the poster.)
While I was at the Race Shop, I took a few minutes to go next door and browse Special Services, where this ProCross bulkhead and front suspension caught my eye…
…as did these riser blocks. Sadly, no 10-plus-10=20-inch-Bobby Flame models were available.
Outside of the Race Shop and Special Services, two of Gary Moyle’s sleds were in crates, waiting to be picked up. I took the liberty of uncrating these bad boys, setting them up and doing a few hot laps down the Hwy 59 ditch.
Ready to go, boys!
After breaking in Moyle’s sleds but before saying my goodbyes and leaving Arctic Cat, I made a quick stop at the company store to check out some of the cool stuff. I had great restraint this time and left with only minor impact to my wallet.
Walking out of the plant, Old Glory was glowing bring in the late afternoon sun.
Another great trip to my favorite place, with plans for my next trip in just a few weeks!
Thanks for reading.