I had the great privilege to spend a day at Arctic Cat in TRF earlier this week, where people were fired up about an impending snow storm coming to Minnesota and a winter that was about to begin in earnest.
One day is woefully short for trying to accomplish a few work projects AND see as many as the people I’d hoped, but there was still a lot to see and do despite the limited time.
Wednesday was a special day for Jane Schwab. Not only did she turn 50 years young, she also got a nicely decorated office when she arrived at work, complete with ample bubble-wrap on and around everything.
Getting to spend an hour with engineers (L-to-R) Ryan Hayes, Donn Eide and Greg Spaulding talking about engines was a highlight of the trip. These guys are so crankin’ smart that it makes me dizzy and grateful that they’re here.
Lots of talk this session about the St. Cloud engine facility, the success of the Arctic Cat 6000 Series engine as well as plans for the future. All great stuff!
I jammed down to the manufacturing area after meeting with the engine guys. Beautiful, new 2017 M 8000 HCR models were flowing down the snowmobile production line. Going to be an awesome Christmas for some people!
As I walked towards what is normally the side-by-side production line, I came upon a scene that stopped me in my tracks with an audible “Whoa!”
All of the production line apparatus was gone!
The reason: a new production line is being built that utilizes computer-driven carts to carry inventory to each workstation. The line teardown began in October and is expected to take about three months to complete.
It’s part of the significant capital improvements that are (and have been) occurring here, and that will make Arctic Cat an even better company in the future.
With the normal side-by-side assembly line down, Arctic Cat has shifted production of those machines to the line that typically produces ATVs. There, Wildcat Trail models were coming together and rolling off the line.
No extra time to shoot more cool stuff from the factory floor, other than this quick shot of snowmobile tunnels drying after they came out of the all-new paint line. Look for a story on the paint line here in the not-too-distant future.
Needing the outstanding nourishment that only Dee’s (now called Biff’s) can provide, I joined engineers Wes Selby (L) and Roger Skime for lunch, where I devoured a roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes in record time.
Topics for this meal included cool stuff that Wes is going to do to his Open class cross-country sled to defend his USXC high point title from last year; the upcoming snow bike class of racing in ISOC and at the X Games; a new church that’s being built in TRF; the low price that ranchers are getting for their cattle; possible options for riding the snow that was being forecasted for Minnesota on Friday; and the price of tea in China.
After lunch, Roger told the story of why the bumper on his truck has a few dings. Might have had something to do with a trailer that wasn’t properly attached…
…back inside, Roger was studding a track. I’ve probably seen Roger a thousand times in my life, usually at snowmobile races, riding sleds or in the Engineering shop.
I’m sure he’s studded 1000 tracks or more during his career, but (amazingly) this was the first time I’ve ever seen him doing it.
Wes Selby is dang lucky that his track was given Roger’s magic touch, which radar guns have proven to show a 2-3 mph increase in top speed.
I quick trip over to the Arctic Cat test track revealed a production 2017 ZR 9000 being put through its paces as part of regular validation process for their sleds. Whisper quiet, but moving along nicely, it was great to see.
Elsewhere on the track, a couple production Wildcat X models with the RG Pro suspension were also being tested.
Likewise, Wes Selby was putting laps on a SVX 450 as part of the ongoing development/testing of Arctic Cat’s snow bike. Without snow, the ski needed to be replaced by a wheel, of course. What struck me was how smooth and controlled the machine rode on the dirt, around the corners and through the air.
After running his laps, Wes (left) went back into Engineering, where he gave feedback to Arctic Cat Mountain Product Team Manager Andy Beavis (R) and Roger Skime.
After listening to the smart, thoughtful dialogue that occurs between engineers who know product inside-and-out, it was time to grab a couple more pix before beginning my trip home.
One pic I needed to get was of Gary “Duke” Johnson, an Arctic Cat field test engineer since 1970 and someone who likely has ridden more miles than pretty much anyone, anywhere.
I’m going to do a story on Duke in the next month or so, which should be pretty cool.
Time to head for home, but not without a quick stop in the Arctic Cat gift shop/company store. Christmas is coming!
Thanks for reading.