Last week, I took a quick trip to the TRF Factory. It had been nearly a year to the day since I had last visited, and it’s nearing one year since I haven’t been employed by the company and surrounded by the co-workers I thought of as home and family for nearly 16 years. The trip north brought a slight bit of sadness with it thinking of the past, but was all erased as I was greeted by smiling faces, great stories and a reminder talented people remain at Arctic Cat who are innovating some pretty damn cool current and future products.
Due to my ongoing pursuit of a sponsorship from Mike and Ike candies, I’d be remiss if I didnt mention this semi-professional roadtrip started with two boxes of my favs before picking up my roadtrip buddy, and longtime snowmobile industry wordsmith, Pat Bourgeois.
We didn’t make it 20 miles before Pat needed to stop for a little snack. I found it hard to believe he ate nine rollerdogs at 6:30am! Pat started to sound like Sandberg when he said, “Nobody wants to admit they ate nine roller dogs, but I did. I’m ashamed of myself. The first one doesn’t count, then you get to the second and third, fourth and fifth which tasted like it was burnt with a blowtorch, but then I just kept eatin’.”
Half way to TRF, my phone rang and it was my friend, Gary Nelson, who used to be the Promotions Manager for many years at Arctic Cat. He informed me my timing was impeccable, as there was going to be a group of past/present employees meeting at the St. Hilaire liquor store (Broadway Station) for lunch at Noon. (Something they’ve been doing once a month)
I’ll spare you the details on what everyone had for lunch, but we gathered the group for a photo before everyone departed. From (L-R) Front Row: Lyle “Popsie” Hanson, Ron Solberg, Marilyn Helgeland, Roger Skime, Mike Conely, Brian Dick, Alicia Martin. (L-R) Back Row: Tristin Ironi, Gary Nelson, Lynn Berberich, Andy Beavis, Mike Kloety, Kale Wainer (Author) and Pat Hanson. Plenty of laughs were had and one of my favorite stories came from Roger Skime. (Shocking)
Roger, sitting next to me at the table, leans over and says, “Kale’r! I remember the St. Hilaire Liquor store. [looks around room] In the 70’s a group of us were headed to West Yellowstone testing. We left the plant, made it here, and never left! [Laughs] We were all having so much fun [makes drinking motion to his mouth with hand], we didn’t leave. Soooo, first day of traveling out West we made it 5 miles! Whaddya think of that?! [Laughs again]
After our lunch, Pat and I followed Brian Dick (Product Strategy Director), Mike Conely (Project Manager) and Lynn Berberich (Engineering Manager) to the factory as they had a surprise lined up for Pat and I. They invited us to ride with them on five fresh 2021 models: Blast ZR, Blast LT, Riot X Alpha, Riot 146 and ZR 8000 Sno Pro 137. What a treat!
Ill share my inital impressions of these units in the very near future, but just want to take two seconds now to say, the Blast models were a true eye-opener…definitely NOT “Kids Sleds”. They are true performers and a model I havent stopped thinking about since our ride.
Once back to the factory, I took a quick cruise on the production line to see what was being built. At the time, Blast models were on the line being produced for upcoming Marketing events and demo rides, Rep and Dealer demos. Don’t forget to visit Arcticcat.com for event listings or the pages of AI.
The heart of the Blast lies right here waiting to be loaded onto the production line. The compact and lightweight (under 50 pounds) EFI CTEC2 engine delivers and impressive 65-hp (397cc) and an excellent throttle response and engine reverse. Ill go out on a limb and say this is one of the highest tech single-cylinder two-stroke engines currently being produced in powersports. (One of these sold as a crate engine to retro into a vintage sled would be pretty sweet.)
Above, Tim Johnson takes a quick smile break from installing wiring harnesses on the new Blast engine. Further down the line, employees installed these engines into the Blast chassis where you get a good look at the front clip.
Looking at the clock, I knew I could spend hours on the line, but had to keep moving and had some people to see before departing. I ran into this trio in engineering discussing drive systems, (L-R) Lynn Berberich, Kevin Thompson and Tristin Ironi. Kevin, who leads drive system teams for both snow and dirt products, is a wealth of knowledge and always takes the time to dumb answers down for me regarding my questions.
My next stop was the call center to visit some familiar faces including Joann Lundeen (Right Front), whom, if you look closely over her right shoulder, has a photo of me hanging on her cube wall that was created 15 years ago as a joke of my head photoshopped on Hugh Heffners robed body. This photo has changed various office occupants ever since. (Laughing)
Next door to the Call Center, I was happy to run into these two (L) Keith Johnson and (R) Jeff Lane. I caught Keith a few days before he was retiring. Keith has been responsible for many of the sweet hard parts and accessories found on the pages of Arctic Cat catalogs and dealership showrooms for many years. I believe he started working at AC in 1995? Ive always admired Keith for his love of adventure motorcycle riding and hope he gets to do plenty of it soon. I believe Jeff has worked at AC even longer than Keith and has held various positions including time in the race department, Tigershark development and as long as Ive known him, has been involved in Accessories for Dirt, Snow and Oil products. Both are incredibly talented and a pleasure to talk with.
After leaving Keith and Jeff, I walked by one of ArcticInsider’s biggest fans, Troy Halvorson, who is Director of Operations. Troy is a face that longtime readers of AI should be familiar with. If not, Troy has held many lead roles at AC which have mostly revolved around Snow Engineering (Performance, Race and Mountain) and Snow Product Management.
My time in TRF was far too short, and I wasn’t able to share all the people I talked to (with photos) here, but there will be more TRF trips. This one was a great first visit back after my employment with the company. And Im happy to see current and future product being developed by talented individuals. Excitement level for snowmobiling was at an all-time high, especially catching this photo south of TRF when we were headed home of the local club grooming.