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A passionate 50 years for Arctic Cat

September 5, 2011
Filed under Features

Weekend festival puts
snowmobile on center stage

By John Prusak
Contributing Writer

Fifty years ago, an inventive, creative and admittedly stubborn man was pulled out of a self-imposed exile in Alaska by an opportunity to start a company in a vacant grocery warehouse in Thief River Falls, Minn. The company was then called Polar Manufacturing, and the man was Edgar Hetteen, who previously had founded neighboring Polaris Industries in Roseau, Minn.

For Hetteen, it was an opportunity to renew his dream of creating a manufacturing company that included building snowmobiles. For city leaders in Thief River Falls, it was a business investment and job-creating opportunity. And looking back now over the past 50 years, what began that day was the start of an unrivaled passion for literally hundreds of thousands of snowmobile enthusiasts.

Polar soon became Arctic Cat, and Arctic Cat became the brand that stirs more passion than any other in the snowmobile industry. Even the other manufacturers admit that Cat has the most loyal and die-hard enthusiasts.
That passion was on display in Thief River on July 29-30, as the company hosted a huge “50th Celebration & Reunion” to mark the benchmark occasion. Other brands have hosted bigger parties in higher profile locations to mark their 50th year in business, but the Cat event was in the factory’s hometown, where Cat pride could be on display.

The event attracted more than 10,000 people. It included live music performances, factory tours, kids rides, carnival food, ATV and UTV demo rides, a fireworks show, ATV parade, fashion show featuring classic ArcticWear, swap meet and the unveiling of the Wildcat 1000i sport side-by-side. But the biggest draw was passion for a brand, the snowmobiles created under its banner and the people who designed, built, raced and worked with the product. Hundreds of classic Cat sleds were on display (including some machines that were never built for production), racers of all generations swapped stories and signed autographs and even Arctic Cat clothing and accessories were celebrated.

Perhaps the most celebrated sleds on display came from the collection of longtime Arctic Cat dealer Tom Rowland of Thomas Sno Sports in Ogilvie, Minn. Rowland and his family brought literally truck-loads of sleds to the event, including five pre-production 1982 models — the product line that was never built after the original Arctic Enterprises went belly-up in 1981. There were also engines on display that never made it into production, including a 500cc two-stroke triple and an even larger Thundercat engine.

The event was also a gathering of the who’s who of Arctic Cat-related people — dealers, current and historic former racers, vendors and current and former factory personnel all shared stories and brotherhood. Not a lot of business was conducted, but old acquaintances were renewed.

At night, when the party was at full steam, former President/CEO and current Board Chairman Chris Twomey and current President/CEO Claude Jordan took to the bandstand with a word of thanks, and a look forward.

“From all of us at Arctic Cat, we want to thank you for being here, and for being a part of our lives, for making all of this possible, and we want to promise you that the next 25 [years] will be better than the past 50,” Twomey said.

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