Working alone, In the late 1950s Glen marketed his aluminum-based air-sleds at Midwestern sports shows.
In an attempt to diversify their product, Trail-A-Sled, Inc. spent considerable effort to convert their air-sleds for summer-time water use through the integration of floatable pontoons. Tested on the Mississippi River, the "water-sled" proved clumsy and impractical. It was quickly shelved.
TAS can be traced back to the early 1950s when Donald Bergstrom of Eagle Bend, Minn. was actively engaged in a business to build aluminum-based airsleds. Glen Gutzman would join Don on a part-time basis and would later move the manufacture of such machines to Crosby-Ironton, Minn.
The firm's 125 HP Lycoming workhorse was not, as is commonly believed, an aircraft engine. It was a land unit lacking FAA certification and was specially modified by TAS.
One of Dick Harrison's first creations was an air-boat configured with a 50 HP Lycoming engine. Dick also took the same engine and placed it on a Culver fuselage to create his very first air-sled.
Dick Harrison's second aluminum air-sled was based upon a Republic Sea Bee fuselage that he purchased from Hink's Flying Service in Monticello, Minnesota. Dick halved the unit, using the lower portion for a make-shift boat and the upper portion for the air-sled. The air-sled was configured with a 145 HP 6 cylinder Franklin.
TAS experimented with a number of aircraft engines for their air-sleds, including: 65 & 85 HP 4-cyclinder Continentals, and 4-cyclinder 2-cycle drones.
In 1962 Dick and Stub Harrison sold and personally delivered an air-sled to well-known West Yellowstone, Montana rancher Howard Kelsey. The sled performed utility duties around the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch and was featured in West Yellowstone trade publications where Howard also owned the Stage Coach Inn. Howard's son Kim enjoyed a few snow-skiing rides behind the air-sled before Howard put a stop to the dangerous practice.
A large mural depicting the TAS air-sled was commissioned as part of Montana's territorial centennial celebration in 1964. The mural was also featured in a traveling display which toured the entirely of the United States later that same year. The mural remains on display at the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch in Montana's beautiful Gallatin Valley.
The TAS air-sled was generally sold for commercial purposes to ranchers, resort owners, and the forestry service. For search and rescue, the air-sled could be configured to fit a stretcher in the rear seat compartment.
Trail-A-Sled’s name was inspired by the fact that their early air-sleds were designed to be easily towed behind a family sedan by lowering the rear wheels and replacing the front ski with a tow hitch coupling.
TAS’ second and final air-sled line was made primarily for Polaris and featured a retractable canopy. 35 such machines were manufactured through 1963, 25 of which were contracted by Polaris.
The TAS air-sled could reach speeds in excess of 100 mph and excluded one important feature – brakes!
Trail-A-Sled, Inc. Era
For many years (beginning in February 1966) the Central Lakes Area, together with the Brained Jaycees, prided itself as the Snowmobile Capital of the World (a moniker now assigned equally to Roseau, Minnesota, Eagle River, Wisconsin, and West Yellowstone, Montana - although Eagle River holds the actual trademark). The area became a hotbed of racing competitions and celebrity events. The newly opened Donnybrooke racing facility (now known as Brainerd International Raceway) played host to some of the largest races on the circuit.
TAS manufactured products for a wide range of other firms, including: Boatel, Brainerd Marine, Foxx, Herter's, Laurentide, Polaris Industries, Sears Roebuck, Silverline, and Taft Marine.
Herter's (a former mail-order catalog specializing in products for the outdoorsman and handyman) provided TAS with their very first fiberglass kit in 1959. The kit was critical as TAS considered a transition from aluminum-based air-sleds to fiberglass. TAS went on to become expert fiberglass fabricators in their own right.
The Polaris Comet prompted TAS founders to retire their air-sled and gear-up for full-time production of a tracked snow machine. It was while supplying parts for the Comet that TAS realized the days of the bulky, expensive, and arguably dangerous air-sled were drawing to a close.
The name Scorpion was inspired by the M56 tracked cannon used by Glen Gutzman while training for the National Guard at Camp Ripley, MN. The cannon’s nickname was the Scorpion.
While running their wild rice processing facility, Dick and Stub became acquainted with the politically powerful entrepreneur, Jeno Paulucci who’s brother-in-law Leo Trepanier ran Northland Foods – a key wild rice buyer. Jeno would later help a struggling TAS acquire the SBA financing it desperately needed to expand.
Glen Gutzman’s Small Businessman of the Year nomination was submitted by R.O. Lee, President of First National Bank, Crosby, MN.
Of the TAS founders, only Glen Gutzman earned a high school diploma. Stub Harrison received only a grade school education while Dick Harrison never completed the tenth grade.
The TAS continuous rubber track was the first of it’s kind manufactured in the United States and was the single most important innovation in the history of the firm.
In January of 1967 TAS plant manager Cliff Kittelson set a world distance-jump record in Detroit Lakes, Minn. of 66' 4" on a four-cylinder, drone-powered Scorpion.
Eastman Machine & Tool of Pillager, MN provided molds for a wide range of TAS's rubber products.
In 1963 TAS created two tracked prototypes, the smaller of the two was dubbed the Scorpion while the larger unit was named the Sidewinder. Although the Sidewinder was retired by TAS before ever getting off the ground, Arctic Cat did resurrect the brand nearly two decades later as the last of the Scorpions were being manufactured.
In the early days of snowmobile manufacture, TAS experimented with a wide range of engines, including: 2-cycle, single cylinder chainsaw engines; the Tecumseh; Kohler; Germany's 2-cycle Hirth; the JLO; venerable Sachs; and Canadian Curtis-Wright (made in Japan by Kyoritsu Noki Co.). The Japanese engine we easily the founder's favorite due to favorable foreign exchange, and the firm's manufacturing flexibility.
At the completion of the Alaskan Epic of 1967, each participant was given the opportunity to the keep the machine that had served them so well or return it to the factory for a brand new unit. Pappy Burns elected to keep his 18” wide-track and it remained in Alaska. Mike O’Connor and Dwayne Parks decided to return theirs to Crosby-Ironton where the now legendary snowmobiles were proudly displayed in the Arena lobby.
The wife of TAS founder Dick Harrison was featured prominently in the 1967 marketing campaign. Photos for this campaign were shot at Crosby, Minnesota’s Memorial Park.
For model year 1966, TAS manufactured several hundred machines for Sears Roebuck to be marketing under the Snow Cruiser brand.
Photos for the 1968 marketing campaign were shot in the Bridger Bowl area of Montana.
Following the devastating plant fire of 1967, Edgar Hetteen of rival Artic Cat provided TAS with a large quantity of Tillotson carburetors.
In 1968 Scorpion snowmobiles were featured in two films, Willock and Edge of Eternity, both shot in Alaska by Galaxy Productions, Inc. of Des Moines, Iowa.
Photos for the 69 marketing campaign were shot in the Gallatin Valley south of Bozeman, Montana (now known as Big Sky Resort) and featured the TAS Trail-A-Sail team.
The Scorpion Polka was produced by Snowmobile Sales, Inc. (Sid & Marie Trulen) of Marshfield, Wisconsin and released in November of 1970. This full-length album featured the Howie Sturtz orchestra.
The innovative Spyder was a forerunner to today’s ATV and was an early attempt at diversification. Fuqua decided to shelve the product after producing only 25 units.
The wedge design introduced for model year 1971 was the brainchild of a Chicago-based design firm who never fulfilled their obligation to provide a second prototype. Although unhappy with the result, time constraints forced the founders to go ahead with the new (and internally unpopular) design.
Brainchild of Scorpion engineers Gerald Irvine and Gerry Reese, the legendary 440X Odd Job of 1974 got it's name both for it's unusual appearance and because it was put together by factory engineers working in their spare time. Although race results were modest, the Odd Job renewed interest in racing among Scorpion executives and foretold the SnoPro success that would come in later years.
The pivotal Massey-Ferguson prototype was produced in only five days by Scorpion employees Ken Dekat, Pete Krmpotich, Ron Muellner and John Lundberg.
At it’s apex, the Crosby-Ironton facility reached 150,000 sq ft of manufacturing space with a total of 182,000 sq ft available.
Following its purchase by Arctic Cat, the legendary Edgar Hetteen, patriarch of modern snowmobiling, managed the Crosby-Ironton plant for several months.