14th Annual Induction - International Snowmobile Hall of Fame - 2003
February 22, 2003 - Grand Rapids, Minn. - Sawmill Inn
Transcript - Randy Harrison Comments To the Attendees
As we move toward my father’s induction I would be remiss if I didn’t take a few moments to thank many of the people who contributed to the project which is culminating in tonight’s ceremonies. The past year has been a unique adventure for myself and my family – a wonderful time of discovery as we lovingly retraced the pieces of my father’s career. No longer the children that we were in those early days, my siblings and I have joyfully recounted our families history and it’s explicit link to the sport of snowmobiling.
In particular, I wish to thank Jim Anderson who a year ago introduced us to the vintage and antique snowmobiling community, to Dave & Barb Guenther and the Antique Snowmobile Club of America for their support and encouragement, to the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame and it’s board – a heart-felt thank you, and to the thousands of hobbyists who work to preserve the memory of a day when our sport was new, and it’s future far from certain.
I would also to thank Les & Donna Pinz and Mike & Marilyn Linnenkamp for their invaluable aid during this past year.
And also to the many men and women who submitted letters of commendation supporting my father’s induction, you have my sincere gratitude. Your letters were moving and reflected the deep respect you have for my father, not just as an inventor of snowmobiles but as a person. You reminded me of my own legacy – one I pray to emulate in the years to come.
I also need to thank my big sister Debbie, who has been a tireless advocate for Trail-A-Sled, contributing massive amounts of time and effort to this project. Thank you sis.
A hearty thanks also to Cliff Kittelson and Dwayne Jenson who helped prepare the 5 snowmobiles and the air-sled that have been on display this weekend.
To my wife and children, this past year you’ve allowed our home to be turned into a makeshift museum with boxes of old magazines and dusty old newspapers dominating every nook and cranny of the house. I promise dear, I will clean it up soon! In fact, I’m glad to report that we’ve made a family-pact, after tomorrow we’ll be taking a three-month break from snowmobiling.
I also need to thank the collectors who contributed to the wonderful display of Scorpion snowmobiles earlier today. Your enthusiasm for Scorpions means so very much to myself and my family. As my parents enjoy their later years, you have lifted their spirits immensely – I am forever grateful.
For those of you who are just getting to know the Harrison family, you should know that we are a close-knit group, one with universal respect and gratefulness for our heritage. This gratefulness extends not just to myself and my siblings but to nieces, nephews and in-laws in our growing family. In that spirit dad, your grandchildren have put together a little video that reflects the admiration we all share for you and your legacy.
My grandfather was born Richard Eugene Harrison in 1933, the only child of Eugene and Delina Harrison in the small, central-Minnesota mining community of Crosby, Minnesota. As he grew, grandpa became an avid outdoorsman routinely hunting and trapping with his father to supplement the family’s modest income. Although their single-bedroom home was small he had a fun-loving childhood and upon reaching his teen years, he cultivated a newfound fascination for mechanical devices.
Soon growing tired of formal education, he quit school in the 10th grade to make his fortune, driving a lumber truck from Crosby to Minneapolis. After a time he took similar jobs on the Mesabi Range some 70 miles to the northeast and as fate would have it, he soon met a beautiful Swedish girl at a diner in Aitkin, Minnesota. They married in Virginia, Minnesota in 1952 and soon returned to Crosby where they bought their first home, a modified barn for $1,000.
It wasn't long before grandpa convinced his father to reopen a neglected wild rice processing facility that lay idle, just across the alleyway. Soon, the Harrison-run facility had landed a couple sizable contracts - due primarily to several manufacturing improvements grandpa had secretly added to the facility. For you see, grandpa never sought public attention – the inner pride of a job well done was all he desired.
Along the way, grandpa began experimenting with propeller driven air-sleds and air-boats. He was fascinated by the power and possibilities of these machines and soon his exploits caught the eye of another area resident, Glen Gutzman and in April of 1959 grandpa, together with my great-grandfather Eugene invested $3,500 and Trail-A-Sled, Inc. was born. The firm immediately began work on a Harrison-inspired, highly stylized, all-fiberglass airsled. The sled was an amazement in its time, capable of 100 mph or more, winning numerous design awards. Grandpa’s fiberglass expertise was put to good use on other products as well, from sleeper cabs to pontoon boats as the little company sought a break-through product. When introduced to a Bombardier Ski-Doo in 1961, grandpa immediately captured the promise of this new type of winter travel and the firm soon began experimenting with various tracked prototypes, culminating in the firm's decision in the fall of 1963 to abandon all other products and risk their future’s on a completely unique, all-fiberglass snowmobile.
Soon realizing that the machine’s cleated track needed improvement, grandpa conceived of an idea to embed steel detachable chain (the same type he had successfully deployed at the wild rice plant) in vulcanized rubber to create a unique continuous rubber track.
My grandpa’s snowmobile track was the most important thing the company ever made. It helped the company to grow in the years that followed.
Combined with the stylish fiberglass body, Trail-A-Sled had a winner and sales skyrocketed. Prospective dealers became so enamored by the firm’s prospects that many paid for inventory in advance. A practice completely unprecedented at the time. As the firm grew, grandpa continued to lead the firm’s manufacturing and engineering efforts. His designs were widely acclaimed and birthed a lucrative supplemental business as Trail-A-Sled began providing parts to many other snowmobile manufacturers. In fact, under his guidance, the firm produced nearly every component in-house – vertically integrated long before the term became popularized.
Even though grandpa now tirelessly managed a growing and dynamic company, the largest in the region, he never grew tired of getting his hands dirty – he continued to engineer clutches, suspensions and other components as the firm built a reputation for both dependability and style.
In the fall of 1967 grandpa fought through a devastating fire which gutted his company’s manufacturing and administrative facility. His Herculean efforts allowed the firm to produce their first post-fire Scorpion after only 15 days.
Not only an expert machinist, draftsman and fiberglass fabricator, grandpa became financially savvy as well and he played a crucial role in the firm’s sale, in 1969 to Fortune 500 conglomerate Fuqua Enterprises of Atlanta, Georgia. In the fall of 1970 he resigned his position – leaving a manufacturing powerhouse in the prime of its life.
The firm had grown from a single employee to over 500 in the space of 10 head-spinning years, peaking as the nation’s second largest maker of snowmobiles.
A wealthy man of only 36 years of age, grandpa purposed that success would ruin neither him nor his family. He maintained his modest lifestyle and had the foresight to purchase large tracks of land in central, Minnesota – land that has been better than gold in the years since.
Grandpa became a quiet leader in his community, respected for his humility and integrity. A man of strong Christian faith, grandpa became a benefactor to numerous faith-based organizations in the years that followed – choosing to invest his capital in things eternal. His benevolence has extended from the jungles of Nigeria, to the mean-streets of south Minneapolis, to numerous projects in his own community.
Quiet patriarch of the Harrison family, Richard Eugene Harrison is indeed a treasure.
Tonight we honor a man who played a crucial role in birthing the sport will all love.
A man who was smart enough to get out at the top yet never took himself too seriously.
A man who has loved his wife and family for over 50 years.
A man whose faith has weathered the worst of life’s storms.
A man who despite humble beginnings and limited education, was successful on the shop floor as well as in the boardroom.
It is with high-honor and a spirit of sincere gratefulness that Richard Eugene Harrison now takes his rightful place among the true legends of the industry he worked so heroically to build.
I hope you enjoyed the program …
I would also like to thank two men who were unable to be with us this evening. First, Glen Gutzman, who served as President of Trail-A-Sled, Inc, who’s tenacity and sales savvy were a perfect complement to my father’s low-key approach. These past many months Glen has been a perfect gentleman as I’ve called him at all hours of the day to ask some obscure question – I am happy to report that his mind is still sharp as a whip. Although Glen is today wintering in Tucson, Arizona – to you Glen, I say thank you.
Secondly, I would also like to thank Eugene Harrison, my grandfather, who served as Vice President of Trail-A-Sled, Inc. and whose steady leadership not only guided a company but a son. Recently I’ve quietly mourned the years that cancer stole from us grandpa, but I do know that this evening you are very proud, certainly of your son’s achievements in the sport of snowmobiling, but most importantly, I know you and grandma are proud of the man he has proved to be since your passing. I’ve come to realize that you and dad were not only father and son, but best of friends. My father is a lot like you grandpa, and in kind, I am much like your son. I consider it an honor to be in such company. Thank you grandpa.
For myself, and my extended family this evening is a dream come true. But a year ago, we believed that no one cared about Trail-A-Sled, Inc or our beloved Scorpion snowmobiles. Well - we’ve come to realize that we were wrong. As Dave Guenther said to me a few weeks ago, our sport is not just about products, it’s also about people. We are grateful that we, as a people, have not been forgotten.
Not long ago I remembered a project I completed in grade school where I was asked to name my heroes, the people I looked up to, the ones I wished to emulate. For me the answer was obvious, immediate, and singular – it was my father. You’re abilities, your integrity, your strength of character, your unwavering faith – you were and still are, the only hero I’ve ever known. Thank you dad.
And so tonight dad, we take the time to extend you the honor you never sought for yourself. Your induction serves to codify your many contributions and insures that you will not be forgotten
- Randy Harrison