glen E. gutzman eulogy - scorpion snowmobiles - A Transcript - April 15, 2018
My name is Randy Harrison and I’d like to share a few remembrances of Glen, from the Trail-A-Sled and Scorpion snowmobile days.
In 1959 in Crosby, Minnesota, Glen, together with my father and grandfather (Dick and Eugene Harrison) formed Trail-A-Sled, Inc. The company was based in a tin shack that amazingly, stands to this day, in Crosby’s Lakeview district. (A photo of this shack is on display here, to my left.) It was here that Glen and the other founders began perfecting their innovative air-sled, a fiberglass based airplane on skis, capable of speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
The company also manufactured other fiberglass based products, like boats of varies kinds.
Although the founders may not have realized it at the time, with the success of the air sled in particular, the company was on the cusp of a soon-coming economic shift, one that would revolutionize wintertime travel forever, and provide a powerful economic boost to the Cuyuna Range.
This is because, shortly thereafter, Trail-A-Sled began experimenting with a smaller take on wintertime travel, a track-based contraption that some were just then starting to call, a snowmobile. (The term, "snowmobile" didn't even exist at the time.) While a few other firms were doing the same, Trail-A-Sled had a few advantages, including lightweight fiberglass-based construction, stylish design sensibilities and above all, a revolutionary patented rubber track, the only one of its kind in the United States. This, was the 1965 Scorpion.
Soon, Glen took one of these 1965’s and strapped it to his Volkswagen and headed east, looking for new business. (You may have noticed one of these amazing little machines parked just outside today – the one outside is an extremely rare, original 1965. Thank you to the Sno-Serpents Snowmobile Club for helping us set-up that machine today.) It was during this trip out east that Glen signed critically important distribution deals and caught the attention of Sears Roebuck, who would later sell rebranded Scorpions. (You may have noticed a few images of this trip, within the memorial slideshow.)
With the popularity of the 1965 Scorpion model, the company began to really take off. While Dick and Eugene concentrated on engineering, manufacturing, product development and design, Glen continued leading the firm’s finance, sales and public relations efforts - developing a distributor and dealer network that covered the entirety of the North American snow belt, extending all the way to Alaska.
Tragically, in November of 1967 the company faced its darkest hour – the firm’s assembly building was lost to fire, right in the middle of the production season. Jobs lost, the company in ruins – overnight. Fully one third of working adults in the community, had just lost their jobs. Miraculously, due to Glen’s tenacity, the other founder’s commitment, and the hard work of the men and women of the Cuyuna Range, in only fifteen days, the first reborn Scorpions rolled off a makeshift production line, put in place at the old Inland Steel buildings in NW Crosby. Amazingly, by June of the following year, the firm opened a brand-new, fully modern manufacturing campus stretching to meet record demand for more and more Scorpions. This story of rebirth, in the span of seven short months, remains among the most successful comeback stories in the history of Minnesota manufacturing. (An aeriel shot of the new plant is on display here, on my far left.)
The employee base soon numbered several hundred, and in 1968 Glen was named Businessman of the Year, by the Small Business Administration.
On a personal note, one of my cherished childhood memories were the many times I was able to trail ride Scorpions with Glen, my dad and grandfather, journeying to White Pine, the Silver Dollar and points beyond. As a young boy, that was quite an adventure. (I was eight years old, for goodness sakes!) I asked my father about this, and he noted with affection how much Glen and he enjoyed riding, and they did it nearly every weekend. Often times it was to test and retest products and prototypes, but generally, just for fun. I think in many ways, this helped explain the success of the firm, the founders truly enjoyed the sport, the joy and the newfound freedom it brought.
Although Trail-A-Sled and the Scorpion had become a noteworthy success story (eventually peaking as the second largest domestic manufacturer of snowmobiles) it became increasingly difficult for the company to compete with the large publicly held industrial firms that were entering the snowmobile business – firms like AMF, Johnson/Evinrude and Mercury. As a result, in 1969 Glen and the other founders agreed to an acquisition by Fuqua Industries, a large conglomerate at the time. Glen was front and center in these negotiations. As a result of the acquisition, it was Glen and the other founder’s hope and expectation that other Fuqua brands, most specifically Snapper Lawn Mowers, would also utilize the firm’s manufacturing facility, bringing even more jobs to the Cuyuna Range and diversifying the firm.
In 1970, Glen and the other founders resigned from the company, permanently – their time in the snowmobile business had drawn to a close. An astonishing rise from tin shack to top three worldwide manufacturer of snowmobiles, in only 11 short years.
In conclusion, I would like to say three more things.
First, on behalf of the Harrison family, I would like to sincerely thank you Glen for your talent and tenacity. As a result of your efforts, the trajectory of our lives was changed forever.
And secondly, on behalf of a grateful community, thank you Glen for the jobs and economic activity, something that was urgently needed during a time of mine closures. Without Trail-A-Sled and Scorpion snowmobiles, with hundreds of good paying jobs stretching 22 years in total, our community would be much different today.
And lastly, on behalf of the thousands of historians, Scorpion fans and enthusiasts, thank you Glen. Your contributions are remembered and revered. In what is today a $28 Billion worldwide industry, you are among that elite brotherhood, standing tall among snowmobiling’s founding fathers. Thank you.
Originally founded as Trail-A-Sled, Inc. in 1959 (a name which tied-into the firm's air sled designs) the company officially changed it's name to Scorpion, Inc. in 1969. The name change was a result of the the Fuqua acquisition (and in recognition of the firm's most successful product).
The model name "Scorpion" was inspired by a the M56 tracked cannon Glen had used in the National Guard. He just liked the sound of the name.
During recovery from the 1967 fire, many employees worked without pay, to help the struggling firm get back on it's feet.
During the entirety of it's existence, Trail-A-Sled, Inc. ownership consisted of: Glen Gutzman, President; Richard (Dick) Harrison, Secretary-Treasurer; Eugene (Stub) Harrison, Vice President.