In 1950, his business now rechristened Polaris Industries, Mr. Hetteen set up a snowmobile production line. To generate publicity and spark sales, he undertook a 1,200 mile snowmobile voyage across the Alaskan wilderness. Mr. Hetteen and 3 others, including his wife, Bessie set off from Bethel, Alaska with 3 Sno-/Traveler snowmobiles towing toboggans loaded with gas and supplies. They traveled 3 weeks over snow, struggling to go even 10 mph and making emergency repairs on the fly. When they reached their destination the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner put them on the front page. Mr. Hetteen received less applause when he returned home, where his absence had soured relations with the Polaris board of directors. He left the company in a huff, returned to Alaska and briefly worked as a bush pilot. Later, he moved to Thief River, MN to found Arctic Enterprises, manufacturer of Arctic Cat snowmobiles. Although he sought at first to supply workers like linemen and trappers, most people used them for fun. By the end of the 1960's, there was an estimated two million snowmobiles in use in a market that hadn't existed a decade before. Dozens of companies jumped in to supply the growing market, but by the early 1900's a combination of high interest rates plus a couple of snowless winters caused an industry shakeout; Arctic Enterprises filed for bankruptcy protection. It has since been reconstituted under new management and remains one of 4 major manufacturers. Mr. Hetteen then leveraged his experience with snowmobiles in business success by founding ASV, Inc, a Grand Rapids, MN manufacturer of tracked vehicles that can operate on muddy or snowy terrain. One of these, the Posi-Track, has been used by the U.S. Armed Forces to clear minefields. When he retired in 2005, annual sales had grown to $161 million. In 2000, Mr. Hetteen retraced his Alaskan journey using the most modern Polaris snowmobiles. This time the trip took 8 days. What I saw was the people taking their children to school on the snowmobile, bigger children driving their own machines, and machines going down the river hauling supplies, Mr. Hetteen told the Associated Press. There was less work, more production per hour. That was a highly gratifying thing for me. Written by Stephen Miller
Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum
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