Last week, we talked about how one of Stern Rubber’s first customers, Scorpion, got its start in Crosby, MN. This week, we pick up the story in 1968.
Although things for Scorpion seemed to be going very well, it was not without hardship. Following a great year in 1967, Scorpion was working even harder to produce an ever better machine for the 1968 model year. Yet late on November 2nd, a fire broke out in the assembly building of Trail-A-Sled (TAS). Multiple explosions caused the fire to expand rapidly, and firefighters could only ensure the fire did not spread to other buildings. Overall the fire destroyed the entire assembly building, over 1000 engines, hundreds of company records, and nearly one third of the Crosby community was now without work. Although the building and many hours of production was lost, the employees pulled together and produced 6,000 units for the 1968 model year, and even managed to turn a profit. Although the fire seemed devastating to the company, it turned out to be more beneficial than anyone ever imagined. 1968 led to TAS building and moving into a new 70,000 square foot complex that allowed the company to house all production under one roof, and lead to the production of 50,000 machines in an 8-month production run.
As the 60’s drew to an end, Glen, Dick, and Stub had taken their dream and made it a reality, boasting 50,000 sleds a year in production and employing over 300 people at the Crosby facility. Although the men were very successful, they wanted to see the company further expand, and they believed the only way to do that was by selling a portion the company. So in January of 1969, TAS was purchased by Fuqua Industries, based in Atlanta, Georgia, and the name of TAS was changed to Scorpion Inc. Glen and his founding partners stayed on the staff until October of 1970, when some disagreements between them, and the managers of Fuqua caused the men to opt for a complete buy out. At this time, they were asked to exit the Crosby facility and never return.
With the loss of the company’s founders, Scorpion still strived to press on, and by December of 1971, Fuqua saw themselves expanding the Crosby facility even more. Yet after 2 years of success, things turned ugly, with the Arab Oil Embargo forcing gas prices to sky rocket, and Mother Nature producing a strangely mild winter. The need for snowmobiles was at an all-time low, and many manufactures began to drop like flies, and layoffs at the Scorpion factory were part of the daily routine. Yet Harvey Paulson, and his team of managers at Scorpion pressed on, and prayed for an economic turnaround.
In 1974 Fuqua purchased Brutanza Engineering, who held the patent for a high performance liquid cooled engine. Paulson hoped this new technology would make customers interested in a new improved liquid cooled Scorpion, but the company still struggled to make a profit. Soon Paulson was scrambling to come up with new ideas to promote the Scorpion line, and began selling a moped line, as well as marketing their own engine that was rightfully named the Cuyuna.
Yet the firm’s fate was inevitable, and in 1978, Scorpion was purchased by longtime rival, Arctic Enterprises, maker of the Arctic Cat. This move created hope for the locals, who had put their heart and soul into Scorpion, having fallen from 360 to 120 employees and many weary of a turn around. Arctic brought some hope, when they began manufacturing their heavy hauler trailers, along with Scorpions in the Crosby facility, and for the first time began to hire again. But the excitement of production was short, and in 1979, Arctic Cat shut down the Crosby facility, and moved the production to their Thief River Falls facility, until Arctic went bankrupt in 1982, ending the Scorpion production forever.
Although today, Scorpion seems to be a symbol of lost hope and shattered dreams, the Cuyuna community is still proud of the time they had with Scorpion. At its best, TAS was one of Minnesota’s most innovative employers, and was the 2nd largest snowmobile manufacturer in the country, enduring what hundreds of snowmobile manufactures couldn’t, with even a giant like Polaris barley scraping by. Today the Crosby area still celebrates the amazing piece of machinery that came from their town. Every February, the Cuyuna Lakes chamber of commerce hosts their annual Scorpion rendezvous, for collectors and enthusiasts to discuss and reminisce of the days when Scorpion was at the top of the charts.
So if you ever are in Stern Rubber’s backyard during the first weekend of February, check out Scorpion Days in Crosby, a time to reminisce and enjoy these classic central Minnesota machines.
As a footnote to this story, click here to read a story written by Richard Harrison, one of the founders of Scorpion about Edgar Heteen, one of the founders of Polaris, and the founder of Arctic Cat, and how Edgar helped Scorpion after their fire in 1968.