Many semi-historians will cite the works of folks like Carl Eliason, J. Armand Bombardier or Edgar Hetteen and David Johnson when it comes to recalling the early lineage of the snowmobile, but another, possibly less known early father of the sport died recently, and the accomplishments of him and his early partners at Trail-A-Sled/Scorpion are worthy of honors of their own.
Glen Gutzman, 92, died on April 9 at his home in Deerwood, Minnesota – a small town just across Serpent Lake from Crosby, which he and company founders Eugene “Stub” and Dick Harrison essentially put on the map in our sport after starting the Trail-A-Sled company way back in 1959.
Their original dream wasn’t a snowmobile as we know it today, however. The original Trail-A-Sled was an air-sled, powered by huge blades that mounted behind a driver who sat in a cockpit. The earliest models featured an aluminum body, but the trio soon switched to fiberglass construction.
The machines did effectively move passengers across the snow or ice, but they didn’t have any braking system so drivers had to plan accordingly.
Soon thereafter, however, the company started experimenting with versions of what became the template for a regular snowmobile – driven by a track and directed by skis. Those vehicles would be named Scorpions, named after the Scorpion tanks used by the military, according to snowmobile historian Les Pinz.
Many things made Scorpion notable, but one of the most important is that the company made pretty much every part for its snowmobiles except the engine and clutches – Trail-A-Sled/Scorpion even made its own tracks.
Gutzman served as the company’s president/lead businessman/marketing guru until the company was sold to Fuqua Industries in 1969. Even under Fuqua, though, Scorpion has a uncommonly strong following in central Minnesota, and it meant the world to the Crosby area back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it employed about half of the town. Gutzman was a regular at the reunions and events, often seen wearing his trademark light blue hat.
Dick Harrison’s son (and Stub’s grandson) Randy Harrison helped curate a snowmobile museum in the area and also runs the trailasled.com (also known as Scorpion Online) website, which recounts Scorpion’s colorful history. On that site, he has posted the touching eulogy he read at Gutzman’s funeral, where he recalls the always-colorful Gutzman strapping a Trail-A-Sled to his Volkswagen and heading to the East Coast to set up dealers — and eventually landing a contract to build machines for Sears-Roebuck. It’s a fascinating read, as is the large history of the company that’s also found on the site.