Robert “Benji” Rubel, an innovator in the snowmobile traction product industry, died earlier this year after a battle with a variety of health problems, though the COVID-19 coronavirus was the last straw. He was 78 when he passed on April 7.
Benji and his brother, Ed Rubel, were the force behind Roetin Industries – a Rochester, New York-area company that made a variety of products in and out of the snowmobile market, but their Roetin Runners were a benchmark.
According to Ed Rubel, their entry into the market came when a local snowmobiler stopped by the Rubel’s machine shop (then called Rubel Machine & Tool) looking for a custom part to be made.
“In the late ‘60s some kid came to us with a snowmobile part – a part which has long since died off – that he wanted us to design,” Ed Rubel told us this week. “We had a large machine shop at the time and that’s a real cyclical business so we were always looking for products to add on.”
Soon the Rubel brothers were playing with runner designs and, specifically, ways to make the carbide inserts stick with the steel host bars. They are credited with coming up with the braising method that made that possible.
“We did that as a team,” Ed Rubel recalled about working with his younger brother. “Benji was the tech guy – I could help come up with the ideas but he’s the one that could get it into manufacturing; we developed the ideas together but he’s the one that put the finishing touches on them and made them work.”
Over the years, Roetin made clutch parts, tools and other components, but the Roetin Runners were the lead item, with traction studs becoming a bigger part of their business in the 1980s and 1990s in particular.
Ed and Benji were also regulars at major snowmobile shows and big snowmobiling events for decades before they sold Roetin in 2006, with Benji Rubel taking over a tool-making part of the business and Ed Rubel later re-emerging in the traction business with his current INS Products company.
We’ll always remember Benji Rubel as an interesting and intelligent man who was quick with a joke and a smile, and was always happy to see a familiar face.
David Wells, the Hall of Fame snwomobile writer and historian, had interacted with the Rubel brothers for years and shared these thoughts:
“Bob was always an interesting guy to talk with, very pleasant and very knowledgeable about technical matters that most people don’t have a clue about, like grades of steel and their reaction to heat or cryogenic treatment,” Wells said, “and I’ll always remember him grinning at a good joke. He was one of those people who had an infectious grin. He will be missed.”
Ed Rubel glowingly recalled how much his brother enjoyed solving problems.
“He liked that service tool side of the business,” Ed said. “By that time, Roetin had mainly become a manufacturing thing, with not a lot of R&D involved. But on the tool side of it, he could do some intricate machining and he could really go to work developing things. He did not like production; if he had to make two of something, he kind of lost interest – not in a bad way, but he just like to solve problems and he really liked his challenges. He had more of a scientific mind.”
According to his obituary, Benji was a member of the Bushnell’s Basin Fire Department for almost 60 years, was involved in a local fraternal organization and was renowned for his cooking skills.
Ed Rubel said his brother was in the hospital with other serious medical situations when he contracted COVID-19 there. “He was just so weak at that point, he couldn’t fight it off,” Ed Rubel said.