Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Snow Goer magazine.
For the past eight years, it’s been my job to ride and critique snowmobiles. And when evaluating a sled, I pick apart everything from the engine and suspension performance to ergonomics, fit, finish and serviceability, including questioning how well a certain sled was put together on the assembly line.
In October, the tables were turned.
I had the unique opportunity to work a shift on the Arctic Cat assembly line in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, taking my place among the 200-plus employees to build Sno Pro 500 snowmobiles.
I installed engines, stamped serial numbers, bolted in steering systems, wrestled A-arms into position, dropped in tracks, bolted together a couple-dozen rear suspensions, installed clutches and even made some new friends. People on the assembly and pre-assembly lines can produce up to 350 sleds in a day. I learned that it takes 1,200 parts to build a Sno Pro 500; to assemble it all takes three-and-a-half hours.
Not every nut and bolt is individually installed on the production line. Sub-assemblies — including steering systems, skidframes and clutches; engines are fitted with hoses, engine mounts, a Y-pipe and throttle bodies — are built in a separate area of the factory and then loaded on a swinging cart that carries them out to the line where it flows in synch with a sled.
The line is a noisy, busy place. I was warned not to step into an aisle without looking first because a forklift could be whizzing by on its way to feed a pallet of parts to a station. Snowmobiles are constantly in motion. The assembly line stops only if there’s a problem, like when a station runs out of parts. I had to work at a pace that was steady, but I was not rushed.
Technology I used ran as high as electric, torque-sensing wrenches to tighten the clutches all the way down to a rubber bungee strap that held the track out of my way while I installed the driveshaft.
Based on what I saw and experienced during a day on the line, Cat factory workers are proud of their company and the snowmobiles they produce. They were friendly and helpful, and some were just as curious about my job working as a snowmobile magazine editor as I was about spinning wrenches on the assembly line.[satellite post_id= exclude=”13351 ” auto=off caption=on thumbs=on]