by Bill Haske
In April of 1966, Bernard Hnath and Terry Magnuson Bought Berchli Enterprises of Ashland Wisconsin, a land leveling, stump grinder and specialized farm machinery manufacturer. The changed the name of the firm to Ashland Industries and decided to add a snowmobile to their product line.
The first Viking to come off the assembly line, serial # 10500, now belongs to Bill and Norma Haske of Wisconsin Rapids WI. Only about a dozen or so sleds were produced, in late summer. They were a sleek looking machine for the time, with the engine forward of the steering and the driven clutch and chaincase behind the engine instead of forward like most other machines of that era. They also featured a dash panel/belt guard combination, making for a much safer machine and preventing spit-back from the carburetor onto the driver.
Vikings were equipped with a full band brake in 1966. This was a first in the industry, as other machines had a small pad of lining that rubbed on the driven clutch. Also notable was a cantered steering mechanism, which tipped the skis as they were turned in either direction. This allowed the rolled inside edge of the ski to dig into the snow and pull the machine around the corner, rather then pushing like the
flat ski system. Combined with the forward mounted engine it made for a very nice handling machine.
Viking was the first snowmobile manufacturer to offer a choice of colors. In 1966 and 1967 they had either orange or beige hoods and dashboards. The tunnel parts of these machines were made of steel and were painted a fawn brown color as were the skis and spindles and springs. In 1968 Viking became one of the first manufacturers to offer aluminum tunnels. This made the machines much lighter. Many competitors claimed aluminum would not stand up over time, soon they followed with aluminum bodies.
The first Viking line of clothing was made by a clothing manufacturer in Oklee Minnesota, but later they made their own, along withe their seats, handlebar pads and gas tank snap on covers. When the fiberglass plant in Waubun MN burned down, Viking decided to do all the fiberglass at their plant in Twin Valley MN. In 1968 brought the first metal flake hoods and dashes in the industry, a beautiful teal green being available. The combination of a metal flake hood and aluminum tunnel made for a very sharp looking machine.
The hoods on the 1966 and 1967 machines were held in place by a lip on the front edge of the belly pan that the hood hooked over and slid back upon. Snap-downs at the back inside edge of the hood also held the headlight wire connectors whose wires ran up the inside of the hood and connected to each headlight terminal. Another wire ran from the edge of the headlight switch ran from headlight switch to one of the snap down clip on the belly pan. In short, when hood was snapped in place the headlights were hooked up the same time. This system was used until 1969 models came out.
In 1968and some models up until 1971, the front of the hood was held down by a large black knob just in front of the headlight. The knob screwed the hood down tight to the belly pan in 1971, the balance of the models introduced a hinge system in the front, with rubber hold-downs on the back inside edges of the hood. Yellow windshields were first available on the 68 models smoke tinted windshields would soon follow. A longer tunnel then on previous models also appeared first in 1968. This made it very accommodating for a spare fuel tank in the rear and longer track for a better ride and more passenger room.
Most engines built from 1966 through 1968 had 300cc Hirth engines and manual start. Reverse was an option on a very few 1968 models, but never really caught on. The fuel tank was a 2.5 gallon can that sat up along the right side of the engine and could be removed to fill, then rubber strapped back into place. Some of the 1968 machines had fuel tanks with sight gauges, consisting of plastic tube that ran from the top to bottom on the outside of the fuel tank to determine fuel level (similar to early Yamaha sleds)
Other changes between 1966 and 1968 included the location of the brake and throttle levers, located like a traditional brake lever in 1966 squeezed with the fingers not the thumb....Different style tail light and minor details
In the spring of 1969, Terry Magnuson (president) Dave Erickson (productions) and Vern Hendrickson (R&D) moved the snowmobile manufacturing part of Ashland Industries to Twin Valley MN where they were already producing fiberglass components. Only a small part of the assembly line, along with parts and other components were taken to Twin Valley. Vern Hendrickson was working on a new type of bogie suspension which involved a rail. By late summer of 1969, sleds were coming off the new assembly line an all new hood was made higher and wider to accommodate the new twin cylinder engines The chassis was lengthened again,with a seat that had a large hump at the rear which covered the six gallon fuel tank,strapped and bolted to the chassis. Engines up to 400cc, electric start, Arrow speedometers and tachometers were now available, along with a new dashboard with a built-in glove box with a spring loaded cover. A toolbox sat up along the right side of the engine, occupied formerly by the old fuel tank, unless the machine was equipped with electric start, in which case the space was used for the battery. In 1970 there were no changes in body style, but seven new fashionable metal flake colors were available to choose from. Extensive use of reflective decals and trim were used as safety measures. Viking also manufactured a machine for Leisure Industries of Minnesota, it was named the “wildcat” This machine was a gold metal flake color and used the same Kohler engines Viking was now using. Leisure Industries sold these machines through their outlets and dealers. Unfortunately, this venture burdened Viking, having to sell the last of the wildcats through their own dealers to recoup their investment.
1970 was also the first year that a women crossed the finish line of the Winnipeg to St Paul I-500 International race. Della Monteuil of Euclid MN crossed the line on a viking sled
In 1971 , the sharpest Machine that Viking ever built, the Vanquisher, was unveiled. It had a 50 hp free air Kohler engine with the sunburst heads, twin carbs, two primers, dual exhaust, dual heat gauges, tachometer and speedometer, 18 inch track and a para-rail suspension
No headlight or taillight was available for this model. The 1972 Vanquisher had a lighting system and two and three cylinder free air engines with even more horsepower. These machine were built mainly for the Winnipeg to St. Paul races .After 1972, the vanquisher was just a memory.
1971 brought a host of other changes to the line up until this point all tracks were 15 inches wide and made by Rubber Drive Inc. of Crosby Mn. In 1971 the new Fastrack was introduced, a sectional track, each section held in place with steel rods, allowing quick and easy replacement. All machines now had specific names.
The Vigilante was the same as the old 1970 models and was available in purple only, with either a 293cc single or a 440cc twin Kohler engine. This would be last appearance of the old body style.
The Voyager was the first model to have an 18 inch track with a bogie suspension. The kohler 440 engine was all that was offered on this machine and 1971 was the only year that it was built. It was also equipped with a flatter, 8 gallon gas tank, allowing for a much smaller hump on the back seat. New style decals were introduced on the new lower, Flatter, redesigned hood hinged in front and tipped up. Front and rear bumpers were on all of the new design models.
The Vagabond was of the same new design, only with a 15 inch track. Three Engines sizes and five metal flake colors were available on this machine.
In 1972, the Vigilante was a lower sporty machine. The fuel tank was between the dash and the front seat. A cut out portion of the hood to show off the cylinder of the engine was available on some models. Only the deluxe Vigilante SS model had the para-rail suspension. A 340 single cylinder Sachs engine on this model could give any 340 twin a run for its money. This model was equipped with temperature gauge, Tachometer and speedometer. All of the 1972 machines now featured a high and low beam headlight footrests and much larger taillight to accommodate a brake light. “Black Fox” was the newest color that year for a total of seven color choices. A BF Goodrich track was available on some models.
1973 was a tough year for the sales of all snowmobile manufacturers. Most had an abundance of machines left over from the prior year. With the market flooded and hardly any snow that year, Viking found it necessary to make cutbacks on production. Some of the new features for 1973 included emergency kill switch, ski shocks and a studded track. This was the only year the purple studded track was available. Voltage regulators now replaced the isolators on all twin cylinder machines, making the lighting and charging system much more efficient. A movie featuring Forrest Tucker entitled “500 degrees below zero” was made during the running of the Winnipeg to St Paul race, featuring the Viking snowmobile.
1974-75 there were no changes made to the machines. Viking cut back to only a two models the Vanguard series with Kohler 440cc engines and bogie suspension and a 17.4 inch track and the SS model with rail suspension and was loaded with all features as standard equipment. The Vigilante series had a choice of either the 20 hp Kohler that stuck out of the hood or the twin cylinder model with 24,30 or 40hp Kohler and an SS model which had the 40 hp twin and rail suspension and a 15inch studded Fastrack.
In 1976, Viking mad its last effort to survive. They unveiled the wider hood with twin headlights, which came in purple metal flake only. New block white lettering on the hood, a white belly pan and a wedge seat were also new. With the fuel crunch, noise and emission control pressures, along with endless stockpiles of year old and two year old unused machines from much larger snowmobile companies, Viking could no longer continue to manufacture snowmobiles. Less then 500 1976 models came off the assembly line, ending the manufacture of one of the most advanced snowmobiles of its time to be built in the USA.
By Doug Hirsch
TWIN_VALLEY When you hear about snowmobiles that are manufactured in Minnesota, one most often thinks about Arctic Cat Polaris or Scorpion. However another producer of snocats in northwestern Minnesota Viking Snowmobiles Inc. Has become entrenched in the rapidly growing winter recreation industry.
But the makers of the Viking snowmobiles have not become the giant producers of machines as the others have, but rather stress quality in their products. ”you don’t have to be big to build a good snowmobile” says Viking president Terry Magnuson.
Maynard Okeson, a former Detroit Lakes resident now the company’s General manager adds“we probably like to grow a little larger, to say 5,000 machines a year. I don’t think we have a goal of 100,000 machines. But then again how do you know what the future holds?” The company’s goal is to build 2,500 sleds a figure comparable to what was built and sold last year. Okeson says that Viking hopes to hit a record sales figure of 2.5 million this year, and indications are that sales will be the best yet for the fledgling company.
The Viking Snowmobile dates back to 1966 when Vernon Hendrickson and David Erickson put together a machine that was produced for test purposes by the Ashland (Wisconsin) Ind. a farm equipment firm owned by Magnuson. The year before Hendrickson and Erickson had secured a loan from the Twin Valley State Bank that was guaranteed by the Twin Valley Boosters Club for producing a machine. They hooked up with Magnuson, with the agreement that the machine would be produced and test marketed in Ashland, but if successful would move to Twin Valley.
On April 1 1968, Viking came home to Twin Valley and a public corporation was formed and 140,000 shares of stocks issued at $2 a share. Viking Snowmobile is now listed in the local over the counter stock sales in Minneapolis with the stock being worth $3.50 to $4 a share. The first year in Twin Valley 300 machines were produced and 15 employees worked at the plant. That has grown to a point where a peak of 130 employees were working at the plant last year on some 2,500 machines. These workers were located in four buildings in Twin Valley housing the assembly line, research and development, dealer sales and corporate offices, as well as the company’s owned subsidiary Witchcraft Inc. at Waubun , which does the company’s fiberglass work. About 75 people are employed at the plant at present. Production was started in May earlier than usual and will probably be cut at the end of December, according to Okeson . last year 25 employees were employed year round and Okeson hopes this will increase as the company produces more of its sub-assembly items in Twin Valley instead of farming them out elsewhere.
The industry has a sizeable economic impact on the community with many using it as their principal income while many housewives and farm wives utilize it as supplemental income.
Okeson views the 1971-72 season as “probably the best year yet for snowmobile sales”But Competition is really stiff in this field and the only way to break in is with a quality machine with a good warranty. “We feel it is a good market that is not saturated yet.” The Viking Organization has distributors in NY , PA, IN, OH, MI, WI, MN, ND, AND AK. Okeson says that heretofore sales of Viking snowmobiles in MN have topped all other states but that may change this year with the demand being generated for Vikings from consumers in MI , NY, and other eastern states.Sales are also good in AK. There is also a complete line of Viking snowmobile clothing, manufactured by Oklee Manufacturing in Oklee.
Viking dealers have four models to choose from in the 1972 line of machines 1) the Vigilante a sports economy model with a standard rail suspension and two engine options. 2) the Vagabond, A family machine with a 15” track. The Vanguard a trail machine. 4) the Vanquisher, an 18” track racing machine. About 80 % of Vikings are equipped with Kohler engines. With the remaining using Hirth and Sachs power plants.
New with Viking this year is a FasTrac which comes with riveted sections, allowing for replacement of the damaged area only, rather then the entire track. Company officials are excited over the “posi- grip“ rigid wheel rail suspension system. A patent is pending on the innovation.
Hendrickson who grew up in Lake Park, has remained with the company as director of research and development and substantial stockholder. The machines are tested on an old air field outside of Twin Valley.
The Minnesota Vikings link to the Viking snowmobile will be continued this season, not with the defensive “front four” but with running back Dave Osborn, who along with his wife , drive Viking snowmobiles.
The Viking snowmobile is part of the racing scene. Last year Ron Hendrickson of Lake Park finished 35th on a Viking in the Winnipeg to St. Paul International500 snowmobile race. Two Vikings placed in the top 10 quite a feat for a firm that makes 2,500 machines a year and five of the nine Vikings entered crossed the finish line in St. Paul.
In 1970 Mrs Della Montreuil of Euclid rode a Viking the entire 500 miles in that race and became the first woman to finish the international 500. Mrs Montreuil sister of two time winner Dale Cormican of Crookston, came in 54th that year.
The current problem for the Viking Snowmobile organization as well as other makers of other U.S. snowmobiles is the 10% surtax on imports especially on foreign engines used in snowmobiles. Complete machines are exempt from the surtax through a special treaty with the United States.
But Okeson and other company officials are happy with the Viking snowmobile, which is basically a family machine built for comfort and stability.
“We’re trying to build a quality machine by putting everything in it we possibly can” adds Okeson.
.......Please read...... I am sure there are people who can read this and find fault in something that was written....It is easy to find fault in someone else and their recollection of the past. I am happy that someone took the time to write this and help....... If you have information that differs from the above, that you would like to share, please do so in a positive way so we can make accurate adjustments and make sure everyone benefits from it..... Thank you Howard
Rollin Siegfried shows us the rear skid frame and tells the story of #42
Here is what I know, I purchased my current 1976 model Viking Vigilante 440 cc SS Sn 60042 from a former dealer in Minnesota. When I looked at it I was amazed to learn that it had a metal skid for the internal drive poly track. He stated that he picked it up at the factory that way. I would assume that it was Vikings attempt to
keep in step with the two major snowmobiles in the area Artic and Polaris. I have had other 76 Vikings but none with a slide rail, nor have I seen another one
like it. I've asked several different snowmobile collectors about it and they say it looks like a home grown project.
Another, couple of items of interest is that the final 76 models were almost identical- -the Vigilante and the Vigilante SS came with the same engines ie 340 & 440.
The only difference was the Vigilante only came with a boogie suspension, while the SS model had the para-rail type system except SN 60042 which has a slide
rail suspension, also shocks were an option on the Vigilante and std on the Vigilante SS. One last issue was the SN 60001 which I also have has a metal 5 gal.
tank- -I wonder if that is unique for only the first one or did any of the other 1 thru 10 have the same tank ? A hood update came out suggesting that the hood
have two vents installed in front of the windshield to reduce engine heat build up- -I have this on mine and it works good. I also installed a spark plug heat gauge
on the outside cylinder to monitor the heat range- -it works. Thanks for sharing Rollin
Lance Iverson writes..........When my Grandfather passed away in 2002 my Grandmother gave me the registration card for their 1974 Vanguard 440 and she told me "Grandpa would want you to take care of his sled" It sat in their barn from 1992 until the summer 2009 when I brought it home and started doing a full restoration on it. I wanted it finished so my Grandma could see it again looking good and be proud of it........ Hey Lance, I am sure it means a lot to her and I know she must be damn proud of you.....The second picture is his mom with that nice purple suit and his brother sitting on the sled...I am jealous Lance, three generations of Viking Snowmobile fans how cool is that. Thanks for sharing this story and pictures with
This was sent to me from Jerre Bassler. The gentleman he has been in contact with was the son of a Viking distributor. Thank you for sharing these pictures Mark and Jerre..... Hope to see more!
I did find a couple of pictures of the 650 Hirth and me.
These pictures were taken when I attended Gogebic Community College in Ironwood Mich. In 1971-72 for small engine design and repair.
I am in the center of the display at the Milwaukee International Snowmobile Show. We tore the engine apart and reassembled it at our booth.
The catching air picture was taken at the nearby lake.
I raced the 340 Sachs in the Ironwood International Sled race that winter. I was dead last in my heat in the oval race, but finished something like 11th in the cross country.
I could never get my hands on a 3 cylinder Kohler. I remember them coming back with bad engines Mark...... So is he saying their were a few Kohler triple vikings made? Take note of the tach.. Mine had the standard 10,00 rpm tach and a dual CHT temp gauge single mount......I dont see any temp gauges on his?
I grew up in winnebago IL . my father and I watched the guy across the the street (Everett toddhunter) ride and clean these sleds, cleaning more than riding , he started the trails in my area with a big flag on back( tall and orange) I moved away to tex. at 18 my dad bought the 399 at his auction when he passed, when i moved back I took it over, I got her running ,but spent more time on skidoos 73-78 tnt’s. rode, sold ,but always kept the wildcat.(drove my wife crazy) moved it from house to house, well the track broke and Internet was just happening, tried for two years. wild gt leisure ind, nothing could be found!!!!! not till i realized i have a viking wild cat,looking for a track i found a great track ,but it was attached to a 309 nicer than mine, I bought it ,$200.00 ,got it running, back to my problem still need a track for the 399(WIFE STILL GOING NUTS) found a track 75.00 ..got that 399 fired again ,ready to put on the track , ohh $%% ,drive sprocket damage !!! made a set of dentures for it, then found the 309 had a simaliar denture repair or maybe it was original a two piece drive sprocket,made mine from aluminum ..well my dad has passed and I have moved back to the town I grew up from and a few blocks from where this story started ,we get enough snow ill take it back home and blaze a trail through toddhunters yard as many times as I can .now the wife and i know that only 300 were made !! how many sold? well i got two of them and would like everyone to` love that yellow windshield and first to a metal flake yellow!!!!!!!!!! PS dad bought the 399 $60.00 got to get one of those big Orange flags, people would think they saw a ghost!! get back at cha kenny