J Armand Bombardier Museum Is A Must See
By Scott A. Sumner
If you are an avid snowmobiler, a visit to the J. Armand Bombardier Museum is a must. I was fortunate to be able to visit Valcourt on October 29 and see first hand this comprehensive display. The museum is located adjacent to the large Ski Doo manufacturing facility in the town of 3000 people and is toured by over 35,000 each year.
Joseph Armand Bombardier was an inventor at heart and his skill has resulted in a great mode of transportation for those of us who live in the snowbelt. His goal was always to provide an efficient means of getting around in the winter for work and pleasure. His designs first focused on the practical and progressed to the fun sport we all enjoy today.
Your visit to the museum will cost $7.00 and begin with a short film in the exact garage Joseph started in during the 30s. It is very interesting to see the humble beginning of an enterprise that in 2003 ended up with $22 billion in annual sales and 80,000 employees. Yes 80,000 employees. Thats a world class success story not often duplicated anywhere in the world.
Bombardier started with a propeller driven sled. "It had a good success with this vehicle that was floating on snow but it was a bit dangerous because of the propeller. Also the engine was overheating and it could fit only one or two people with no brakes or reverse, states my tour guide Julie at the Musee J. Armand Bombardier. He wanted a practical vehicle and at this time he developed the same thing with a track and engine. The youngest of his sons died at the age of two because he couldn't get to the hospital in winter. That gave Joseph a push to keep working."
It took him about 10 years and twelve prototypes before he came up with something he was satisfied with. "The difference with this one was he understood he had to put the weight on the back so on the traction would be better. At this time he invented the sprocket wheel system which is his most famous invention. He got a patent for it in 1937, states Julie. This vehicle marked a change and he named the garage Moto Neige Bombardier. From this point on he was not just a mechanic, but doing manufacturing. He sold about 9 of these units and made changes every year."
In 1936 Bombardier came up with the B7model and from 1938 to 1948 the models were changed with windows or different applications for users like Hydro Quebec, the mail service and the Canadian Army. There were about 1900 of the B7's produced for the Canadian army. The assembly was being done in Montreal but parts were made in Valcourt because it was such a big contract. The vehicles were not made to go on the firing line. A future model, the B12 was used as a school bus where much had been learned from the army production. There were 2000 made that sold for about $1500, the price of the car, at the time.
In 1947 and 1948, the Quebec government subsidized the opening of the roads in the winter so there was a drop in the sales of the B12. In 1952 Joseph Armand Bombardier invented the vulcanizer to produce his first endless tracks. He got a patent for this, his second most important invention. The Muskeg model resulted with an endless rubber track system and was used in the north for mining, etc. It had had a land pressure of 53 grams per square centimeters which is lower than a human. It could go anywhere on any kind of service. There are many different versions of this model that are still manufactured today as groomers. This part of the company has recently been bought out by Camoplast, the company that was formed from the earlier vulcanized rubber track company. The Vit feller buncher was a prototype for the forestry industry that also showcased the technology of this type of industrial machine.
It was in 1959 that Joseph Armand Bombardier came out with his first snowmobiles as we know them today. For the 60's production there was order for 225 Ski Doos. "In 1959 there were a lot of small and light engines that appeared on the market and Joseph Armand Bombardier had the choice. He chose a Kohler which was a four stroke engine. Also his son had just patented a new track using the vulcanizing technology Joseph Armand Bombardier had invented." says Julie. He first used Rotax engines in 1962. Ski Doo bought Rotax in 1970 which to this day are made in Austria and imported.
"In the season of 63/64 they produced 8210 Ski Doos. Unfortunately Joseph Armand Bombardier died in 1964 from cancer. Then he had seen about 12,000 Ski doos coming out of his factory." says Julie. Joseph Armand Bombardier had 6 children, three sons and three daughters, but one son died at age 2. He used to make a lot of donations and was a very religious man. When he died there were about 200 employees in the company which was carried forward by his family.
There is a display of all brands of sleds in the Joseph Armand Bombardier Museum that mark change or innovation of the snowmobile. The TNT is the million snowmobile made by Ski Doo in 1974. The Summit was the 2 millionth in 1994. In the first 15 years they built a million and then it took 20 years to build another million snowmobiles.