J.A. BOMBARDIER : TRAVEL ON SNOW
Text is at the bottom of the page
1 - THE BEGINNINGS
Joseph-Armand Bombardier (born in 1907 in Valcourt, died in 1964 in Sherbrooke, Québec) was a pioneer in ground transportation in snowy or muddy deserts, before his compatriot and competitor of the fifties, Bruce Nodwell.
Already at 14, J.A. Bombardier built with his brother tractors and boats models, but especially in 1922 a sled powered by an old Ford engine driving a propeller (photo 1). It must be said that J.A. Bombardier, really good at mechanics, dreamed to give people a way to move faster on snow to break their isolation, especially after the First World War, the idea of car travel on other than roads was quite agenda.
This self-educated man, imaginative and insightful, which subsequently became involved in the social life of his hometown, opened a garage at Valcourt in 1926 and proposed in 1928 a prototype fitted with steel tracks around the two rear wheels of a modified Ford T (Fig. 2).
Thus, after 10 years of relentless research, doubts and many practical achievements, he developed in 1935 a system of sprockets caterpillars (photo 3) and built the first Snowmobile B7 (Fig. 4). With a good sense of business, he traveled to Quebec aboard his snowmobiles to promote them.
2 - SNOWMOBILES
In 1941, J.A. Bombardier opened his business : 'L’Autoneige Bombardier’ (The Snowmobile Bombardier), with an annual capacity of 200 vehicles in 1942 which became ' L’Autoneige Bombardier Limitée’ then 'Bombardier Snowmobile Limited ' in 1967 whose headquarters was still at Valcourt, Québec. Its new snowmobile B12 (Fig. 5) with a capacity of 12 passengers was a great success : 2817 will be manufactured between 1942 and 1951.
During the war, he was asked to create a military transport vehicle, the B1, slightly longer than the B12, in 1943 the Kaki, then armored snowmobiles Mark I (picture 6), Mark II and Mark III. After the war, the Army will convert a dozen of these vehicles Mark III in 'Penguins' (Photo 7-8-9) to move into the Far North.
C 18, school snowmobile for 25 students, expanded version of the B12, appeared in 1946 but the snow removal of roads and streets become compulsory in Québec in 1948 inevitably led to a drop in snowmobile sales.
He designed the vehicle BT (Bombardier Truck), following the B12, always with skis in front, which found applications in the local forest industry from late 1949 and the C4 all-tracked prototype. B5 (Winter 1949-50) with front skis or wheels led to series R.
In June 1950, Bombardier marketed snowmobile truck series TN with interchangeable front wheels and skis and in October 1950 the truck TD (photo 10) with dual rear crawler tracks and un-driven tracks to the front.
But it is the R series with a system of interchangeable wheels and skis at the front that will ensure the survival of the business from 1951.
Transit, transportation of materials, postal services, ambulance, rescue, doctors, and veterinarians used snowmobiles. They also served as transport vehicle for the installation and maintenance of electrical lines, telephone lines and sites for exploration and exploitation of oil in the Canadian Great North. Built until about 1978, nostalgic and / or owners of restored snowmobiles gather today the time of a weekend to revive this great epic.
3 - DIVERSIFICATION
In 1951, this was not sufficient to ensure proper growth. J.A. Bombardier delegated much to devote more time to his inventions. Our industrial loving to meet challenges, launched in off-road petroleum and forest vehicles that were to take over the snowmobiles. He directed research and drew himself.
3.1 – TTA : TRACTOR TRACKING ATTACHMENT
First, the revival of the company began seriously with marketing the TTA (Tracking Tractor Attachment) (photo 12), produced by Bombardier mainly between 1949 and 1954, a concept of his brother Gérard that he perfected. This simple device dramatically improved the traction of agricultural tractors in the muddy, snowy grounds and will be sold by thousands in America and Europe. Sir Edmund Hillary reached South Pole in 1958 with Ferguson TE 20 tractors whose caterpillars TTA surrounded both front and rear wheels.
It was also at that time in 1952 that J.A. Bombardier, dissatisfied with the quality of rubber parts delivered by suppliers, attacked the problem himself and produced the tracks in one piece in a vulcanizer of its design. About the sprockets, they will be now all rubber, unbreakable and non-deformable. The eldest son of Bombardier, Germain Bombardier, with the help of his father, founded Rockland Accessories Ltd at Kinsburry in 1953 and manufactured all rubber parts for the Bombardier Snowmobile Limited whose sprocket became the emblem.
These major improvements for reliability and performances helped to promote a good image, guaranteeing additional sales of the future vehicle : the Muskeg whose deliveries began in June 1953.
3.2 - MUSKEG
The 'Muskeg' tractor, 2.1 T, 125 HP Chrysler engine (photos 13-14), of the famous American Indian name meaning the 'big muddy expanses', therefore provided a perfect reliability.
Its double row of bearing wheels with full tires and double sprocket wide caterpillars has generated a very low ground pressure : less than 0.07 kg/cm². The steel cross bars connecting the strips of reinforced rubber meshing with sprockets also in rubber.
Intended for oil exploration in the North-West of Canada, it will serve also in the mining and forestry. The success was immediate and worldwide. They found it for example on the Danube or in North Africa.
Available in many versions, it was found in 1954 the articulated Muskeg MM (photo 15) with semi-trailer. Nevertheless, the first MM will be delivered in 1957. The HDW and HDW S models contained a tilting platform. The S model could be supplemented by a non-driven tracked semi-trailer (photo 16). Many other alternatives will emerge.
3.3 - J-5 TRACTOR
Little brother of the Muskeg in 1955, the J-5 (photos 17-18), 1.8 T, 115 HP Chrysler engine, ground pressure 0.09 kg/cm², speed 32 km / h, was as light vehicle to do everything.
SW models (photo 19) were used by municipalities.
3.4 - FOUR TRACK VEHICLES
Thereafter came the Qua-Trac (photo20) and then the Land Master TM 15 (photos 21 and 22) 7-T payload for a total mass of 14 T with a Chrysler engine of 190 ch, ground pressure of 0.24 kg/cm² at front to 0.5 kg/cm² at rear, loaded. The hydraulic steered articulated chassis, its 4 driven tracks and its length allowed it to carry the trunks of trees in wetlands. Overall length with blade : 6 m, maximum slope reached was 60% and side slope 40%, fording : 1 m, track width 0.76 m.
TM 20 (photo 23) with Detroit Diesel engine and driven trailer was equipped with 'No-Spin' differentials and always rubber sprockets.
3.5 - INDUSTRIAL VEHICLES
In the 60's and 70’s, payloads of Industrial Vehicles of Series B, used for oil exploration, mining, forestry, telecommunications, power lines ranged from 8 to 20 tons : B8, B10 , B15 (photo 24), B20.
Note that Bombardier Company sold all the entire range conceived by its competitor Foremost-Nodwell based at Calgary branded 'Terraflex' in the 80s (photos 25 and 26). One might be surprised, but given the specificity of the material, each found his account.
This lasted until 1989 when Bombardier bought the Industrial Vehicles Division of Pointe Claire, Quebec to the American company Universal Go-Tract as well as Universal Go-Tract of Georgia Ltd. in White, Georgia. For the record, Universal Go-Tract, a subsidiary of Rolls-Royce of Canada, was purchased by Canadair Flextrac in 1970 whose Canadair gave up the business in 1976 in favor of Foremost-Nodwell.
The Industrial Vehicles Division acquired in 1995 a factory in Granby, Quebec, and the manufacture of all tracked vehicles of the group was transferred from Valcourt to Granby : snow grooming, sidewalk snow plows, industrial vehicles.
The GT range of Bombardier ranged from 55 to 375 HP (photos 27, 28, 29, 30).
3.6 – SNOW GROOMERS
Since the 60s, Bombardier also marketed groomers models Ski-dozer 200 of 2 T, 250 T of 2,3 T, and 300 of 2.5 T. Ski-dozer 252 G is shown (picture 31).
They were gradually replaced in the 70 and 80 by the BR series which the smallest was the BR60 of 57 HP and the largest the BR 2000 of 350 HP. Photo 32 shows the BR 400.
Regarding the rugged small carrier Bombi (photo 33) or BR100 60 HP, it carried three people to 32 km / h with a mass of 900 kg.
4 - BRP : BOMBARDIER RECREATIONAL PRODUCTS
In 2003, the company BRP, 6000 employees in 80 countries in 2005, based in Valcourt, became independent of Bombardier group and became Bombardier Inc. since 1978. However, the Bombardier family remained BRP shareholder at 35%.
In August 2004, BRP sold its Industrial Vehicles Division to Camoplast Inc. of Sherbrooke, Quebec, a manufacturer of rubber tracks. The latter sold it in 2009 to Prinoth of Leitner group, Sterzing, Italy. In addition to many groomers, Prinoth still sells the Muskeg, GT range, the 'Trooper' (photo 34), SW 4S and the Beaver, shredder from Caterpillar. The J-5 and Bombi are no longer manufactured.
BRP brings together today brands Can-Am (ATV), Sea Doo (Jet -Skis), Lynx and Ski-Doo (snowmobiles), Evinrude Outboard Motors and Johnson Motors (nautical equipment), Rotax (small engines).
5 - SNOWMOBILES
Little back in 1957 when J.A. Bombardier was working on a small 3-seater amphibious vehicle, the BB Carrier (photo 35) produced at 32 copies from 1959 to 1961. It was the beginning of the great fashion of ATV (All Terrain Vehicles) that will last until the mid-70's but the BB Carrier was still heavier and J.A . Bombardier did not start in the ATV. Nevertheless, he studied and marketed a snowmobile under the name Ski-Doo from 1959 to 1964. The success was immediate and subsequently appeared many competitors. The snowmobile became a social phenomenon, at least in North America and Scandinavia. If J.A. Bombardier industrialized snowmobile at large scale, his invention back normally to American Carl Eliason of Sayner, Wisconsin in 1927. He and others had previously tested models. Many inventors, in Scandinavia and Russia also realized positive projects. In Finland, Ranua Matti Salmon manufactured around 1926 an powered sled provided not a caterpillar but a rolling forward.
Today, there are only four major manufacturers of snowmobiles : BRP, Artic Cat, Polaris Industries and Yamaha. There are now more than 2.5 million owners of snowmobiles in the world.
6 - EPILOGUE
While Foremost company founded by Bruce Nodwell and his son, still involved today in all-terrain vehicles, the oil equipment but also energy, the Bombardier Group Inc. (65 000 employees worldwide in 2008), based in Montreal, became the world empire of transport, including aircraft (3rd worldwide manufacturer) and a full range of railway equipment (first manufacturer in the world).
Bombardier garage of the beginning evolved into a multinational and J.A. Bombardier realized his dream of mobility for all.
All following pictures (except two) were taken by Nelly Bilemdjian at Bombardier Museum in Valcourt, Quebec, in October 2012.