An RXL greeted you as you walked in the door of Recreational Engineering in Eden Valley, MN.
The Man, The Myth and The Legend, Doug Monson.
After Textron bought Polaris in the late 1960s, President Allan Hetteen decided to branch out with a side business or two, and one of them was the now legendary Rosco Surplus.
With the millions of snowmobiles Polaris was pumping out every year, there was a ton of extra parts, prototype sleds and pieces, emblems and a lot of stuff being thrown out by the race department and the Research and Development crews. Rosco was set up to take all of that, thereby relieving Polaris of any potential liability for items that were just not meant for the regular snowmobile public.
It was a good business for Allan, and over the years it grew until Allan Hetteen passed away in 1974 helping a neighbor. The company passed to Gene Fiester, then later to Lon Peterson. When Lon bought the business, he packed the whole massive pile of parts and moved it to Fargo, North Dakota. Enter Ed Webb who was friends with Lon, and in about 1984, Ed convinced Lon to relocate the business to an empty building he had in Eden Valley, just about right dead center in the state of Minnesota.
In 1992, a diehard racer and engine enthusiast got the job of his dreams working on snowmobiles all day at the newly renamed Recreational Engineering. In the late 1980s and early 1990’s sales of parts, repairs and identifying all the items in that place became a large part of Doug’s life.
Around 2003, I made my very first trip to Recreational Engineering. I had, against all the odds, found a real 1978 Polaris RXL 340cc Super Stock sled, and I wanted to get it restored to how it came out of the factory. The only problem was, it was missing a lot of parts.
When I first walked in, Doug came out from the back and asked me what I needed. Doug would run away to the rear of the building and come up to the front desk holding a New Old Stock part, often still in the box. At that time, Recreational Engineering still had new pistons, rings, gaskets, decals, heads, cylinders, suspension parts, skis, ski loops and a whole host of rare items for the RXL’s.
As my obsession with the little red, white, and blue Polaris race rockets grew, my dependence on Recreation Engineering did as well. Over the years, I’ve put close to twenty of those sleds back together, and almost all the parts came from Doug or Bud’s Salvage in Anoka, Minnesota. Another long-time Polaris dealer that had tons of ski boots, magnesium clutches and more.
But as I started looking for much rarer parts, it was always Doug that could find them. If Doug didn’t have it at Recreational Engineering, over the years, he made friends out of drag racers, oval racers, Polaris factory staff and anyone else that had a love for the old sleds. If he didn’t have it, there was a chance he knew where to start calling to find it.
In that process, I started finding the rare sleds – the 1977 leaf springs and IFS sleds, parts of 1975 PDC sleds, 1974 SnoPro sleds.. and with each one, I would bring them (or pictures of them) up to Doug, and he would take copious notes on the details. For example, Doug knew what the exact differences were in every aspect of a 1973, 1974 and 1975 650cc race motor, from the port timings to the subtle differences in the ignitions.
After enough trips up there, Doug finally let me go back in the back of the building.
What I saw floored me.
I was like a kid in a candy store! There were racks and racks of parts, many Doug and I would comb through for hours and find things like magnesium motor mount plates that could only fit either a 1974 SnoPro or a 1977 leaf spring sled. Drive wheels that could only fit factory race sleds. Suspension parts that could have only been from 74 and 75 snipers. Used race motors with ignitions that didn’t match anything, prototype heads, cylinders and more. It was insane. There was one whole shelf full of RXL skis, bulkhead components, chassis, and suspension parts.
There was another bin full of most, if not all the parts for 1969 800cc twin motors. Row after row of 1973 Starfire parts I couldn’t even begin to describe for you how much stuff was back there that I thought no longer existed.
And I bought a lot of it. I was not greedy, I left things for other people that wanted to do this, but I made darn sure to get all the one-off race parts for sleds I was putting back together.
Although way through, Doug and I were learning, putting together the history of where a lot of sleds and parts went over the years and sharing notes on everything we found. We became good friends and rather extreme detail nerds about the Polaris race sleds.
I had also talked Doug into helping me with the motors on the sleds I was restoring, and he did a fantastic job, making sure they had all the right parts and were put together as well as if Leroy Lindblad or Larry Rugland had done it themselves.
For the longest time, I kept bugging Doug to help me with a 250cc RXL motor I wanted actually to race. His answer was always a quick and very stern, “no.” The restoration sleds he was okay with, but something I was going to race? Nope. And he would not explain why for the longest time. When he finally did, I had to chuckle. It turns out, and he was correctly assuming that I have no freaking clue what I am doing with clutching, jetting, or any other detailed aspect of setting up a race sled.
“Any time I’ve done this for other guys, I build them the best motor I can. Something goes wrong, they don’t test enough, or they have their setup way off, and they right away blame the motor and me. I don’t want any part of that anymore.”
Well, it took me a lot of pleading and telling Doug I would never blame him (How could I? I didn’t know that much and was trying to learn!) until he finally built that motor.
From the first time we started it, it sounded good. But Doug was right; I didn’t know what I was doing. At first, we couldn’t even make it move. We worked on the clutches for several weeks, then realized the rear skid was all wrong, and when I let Mark Anderson take it for a ride, he pointed out the fact that we were about four sizes too rich on the main jets.
Eventually, we sorted out all those issues, and the motor never had a problem. It just started and ran like the insane little two-stroke it is. Eventually, I started winning a few races, and then I let Matt Goede take over the driving, and it never lost again unless there was a mechanical issue. Matt won 6 out of 7 tries a the 250cc Super Mod class at Eagle River with that motor!
When I was running vintagesleds.com, the vintage snowmobile hobby was right at its peak of popularity and activity, and Recreational Engineering suddenly got very, very busy again. In about ten years, all that rare stuff began to find new homes. As the bobby has cooled down a bit, things got slow back at Recreational Engineering.
Ed Webb, the owner of Recreational Engineering, has recently had some health issues and stepped back from the business. At one time, they had twelve employees there, but by last year it was down pretty much to just Doug. Ed’s family finally decided to shut it down and sell the remaining inventory and the building.
Doug stayed till the very end, just landing a new job late last year.
I will always keep in contact with Doug, but it is sad to see an era ending with the closing of Recreational Engineering. I went up for one last sweep through of the place when I took these pictures, and all the excellent stuff (for me anyway) was all picked through and in its new home.
I think my finding Recreational Engineering when I did was one of the best examples of being in the right place, at the right time that I’ve ever experienced, and I wish you all could have shared in that.
But mostly I’m just really grateful it was a guy like Doug Monson behind the counter.