Our Craftsman: How a man in Northern Minnesota came to start crafting the world’s finest wooden toboggans and sleds…
Our craftsman, John Harren, started the business in 1995 in Warroad, Minnesota, when fate connected him with his mentor in Northern Manitoba, Canada. John had heard of this niche opportunity for years from his uncle who traveled often to remote Canadian communities doing service work – The Sled Maker’s Story. Uncle Raymond spoke often of how all of the sleigh makers were retiring and not passing on their skill set, leaving Northern Canada without a supplier of the traditional land vehicle they have relied on for centuries. Over a couple of years John’s mentor handed down the traditional process and design that was once passed down to him. A process rich in techniques that were centuries old.
John’s background involved being a very gifted finish carpenter, so he took his mentor’s framework and has continued to evolve the process and the beauty of our traditional sleds. He has also created recreational products in response to 20+ years of customer requests for downhill toboggans, winter camping and fishing products, and of course creating products that he and our family wanted to use as we worked and played in our backyard of Northern Minnesota.
While we are evolving our business to provide artisan sledding gear for generations to come, John will continue to lead the crafting of our products. For the first time we are hiring more shop hands and actively searching for an apprentice, while John remains the master craftsman, guide, teacher and mentor to us all.
Our Family: For us, building toboggan sleds has always been a family affair…
Much like the adage of “the family farm”, the craftsman’s two sons, Jackson and Gabriel, have never really moved on from their childhood days of growing up alongside their dad, building sleds, cleaning the shop, and varnishing and packaging the final products for shipping. To them, it is a way of life to help out D.O.D. (dear old Dad), so while they are both well into their professional careers of manufacturing engineering and IT sales and marketing they haven’t stopped “moonlighting” on the family business.
The brothers’ wives realized early on that they too married into the family business. And recently Jackson’s wife Solveig has brought her expertise in administration -- becoming our newest employee at Northern Toboggan Co, acting as our Business Administrator.
Our company is a lifestyle of playing together as a family -- with our products on the land, in the shop crafting memories, and on the business evolving ourselves for the future.
For over 20 years we have been a Minnesota Made lifestyle brand. We have hand built amazing products that come with a story, and many of our product breakthroughs have come from designing sleds to enhance our own experience on the land in Northern Minnesota. And it is clear that over the years in sharing our story, people connect with it. People crave stories of family connection, of handmade products that are each unique, and of the role we play in enabling the favorite pastime of tobogganing that so many of us share.
With the advent of so many social media platforms and the rise of “lifestyle brands”, we are going into the business of storytelling. This involves not changing who we have always been, just us doing a much better job of telling our own story, that of our customers, and helping others connect with the joys of nature, family, and the nostalgia found at the top of a sledding hill…
Collaboration will also be a big part of our evolution for the next generations. We have begun partnering with other Minnesota Made companies to create products that are up to our standard with a story. Mass production is not our game, nor will it ever be. And it is a joy to collaborate with others who share this mantra as we seek to better serve our customers. We invite you to stick around for the ride as we evolve for our 21st century while maintaining our heritage.