Tuesday, 21 August 2018

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Joseph Armand Bombardier

                                                                Joseph Armand Bombardier
By; Nicholas Durst

Joseph Armand Bombardier was the grandfather of snowmobiling.  Joseph Armand Bombardier was born April 16, 1907 in Quebec, Canada to Alfred and Anna Bombardier (Armand).  Joseph Armand had a good childhood.  His parents were happily married. He grew up on a farm in a farming community as the oldest of eight children, four additional siblings died as children (Lacasse, 1988).  As a child he earned money for serving Catholic mass on Sundays. He went to church every Sunday with his family. Church kept him close to his family, later as was tradition in Quebec, Canada his father wanted Joseph as his oldest son to become a Catholic Priest.  Joseph Armand studied to be a priest in St. Charles, Canada, Barrel Mount, Canada, and finally Sherbrooke, Canada.   Joseph never wanted to be a priest (Lacasse, 1988).    He always liked machines and anything to do with mechanics.  His father let him work in their little machine shed on the farm.  Joseph was the farm mechanic if anything was ever broken, he fixed it.  Joseph was also responsible for several inventions on the farm to make life easier, including a water trap in the barn to get rid of the rats (Lacasse, 1988).    

Joseph Armand built a steam engine out of old sewing machine parts.  With permission from his aunt Mary, he mounted the engine on her spinning wheel, and to his great joy -and his aunt’s distress- the experiment works.  The wheel spins faster and faster (Lacasse, 1988).  Another one of Joseph Armand’s inventions included a mini-cannon, which he built at the age of fourteen from a broken twelve gauge shotgun acquired from his father’s friend (Armand).  In 1922, he and his brother Leopold, created the first snow machine using an old ford engine, a propeller and four runners from a horse drawn sled.  Leopold controlled the engine and Armand steered the machine. They managed to travel a kilometer which made their father mad.  He demanded they take the “contraption” apart (Lacasse, 1988).  Joseph Armand built a mechanical tractor as well as boats out of scrap parts ( Armand). 

At seventeen, Joseph Armand packed his bag, wrote a note to his mother, and left the farm for Montreal, Canada (Lacasse, 1988).   He wanted to improve his knowledge of mechanics.   So, he walked into a mechanics garage answering a help wanted add and was able to fix an English sports car that none of the professional mechanics were able to fix.  He was hired on the spot. He stayed for two years in this job gaining knowledge and experience (Lacasse, 1988). 

In 1926, at the age of nineteen, Joseph Armand returned to Valcourt, Canada.  His father bought him a small place by the river just outside of Valcourt.  Joseph was able to use the river for hydroelectric power. Garage Bombardier was born (Lacasse, 1988)!  In order to help support his new business he became a dealer for Imperial Oil and installed three gas pumps outside of his shop (Lacasse, 1988).  Joseph worked as a mechanic during the day fixing cars, sawmills, threshers, ice saws, pumps and other machinery.  He could not keep up to the work demand and soon had to hire and train his own mechanics, including his uncle Aurelien.  Later his younger brother Leopold also joined him.  At really busy times he was joined by other friends and family members to keep up with the work.  He continued to dream of building a machine to travel on snow (Lacasse, 1988). 

In 1929 Joseph Armand experienced love at first sight after driving one of his employee's home after work.  He was married at the age of twenty-three on August 7, 1929 to Yvonne Labrecque.  Yvonne was good for Joseph she was calm and patient to his hot-headed, hyperactive personality.  They would have six children together (Lacasse, 1988).  

Joseph Armand’s dream was to create a motorized vehicle that would travel over snow and would replace the horse and sleigh.  Because winters in Quebec, Canada were harsh, travel was difficult which limited travel to horse drawn sleighs and that was limited by the amount of snow that fell (Armand). He wanted to build a fast little machine that would be practical and easy to handle for short trips (Lacasse, 1988).  Joseph Armand and his employees bought old cars over the summer and during the winter months they took these cars apart.  They used these parts to build the first snowmobiles (Lacasse, 1988).    In 1934, his two year old son died from appendicitis in the winter. They could not travel to a doctor over the snow. Joseph Armand had a snowmobile sitting in the garage but it could not travel well enough to save his son (Lacasse, 1988).  Joseph Armand then changed the design to a larger vehicle that could carry passengers.  In 1936, after ten years of work, the B7 snowmobile was born (Lacasse, 1988)!  He patented this design in Ottawa, Canada, on December 21, 1936.  During 1936 -1937, he sold eight snow machines and the following year he sold twenty-five (Lacasse, 1988). 

During World War II a Canadian government official came to Valcourt to collect information on the snowmobiles Joseph Armand built.   The official advised the Canadian government to take a look.  Joseph Armand had built a B12, a snowmobile that could carry ten people (Lacasse, 1988).  The Canadian Army also requested his design of an all track armored snowmobile that was called KAKI, trial runs took place in the swamps near Valcourt but the machines never went to war (Lacasse, 1988).   Joseph Armand and his company kept the town of Valcourt employed and it was not affected by the economic changes occurring elsewhere, the town even flourished (Lacasse, 1988).

One of Joseph Armand’s snowmobile orders was so big that they had to make forty machines in two weeks (Lacasse, 1988).  One of his more famous inventions, the B12 snowmobile was originally used as an ambulance, a bus, a postal vehicle and a supply vehicle for remote logging camps. Later, the B12 was used by resorts in snow areas to move people (Lacasse, 1988).     

Joseph Armand died at a hospital in Sherbrooke, Canada from cancer on Tuesday February 18, 1964 at 8 p.m., at the time of his death it was snowing in Valcourt (Lacasse, 1988).  He had been ill and knew he was going to die.  At the end of his life he had many decisions to make on how to leave his business.  He did not have a succession plan until his last days.  He was bothered by the fact that he had many plans and ideas in his head at the time of his death that would never be realized (Lacasse, 1988). 

Joseph Armand Bombardier achieved his life’s dream which was to create a vehicle to drive on the snow.  He also created an international company that exists today as Bombardier Recreational Products.   Over his lifetime he was granted forty-three separate patents (Armand).  Joseph Armand believed that money would corrupt people; he never aspired to be wealthy but to only make a modest income (Lacasse, 1988).   Joseph Armand would revolutionize the world as we know it.  His machines have saved lives in the harsh winters of Canada, and all over North America.  His machines carried troops in World War II. His machines changed the world and the sport of snowmobiling forever.  Joseph Armand’s small business Garage Bombardier that began in Valcourt, Canada is now a billion dollar, privately held, International Company.  BRP brands and products include: Ski-Doo and Lynx snowmobiles, Sea Doo watercraft and boats, Evinrude and Johnson outboard engines, direct injection technologies such as E-TEC, Can-Am all-terrain and side-by-side vehicles and roadsters, as well as Rotax engines. BRP products are distributed in more than 90 countries. All from one man’s dream to build a machine that would travel over the snow.