The White Thunder Riders have overseen the development and maintenance of more than 135 miles of snowmobile trails in Wisconsin’s northern Iron County area since the club’s formation in 1970. The club’s crew of nearly 50 groomer operators is a dedicated, tight-knit bunch whose all-for-one attitude has helped make the region a popular destination with snowmobile enthusiasts from far and wide.
Still, White Thunder trail boss Larry Erickson acknowledges there was recently one problem member of his crew who other folks didn’t want to be around. In fact, they often went out of their respective ways to avoid this associate.
Technically, the individual in question wasn’t a person – it was one of the club’s four grooming units. In the early 2000s the club took the tires off one of those units and converted it to a track-based system. While the unit still managed to get the job done, it didn’t make many fans among the club’s groomers.
“I was having a hard time getting volunteer operators to drive it,” Erickson said, laughing. “Operators would come in the door and avoid [that] machine… because they weren’t happy with the vibrations.”
Last season, the club finally said enough is enough. It decided to replace the old tracks on its New Holland T7 tractor with a new Zuidberg track conversion system. The Zuidberg system allows users to attach rubber tracks to virtually any type of tractor and make it more manoeuvrable in virtually any condition. It comes in a variety of widths ranging from 12 to 36 inches and features a unique bogie suspension system designed to eliminate most cab vibrations.
What sold Erickson and other members of the club on the Zuidberg track system was that it promised far less vibration than other comparable systems that were on the market. So far, so good, according to Erickson, who adds that his club has already put on more than 500 hours on that machine since installing the Zuidberg tracks.
“We read up on them and talked to the guys at the Tucker factory and they said our vibrations would be less than half [of other machines],” he said. “We figure we’re getting about 80 percent less [vibration] on it now. That’s almost as good as you’re going to get.”
And the good news is no one is avoiding that machine anymore. “They’ll hop in and no one complains about their hands going numb anymore,” Erickson said.
The Seney Snowmobile Association, based in the upper peninsula of Michigan, made a similar switch just prior to this season when it installed the Zuidberg track system on one of its two grooming machines, a New Holland T7.210.
The club grooms more than 87 miles of snowmobile trails in the region and its grooming crew logs anywhere from 13,500 to 22,000 miles in any given year. That means its two grooming machines are in use for between 1,000 and 1,200 hours each winter.
A big part of the reason for his club switching, past club president and trail boss Don Reed says, was to reduce the amount of time and money it was spending on maintenance with its previous track system.
“The maintenance we had to pull on the old set we had was just crazy,” he said. “More time on maintenance means less time on the trail grooming. “The problem for us is we’re about six hours away from the nearest dealer. There is no AAA you can call to assist you with any grooming issues you may have. It’s usually in-house work.”
Part of what makes the Zuidberg track system different from other similar conversion systems is its oil-filled bearing hub. A clear glass hub that allows operators to easily check bearing fluid levels and quickly refill the hub if its levels are low, eliminating much of the messy and timeconsuming guess work associated with other track systems.
Reed estimates his club’s snow grooming crew has already put on more than 1,100 hours this season on the New Holland machine with the Zuidberg tracks and it has required virtually no maintenance to date.
“Right now, the maintenance on them is you grease them and change the oil bath. That’s it,” he said. “The greasing is minimal compared to the other track system we had, and it looks like we won’t have to change the oil bath until the end of the season. We did a maintenance class and set the tension on the tracks at the beginning of the season and, knock on wood, we’ve not had an issue in terms of maintenance or had to readjust the tension on the tracks.
“Where we’re grooming, its pretty extreme weather,” Reed said. “Reliable equipment is paramount for us because we are in such a rural area. It’s no fun to be broken down when you’re 50 miles away from town in below zero temperatures with no cell service.”
The Cadillac Winter Promotions snowmobile club is based out of Cadillac, Mich., near Traverse City. The club is responsible for grooming about 120 miles of trails. All of the work is performed by the club’s 35 volunteer groomer operators. It’s fleet of grooming machines includes two club-owned machines and three program tractors provided by the Department of Natural Resources.
Cadillac was the first U.S.-based club to begin using the Zuidberg track system on one of its John Deere 6175R tractors two years ago. While the club had heard good things about the Zuidberg system from a local John Deere dealership, trail coordinator Jim Thomas says circumstances played a role in deciding to give it a try. A rival manufacturer had promised to build tracks for the machine but then pulled out of the agreement at the last minute.
Thomas says it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“They’re holding up great and they perform great,” he said of the Zuidberg tracks. “We get no vibration out of our tractor. With [other tracks]…from 5 mph to 8 mph you get a heck of a vibration out of them. These tracks you do not get that from them. It can make a huge difference [for an operator]. This has minimal [vibration]. You can hardly feel it.”
The Zuidberg tracks have been virtually maintenance-free after nearly 500 hours of use, Thomas says, adding that has saved his club considerable money and labor.
Chris Saunders, Midwest area sales manager for Zuidberg, says while the company had high hopes when it introduced its track system to the North American market, the positive feedback from people in the snowmobile and ski industries has been gratifying.
“Snow industry people have really commented a lot that they don’t have the vibration they used to have with tractors with other brands of tracks on them,” he said. “The oil bath system has been another plus for customers. It means they don’t have to grease bearings all the time. It’s a lot easier for the customer.”
What the future holds
Reed says he’s been pleased with Zuidberg’s responsiveness to any concerns he’s raised with its representatives, such as his desire to see a slightly bigger lug incorporated near the front of the system to make pushing snow in hilly areas easier. Overall, though, Reed doesn’t think it requires any major changes.
Saunders says the company is already developing some products that it hopes will complement the existing track system. That includes a highspeed track system that isn’t scheduled to be released until at least 2019.
“There’s been a lot of interest in that. A lot of people have enquired about it. It’s not going to reduce the speed of your machine when you put it on there. Your machine is still going to go the same speed as when it’s on tires,” he said.