We began development of the Wilcraft in 1998, with the desire to make ice fishing safer, more accessible with unmatched mobility. By the end of 2004 we were able to introduced our design, it was well received. Manufacturing began in 2005 with the first unit delivered in January of 2006.
We are located in North St. Paul, Minnesota which is where the Wilcrafts are built, as well as continued R&D. Led by visionary inventor, Tom Roering, we at Wilcraft strive to find more ways to revolutionize ice fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation.
Our products are sold through qualified dealers. They can also be configured and ordered from the Wilcraft Outdoors website. Lead times ranging from 6 to 12 weeks. Units can be either shipped to you, picked up at the nearest dealer or picked up at the factory.
Our formal company name is Multifarious Inc. dba Wilcraft. Our informational website is http://www.TheWilcraft.com while our online store, known as Wilcraft Outdoors that you are currently on, can be found at http://www.TheWilcraft.net or http://www.WilcraftOutdoors.com.
So that's the short version of our story. Read on below for the long version...
Our Legal Name: Multifarious Inc. DBA Wilcraft
What we do: We design, manufacture and sell the Wilcraft.
The Wilcraft Name: The "WIL" in Wilcraft stands for Water, Ice and Land.
Tom Roering began the project in 1998 out of the desire to ice fish more conveniently and to be safe. The driving factor was to be able take his kids fishing with out worry, as well as a grandfather who no longer had the physical ability to ice fish by traditional means. To this day, helping people get onto the ice and enjoy the outdoors is still the primary driving factor.
The goal was to build an ice fishing shelter that was self contained, self propelled, and would float. The layout, convenience ergonomics, comfort, and operation had to be all about ice fishing; first and foremost it's an ice fishing shelter we were developing. The drive and controls had to revolve around that. Yet it is the self propulsion that would set it apart from all the other ice fishing shelters. The development journey spanned 6 years, tremendous thought went into every aspect of the project, nothing was left to chance. During development the following requirements were decided upon.
- Sized for one to two people; when the focus is on fishing, this is how most travel.
- An open floor plan; for custom seat positioning and versatility
- Sealable fishing hole through the hull. Convenience, comfort and efficiency.
- An enclosure that is effortless and instantaneous; convenient to use, quick set up.
- A water tight hull, so it would be fully floatable and not just buoyant.
- Retractable drive system; effortless, quick set up, and convenient.
- Easy to haul, (pickup or lightweight trailer transport, convenient)
- Lightweight; also adding to the over all convenience of using and owing it, as well as access to a greater part of the season.
- A drive system that was simple, durable, and versatile (ease of maintenance, service, long life, and usable)
- As the development progressed the hunting applications entered into the design considerations.
Designing the layout, we strived for efficiency and multi function with every feature. The fishing holes were placed along one side so alignment on the ice would be quick and easy. This also allowed us to keep the floor plan open providing tremendous versatility, for example seating selection and placement, equipment placement and installation, year round multi-use applications. The fishing holes were raised 5" for water displacement (added margin of safety); it also prevents dropped items from rolling in to the holes. Sealing the holes we opted for buckets instead of plugs, again multi use and application consideration.
Design: Comfort and Convenience
Comfort and convenience was high on the list, we designed in an insulated floor; getting your feet off the ice goes along way to keeping warm. The insulation also doubles as buoyancy. The enclosure had to fit well so the interior environment would be quiet, warm and yet open and close in an instant. Thus the canvas is snug fitting with a generous amount of Velcro and an easy latch system. The framework is designed with fixed length poles; we all know how difficult it is to extend the poles of a portable when they rack or to put then up in the wind, we didn't want any part of that with our product. The result is a one motion one second enclosure set up.
The steering had to be precise and easy to operate, but could not consume interior space and interfere with fishing. Thus a stick steering system was developed, comfortably positioned when driving but totally out of the way when fishing.
Design: Propulsion and Mobility
The propulsion configuration took considerable time; even though the Wilcraft is primarily an ice house that was being developed, we still wished for the craft to be able to negotiate all conditions at all time. Many drive systems were designed, from tracks and skis to 6 wheel drive to zero turn to 4 wheel drive, to roller to screw drive, and more. Each system had its advantages in certain conditions but also had inherent drawbacks and limitations as well. We sadly realized there is no magic bullet, no one system that can do it all. So the decision was made to use a system that would offer the most terrain versatility, thus the most usability. The design that was settled on after prototyping and testing all of the above was rear drive with locking differential on wide low pressure flotation tires. The combination of the light footprint, tire selection, strategic weight placement, smooth bottom hull, height adjustability, long wheel base gave the craft impressive ability. It would not only handle day to day lake conditions, but also, slid over snow banks and plow ridges, float on soft ground (mud, bogs, marshes), crawl over rough terrain, climb steep hills, provide a smooth ride, drive and handle smoothly on hard surfaces, handle moderate amounts of snow, and traverse water. Plus the ability that truly sets this rig apart is being able to access and traverse ice that no other wheeled vehicle would dare to. The Wilcraft is the first on the ice and the last off, truth be told, these are amazing times of year to have a line through the ice. As with any vehicle the more familiar you get with its features the more you can make it do. The Wilcraft has no shortage of features.
Design: Weight and Footprint
Weight was a big design consideration; this we felt would benefit the package in many ways. For example the ability to start ice fishing before the heavier rigs, traverse soft terrain , be it mud, bogs, snow, or slush (by means of floating on top), easy to load and unload, tow ability with a compact car, even just the simple fact of effortlessly moving it around the garage for storage. Getting out of a tough situation is far easier with a light rig as well, as it turned out the lightweight combined with retractable wheels allows one to effortlessly slide it like a sled. Some specific on weight savings considerations are, aluminum hull / frame, aluminum wheels, small block engine pared with a gear down transaxle (it is more applicable to have torque over speed), the entire design revolves around tubing and box construction (very strong yet light).
The safety was a very important aspect during our design phase; first of all was the desire to make it float, not just buoyant but fully float high and dry. This was accomplished with a water tight welded hull; the tires add buoyancy as well. The holes are sealed with neoprene gasket buckets. The fishing holes are raised 5" for water displacement, there is also buoyancy foam in the floor and curb. A speed of 20 mph we feel is good speed for an ice house; it's quick but not dangerously fast. Combine this speed with 5 second set up time you will fish more spots in less time than the vehicles that travel 60 mph. The Wilcraft has recoil start back up, with a 10 amp charge system (enough current to run the lift system).
As we see it, safety on the ice is extremely important, and now more than ever with our warmer winters. A generation ago lawn power equipment had no safety features and people got hurt, yet we continued to use the equipment because that's what was available. Today the equipment has guards and automatic kill switches. These are improvements that were needed and we generally won't run equipment without them. Today we run all sorts of equipment on the ice and think little of it; and every year great numbers fall though. The safety technology for ice travel is here now and in the near future we will question the logic of driving a 4000 lb truck across a lake.
Quality; the best of concepts must be match with the best of quality, or the new and better way would be short lived. The Wilcraft is certainly both. It is made in Minnesota USA; all or our engineered components are from local fabrication shops. The aluminum hull is .080 thick (this is the thickness you find in 18'+ boats), all fabricated components are either powder coated or yellow zinc plated, actuators rated at 2.5 times GVW, aviation style tie rod ends, 4 stroke cold rated engine, synthetic lube filled - steel cut gear transaxle, and the list goes on.
From Prototype to Production
With a preproduction prototype in 2004 we were ready to introduce the Wilcraft. The first show we attended was Game Fair in Anoka; the response was over the top positive. This was the indicator to continue forward with patent and production. In 2006 production began. The first year a limited number were produced, this was to gain insight and feedback to further refine the product. The following year a number of significant improvements were made and production doubled. Each year we continue to improve, refine and develop accessories, but with that said, with our diligence and attention to detail from day one, every Wilcraft produced to this point is still in service. Many of them have had tremendous hours of use. And to think each year the Wilcraft continues to get better. The Wilcraft has won a number of awards from a number of respected organizations because of its quality, uniqueness and true resolution of issues.
Wilcraft for Ice Rescue
Beyond just ice fishing and hunting we see the Wilcraft as an excellent ice rescue tool. During the first few years of branding, this use was brought to our attention a number of times. It wasn't until Larry Schuler from Granite Falls Minnesota performed a rescue that convinced us to move forward with this model. Out ice fishing one day in his Wilcraft Larry spotted a guy who had fallen through thin ice and immediately drove to him. This was a very big guy that was in the ice and no way was he going to be lifted out, fortunately with a rope and the Wilcraft the man was effortlessly pulled to safety. So a single handed rescue was performed by an unskilled responder on dangerous ice in less than 2 minutes, it only made sense to go forward with the rescue model. One can only imagine the possibilities of a Wilcraft in the hands of a trained professional.
Wilcraft Now and in the Future
We are now approach our 12th year of production [as of 2016] we are grateful for all the experiences; for all the people we've met and helped, and for the many people that have helped us. Introducing a new product is certainly a challenge, but when the need for a product is crystal clear and you see first hand how one's life is improved; the challenges are mere road bumps. It doesn't take long to figure out what is important in life, "doing for others over doing for oneself". We are thankful for the groups, organizations and foundations that have allow us to take part in their mission. We hope and pray that we will continue to grow and be of greater service.
By Tom Roering