Montevideo, Minnesota-based American Surplus offers an eclectic array of wares from cheap sunglasses to refrigerator magnets.
This warehouse-like building is also the epicenter of a revolution in ice-fishing houses.
About 80 workers are building Ice Castle ice-fishing houses, the brand that is rapidly becoming ubiquitous across the Upper Midwest’s ice-fishing belt, reports twincities.com.
As the ice thickens up to 11,000 Ice Castles will be towed across frozen lakes, where they’ll join thousands of home-fashioned ice houses.
When you think of a wheelhouse that can be hauled along the highway and onto the ice road and then lowered onto the ice, you probably picture an Ice Castle.
The brand continues to grow, to the point where “ice castle” is becoming a generic term for wheeled ice-fishing houses. The company is scrambling to keep up with orders, and a slew of competitors are entering the fray (to read an earlier story, click here.)
The brand claims 56 percent of the market share in Minnesota; in January (2013), 178 units were sold, compared to 19 by its nearest competitor. According to Omaha, Nebraska-based A.C. Nelsen RV World, the top-selling travel trailer recreational vehicle (ice house or not) in Minnesota is the Ice Castle.
“We didn’t know it was goi
ng to be this big,” confessed Jeff Drexler, the owner of American Surplus, which owns and builds Ice Castles with almost exclusively American-made parts.
And it all started on a whim, Drexler told twincities.com.
In 1997, Drexler, who ice-fishes only occasionally, got a call from friend Dave Hanlon, store manager at Milaca Unclaimed Freight.
“Why don’t those guys make an ice-fishing house trailer?” Hanlon asked.
And, as they say, the rest is history.
The first models were nameless, 6-1/2-by-12-foot boxes priced at $1,999. The company now offers 33 models, with a new one to be unveiling at the Minneapolis/St. Paul RV, Vacation & Camping Show on February 6-9 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
American Surplus’ top-end model is the luxurious King’s Castle, which stretches 8 by 30 feet (with a V-shaped front for extra space) and has a suggested retail price of $36,250. The smallest, most spartan model—the Scout—sells for just under $5,000.
Ice Castle doesn’t own patents on any key components or designs, but it did show the world how versatile its products can be.
But these aren’t just ice-fishing houses.
They’re RVs you can fish out of in the winter and camp with in the summer; some have party decks. They can be hunting sheds and toy haulers, too.
A common feature in many Ice Castles—and some RVs (toy haulers)—is the back end opens into a ramp. ATVs, snowmobiles, and dirt bikes can be driven right into the living room, which is fitted with tie-down anchors.
This is huge because, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, camping is so big the rest of the year.
Being an RV officially—has other benefits. Some campgrounds won’t accept “ice houses on wheels” for safety reasons, and banks are reluctant to finance the purchase of such a contraption.
That’s why, several years ago, Drexler obtained official certification from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) for larger Ice Castle models.
“It legitimized what we were doing,” Karen Bogan, who leads sales and marketing for Ice Castle, told twincities.com.
“It made it a lot easier to explain to people that, yes, this really is an RV, and it meant you could finance them from your local credit union.”
In 2012, Ice Castle produced 1,422 fish houses, and in 2013 about 2,040. Working six days a week, they manufacture up to 10 units a day and are about 500 behind.
Ice Castle Fish House Mfg.
The road licensed Ice Fish House, featuring deluxe double pulley suspension with retractable wheels can be used year round. Use as a Hunting shack in the fall or use as a trailer for hauling snowmobiles, four wheelers, motorcycles and other toys in the winter, spring, and summer months.
Address: 3134 E. Highway 7 – P.O. Box 326, Montevideo, MN 56265
Phone: (320) 269-5428 or (877) 269-542 (toll free)
You can camp in an Ice Fish House, but you can’t fish in a camper.