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Warroad college student, family have high hopes for toboggan business

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. -- There's something about a boy and his toboggan, even in the heat of summer. Gabriel Harren, 24, a St. John's University philosophy major, proudly showed off his downhill toboggan one steamy afternoon. He gingerly sat down on ...

Tobaggan
In this photo taken July 7, 2009, St. John's University, Collegeville, Minn., senior Gabriel Harren shows off his downhill toboggan in St. Joseph, Minn. The start of winter _ Dec. 21 _ is still months away. Yet Harren wants to develop his family's toboggan business into a year-round endeavor. (AP Photo/St. Cloud Times, Jason Wachter)

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. -- There's something about a boy and his toboggan, even in the heat of summer.

Gabriel Harren, 24, a St. John's University philosophy major, proudly showed off his downhill toboggan one steamy afternoon. He gingerly sat down on the red oak sled on a patch of grass just outside his St. Joseph home.

It's the best-made toboggan in the world, Harren said as he showed off the delicate curl of the front with a touch of familial pride.

The start of winter -- Dec. 21 -- is still months away. Yet Harren, a senior from Warroad, Minn., wants to develop his family's toboggan business into a year-round endeavor.

The Warroad-based business started in 1995 is seasonal right now.

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Harren, a natural salesman with a bright smile and inquisitive brown eyes, believes his father's business, Northern Toboggan & Sled, is on the cutting-edge in the industry. Harren and his older brother, Jackson, want to market the business to the masses.

"It just screams potential," Harren said. "There's so much (of) a need. We have what it takes to fill the need."

Helping father

Harren has dreams of being a philanthropist, investing in his dad's business and seeing his father retire comfortably.

Harren's father, John Harren, said the interest shown by his sons is appreciated. Gabriel Harren will help with sales while at school and help his brother with marketing. Meanwhile, John Harren will do what he always has -- hand-craft toboggans.

"I'm kind of excited," John Harren said. "Those two guys are trying to help out their old man."

John Harren, a carpenter and woodworker, was referred to the trade by his uncle, a priest in Canada. His sleds are used by the Native American tribes, the Dene and Cree, in northern Canada. He also has sold sleds in Europe.

"There's no place in the world like northern Canada, where the sled is an integral part of life," John Harren said.

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He added that if his Canadian customers say it's a great sled, then it really could be the best on the market.

Yet John Harren said he doesn't like to praise himself. He'd rather leave that to his sons and customer reviews.

Family helps out

The relationship between father and sons runs deep. The entire family has helped out in the wood shop.

Maybe that's why Gabriel Harren feels so compelled to help his father.

"We're the three musketeers," Gabriel Harren said. "We've spent so much time at the lake and in the outdoors."

Once Gabriel Harren graduates, he plans to continue helping his dad while chasing his own dreams.

Maybe he'll move to Denver. Earn a doctorate. Earn a comfortable living doing sales. The possibilities are endless.

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And his father will support him, much like his son supports him.

"He's got big dreams," John Harren said. "Look out, world."

No matter where Gabriel Harren travels or what he accomplishes, his heart will always belong to that downhill toboggan his father sent with him three years ago.

The stories it could tell? One year, a buddy broke his ankle after a ride gone awry. Gabriel Harren has gotten his sled going 20 to 30 mph.

That's "insanely fast," he said with a wicked smile.

They wear helmets, just in case.

Gabriel Harren likes to think of his trips on his beloved toboggan as quality control testing for his father.

"We've tested it," Gabriel Harren said with a chuckle. "We've beat the hell out of it."

Related Topics: WARROAD
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