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Fifty years of flying high

Couple flew together on first date, again 50 years later

By Rachel Barduson

It all started on Nov. 20, 1971 with a first date in the sky. Fifty years later, on Nov. 20, 2021, Lynn and Robin Carlson celebrated the anniversary of their first date with another ride high in the sky. The two are still flying high on love, adventure, and life.

Lynn and Robin Carlson took their 50th anniversary flight on Nov. 20, 2021, exactly 50 years from their first flight together. And that first flight was also their first date. Contributed photo

Lynn Carlson was serving in the United States Navy, based in San Diego, when he met his bride Robin. A 1967 graduate of Elbow Lake, Carlson borrowed $450 to start private flying lessons while in the Navy and used the benefits of the GI Bill to continue those lessons. He was 21 years old when he earned his private pilot’s license. He went on to earn his commercial pilot’s license and received his flight instructor training at Lindbergh Field in San Diego. He also earned all of his ratings in San Diego.

Robin grew up in the San Diego area and was working at the United State’s Post Office, moonlighting as a waitress in the evening at a local restaurant frequented by Lynn and his buddies. Lynn said, “I saw her and...I finally got up enough nerve to ask her out on a date.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Robin had never been in a small airplane before her first date with Lynn. They took off from Gillespie Field and flew straight west and along the coastline. “I had done a lot of flying above San Diego so it was just natural that I wanted to take her up to see the sights,” Lynn explained.

It was a 45 minute flight on that first date, and, “I couldn’t believe it, seeing what you don’t realize is actually on the ground. I couldn’t believe all the swimming pools in San Diego,” explained Robin. Back in those days, when photographs were not taken as frequently as they are today, the couple does not have a photographic record of their courtship, let alone their first date.

“It didn’t even cross my mind,” Robin smiled. “I had no idea this first date would lead to marriage.”

Lynn and Robin Carlson hold up a framed copy of the menu from the restaurant of their first date 50 years ago. Photo by Rachel Barduson

After that 45 minute flight, the couple went to Boom Trenchard’s for dinner and after a two-and-a-half-month whirlwind courtship, the couple tied the knot with a small wedding in San Diego on Feb. 3, 1972. Lynn laughed, “The only Carlson family relatives able to attend our wedding was my brother-in-law’s parents.”

And now, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary...what’s their secret? “There is no secret,” Robin said, “Just everlasting patience on my wonderful husband’s part. We did it right, and I especially, did it right. I married a really good man. I’m the luckiest wife ever.”

After high school Lynn had attended Alexandria Area Technical School from 1967 - 1969, graduating in Sales and Marketing, before joining the Navy, serving in active duty and stationed in San Diego from 1970 - 1972. Lynn and Robin’s first child, Boone, was born in San Diego, and upon discharge from active duty, Lynn continued his service in the Reserves and worked at the VA Hospital.

Lynn and Robin, and their growing family, moved to the Midwest when Lynn was offered a new career opportunity with the VA Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota. In 1979 the family, which had grown with the birth of two daughters, Aspen and Haley, moved to Northfield, Minnesota where both Lynn and Robin began their careers with Malt-o-Meal. The kids all attended school in Northfield and it was during these early years that Lynn decided, because of his love of flying, that he wanted to pursue a career in crop dusting. But first, he had to return to college to complete courses related to chemical spraying. Soon, Lynn was working for a crop-dusting company in the northern Minnesota town of Ada while Robin and the kids remained in Northfield. Robin continued working at Malt-o-Meal as Lynn returned home to be present for family and school activities. Their son, Boone, began working with his dad in the crop-dusting business at the early age of 9, as did both daughters, Aspen and Haley.

With a few years of experience under his belt, Lynn decided to establish his own crop-dusting business. Where better to settle and base his new business than right in the community where he grew up, near Wendell, Minnesota. Carlson’s Ag Aviation took off in 1985 where Lynn built his own private runaway west of Elbow Lake, near Herman. When he began his business, Lynn purchased a used Weatherly Model 201B airplane for $33,000.

The Carlsons on their anniversary flight last November. Contributed photo

“They don’t make ’em anymore, but if you were to purchase a brand new airplane, specifically for crop-dusting today, you would be looking at a $1 to $1.5M crop-dusting airplane, like an Air Tractor,” he explained.

As Lynn operated Carlson’s Ag Aviation west of Elbow Lake, Robin continued working at Malt-o-Meal in Northfield. Meanwhile, the couple also enjoyed many adventures in the sky, traveling to many locations, including San Diego (to see family and friends), Key West, Florida, Steamboat Springs, Jackson Hole, Oklahoma and many other destinations. Their most recent flight has been to California to attend a funeral. The Carlsons have owned a float plane for several years and Lynn admits to “getting a little gutsy,” when he flies. They have flown and landed on Lake Darling to go to lunch at Arrowwood. They enjoy flying to Starbuck and to Lake Minnewaska for a bite to eat. “Gutsy goes with the territory,” Robin said as she pointed out a sign in their home, “A pilot and a normal person live here.”

On May 23, 2021, Lynn celebrate 50 years of flying. He had his first solo flight on May 23, 1971. Contributed photo

Lynn has also pursued his love of adventure with big-game hunting trips to British Columbia, Canada, South Africa, Mongolia and Alaska, to name a few. “I love adventure and I am a firm believer that if there’s something you want to it...from retiring early if you can, to anything else that you have a desire to do. Don’t wait. Find a way to just do it.”

While on a vacation trip to New Zealand, Robin had the opportunity to do something she had yearned for -- a ride with a crop-duster in a jump seat next to the pilot.

“You take off on hills and you land on hills, and as you swoop down it feels like the wheels must be touching the tips of the crops...a thrill of a lifetime,” Robin said. Lynn smiled as he explained he’s always lived by chance, and so, when he took Robin flying on that first date, followed by a short courtship before marrying her, he just knew it was right, so why wait. A successful marriage of 50 years is affirmation to that belief. When he decided he wanted to go into crop dusting, he took action and did it, and a successful business of more than 30 years will attest to that being the right decision.

Robin’s plane ready for an adventure as the sun rises on Maple Lake. Contributed photo

Lynn served as the president of the National Agricultural Aviation Association in 2000-01 and retired from his crop-dusting career in 2015. Robin retired from her career with Malt-o-Meal in 2009. The Carlson’s son, Boone, has acquired the Carlson Ag Aviation business, continuing the operation of a successful service started by his father in 1985. Today, Boone and his family live on the Carlson family farm near Norcross.

Lynn and Robin moved to Alexandria in 2016, settling on Maple Lake with their float plane parked at the dock next to the pontoon. As the Carlson’s enjoy time with their kids, grandchildren and friends, both the float plane and the pontoon are ready for takeoff on any given day in the spring, summer and fall.

“Lynn has always had a wonderful sense of adventure and we have lived accordingly,” Robin smiled, adding, “I’m the luckiest wife, ever.”

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