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Bon voyage to Mikkelson Collection (video)

Paul Mikkelson of Willmar is putting the entire Mikkelson Collection up for sale May 18-20. Mikkelson is shown with the 1956 Falls Flyer that started it all. The Larson boat company built the boats in aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh's hometown of Little Falls. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny2 / 2

WILLMAR -- This is straight from the category of "you don't know what you've got until it's gone."

For Willmar, it soon will be gone: A three-day auction sale is scheduled May 18-20 for the entire Mikkelson Collection.

The museum founded 15 years ago in Willmar by Paul Mikkelson features one of the world's largest collections of restored boats and outboard boat motors, along with model boats, electric toy trains, duck decoys, and well, almost everything to do with our boating heritage.

It's famous for Mikkelson's unique collection of Falls Flyer boats, built from 1939 through 1960 by the Larson boat company of Little Falls.

Already, interest in the upcoming sale is being shown by collectors from all over the world, according to Rich Penn. His firm, Rich Penn Auctions of Waterloo, Iowa, is managing the sale.

He's already had collectors from 13 different companies register to bid, and expects the tally of countries represented to reach 30 soon. One interested collector in France is already asking about making arrangements for shipping.

"It's quite likely the largest collection of this scope in the whole world,'' said Penn.

Mikkelson, 74, said he began this collection while attending Willmar High School. His father had bought a brand new, 1956 Falls Flyer for the family cabin on Eagle Lake. He bought the boat from his father on a financing plan, using income from mowing lawns and other jobs.

Mikkelson made his career as a business owner in the Twin Cities, and collected as he could. When his business succeeded, he devoted himself full time to collecting. He traveled all over the United States to assemble his collection. He would literally drive 1,000 miles to find one of the rare Falls Flyer boats.

Quite simply, Mikkelson said he enjoyed the "thrill of the hunt.''

He also enjoyed seeing the items he collected restored to authentic condition. Outboard boat motors dating to the turn of the century gleam as if they just came off of the factory doors.

Mikkelson opened his museum at 418 Becker Ave. S.E. in Willmar to share what he collected with the world. The museum and collection attracted attention: Newspaper, magazine and television reporters have produced feature stories that enjoyed state and national attention.

Yet the truth be told, its location in Willmar meant it probably didn't see the visitors it could have enjoyed in a location in the center of Minnesota's tourism industry, Mikkelson said. He wanted it here because when he was not hunting for boats across the country, he was in his own boats on Eagle Lake.

His website lists the value of the inventory at $2 million.

Penn said Willmar will be host to a "world class auction.'' He only hopes the collectors love the items they buy as much as Mikkelson does.

Mikkelson said he decided it was the right time to sell the collection. His son and daughter are overseeing the business he started in the Twin Cities, and do not have the time to take over his full-time role with the museum. He wants to have more time to take his grandchildren fishing and, of course, boating.

His first boat -- the 1956 Falls Flyer -- is among those on sale. He's still debating whether to be among the bidders for it.

The first day of the sale will be held at Mikkelson's storage facility at 1017 High Ave. in Willmar where "project boats'' and other items still to be fully restored are held. The final two days of the sale will be at the Willmar Civic Center. Online bidding is already under way. See

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335