The final chapter in our Mikkelson Collection Tour series is dedicated to the Worlds Largest Collection of Larson Falls Flyer boats, the centerpiece of the Mikkelson Collection Inc Antique & Classic Boat Museum. Retired Twin Cities businessman Paul Mikkelson (shown above in his 1942 21ft Falls Flyer Deluxe) began his love affair with the Falls Flyer’s when he was in high school and his father purchased a 1956 model. The best part is, Paul still has that same 1956 Falls Flyer today and it’s on display in the museum with 9 other Falls Flyer models. Paul also has 8 more Falls Flyer’s in storage and 1 on loan to the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandrea, Minnesota. (Above photo courtesy of Mark J. Proudfoot – MJ Communications)
Falls Flyer boats were designed and built by Larson Boats in rural Little Falls, Minnesota. The radical new Falls Flyer boat first appeared in the 1938 Larson catalog and in 1940, Paul Larson patented an idea for a boat that would capture the American heart – The Falls Flyer. (American Dream Boats – Ninety Years of Larson Boats)
In the Spring 2002 Edition of the ACBS Rudder, Tom Kapocius wrote – The boats took their nickname from the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, a Little Falls native, who was the original Falls Flyer. According to company legend, the inspiration for the hull of the boat was Lindbergh’s “Jenny” airplane which had cockpits that pilots sat back in. Prior to that, airplanes had a wooden chair in front of them with a tiller to guide the plane. The boat company copied the blueprint and set the driver deep into the craft in a more aerodynamic fashion. Playing upon the motif of flight, there was a wing cut into the front of the boats; after World War II the wing was transformed into a goose. That is one way to distinguish the model year.
The Falls Flyers were among the flashiest of the sports boats that were being made prior to World War II. The uniqueness of the boat’s shape and the speed of the outboards didn’t help sales tremendously however. With Minnesota consisting of rather conservative people, the company didn’t make many of the cedar-bodied boats. They were considered ahead of their time. The company mostly made boats for the resorts that were popular around Minnesota and Wisconsin. Practically every resort owner in this area had several of the boats for fishing and pleasure boating.
“It was a situation where the timing was inappropriate (for the speedboats),” said Mikkelson. “They were very fast for the times; you sat in them face forward – that was always considered frivolous in Minnesota. Times were changing however and this was an early specter. They were radical at the time,” he said. There was a four-year span in which maybe a dozen of the Falls Flyers were built, according to Mikkelson. (There was a fire at the Larson factory in 1939 and the manufacturing records were destroyed, making it impossible to accurately determine the exact number of boats produced.) Another reason why so few boats were made before the war was that the bodies were all wood, said Mikkelson.
“It’s an elaborate process. They were all cedar strips with white oak frames and then a canvas skin stretched over them. It was the same kind of process that was done with airplanes.”
Paul Larson was finally convinced late in the 1950’s that it was much more cost effective to start building the boats out of fiberglass.
The Falls Flyer’s in the Mikkelson Collection Museum represent the entire range and evolution of the of Falls Flyer marque from 1939 to 1960 the last year the Falls Flyer model was produced by Larson Boats.
Below is “Flight of Fancy” a 1942 21ft Falls Flyer Deluxe Twin Cockpit Forward Inboard. It’s the largest of the Falls Flyer lineup. Built of steam bent ribs, white oak frames and cedar strip planking covered with fabric – It’s both light and strong. Paul believes that only 3 of the 21ft Deluxe Models were manufactured. Power is provided by a 140HP Gray Marine 6 Fireball.
Here’s Paul Mikkelson in his 1942 21ft Falls Flyer Deluxe with Phillipine Mahogany interior.
“Boondoggle” a 1939 16ft Falls Flyer Speedster is the rarest of the rare, one of only two single-cockpit inboards ever built. Built of steam-bent oak frames and cedar strip planking covered with fabric, it’s sleek and fast. Power is provided by a forward mounted 90HP Gray Fireball.
The hallmark of the Mikkelson Collection Museum is that “Everything Works.”
This rare 1939 17ft Falls Flyer Split Cockpit Inboard is 1 of 2 known to exist.
The 1939 Split Cockpit is powered by a Gray Marine 6 Cylinder Phantom Engine.
“Hoody Woody” (below) is a 1948 Falls Flyer, the only one known to still exist with the original, (early) low profile engine hood. The Post-War Falls Flyer’s were outboards only, this one powered by a 25HP Johnson Seahorse. The unusual wood frame engine hoods were developed by Larson to reduce noise from the early outboards and to provide a more streamlined appearance. However the hoods made the outboard engines run hot and erratic. In many cases they were removed by the owner’s and lost or damaged.
Below is the 1956 (manufactured in 1955 sold as a 1956 model) Falls Flyer 14′ Fiberglass Outboard that was originally purchased by the Mikkelson Family in 1956. The boat is completely original except for the vinyl and paint which is new. The boat is powered by it’s original 1956 Johnson 30HP Javelin outboard which makes the boat fast and maneuverable. The Johnson outboard on this boat is original to the boat, and the only motor ever to be installed on the boat.
In 1956 the fiberglass Falls Flyer’s were made with hand laid fiberglass, not molded yet. The steering moved to the forward cockpit when the outboards were produced with electric starters and became more reliable to operate. Also note that curved windshield technology was being introduced on the later models by the mid 1950′s. Paul Mikkelson, his brother’s and most of the kid’s on Eagle Lake, Minnesota learned to water ski behind this Falls Flyer.
In 1958, 1959 & 1960 Falls Flyer’s experienced radical design change, following the auto industry. Lap strake bottoms, fins, tail lights, turn signals and arm rests with automotive dashboards were incorporated into the designs. This is an original 1959 Finned Flyer with it’s original Johnson 35HP Super Seahorse outboard. 1960 was the last year of production for the for Larson Falls Flyer model.
Below is an original Evans Anchor Decal counter display from a marine dealership stocked up and ready to go.
We can’t finish without mentioning Paul Mikkelson’s huge Duck Decoy collection. Duck Decoy collecting is a huge hobby and big business. Just like everything else in the Mikkelson Museum, Paul knows everything there is to know about the Duck Decoy collection.
The Duck Decoy collection is just another aspect of the museum, which is more like a Celebration of Boating & Sporting Life in Minnesota. Visiting the Mikkelson Museum is like taking a step back in time.
Here’s a collection of small duck decoy samples that the decoy salesman would travel around the country with to show to the prospective dealers and use to place their order.
I noticed this interesting photo at the museum, and thanks to Mark J. Proudfoot at MJ Communications we were able to obtain a digital version to use for the Woody Boater header art. In the 1940′s Paul Larson (a big smoker) did a promotional deal with Larson Boats and the Philip Morris Tobacco Company. The fellow standing in the Falls Flyer is Johnny Roventini – The Worlds Most Famous Bellhop. Little Johnny was the Product Spokesman for Philip Morris Tobacco often using his famous (at the time) “Call for Philip Morris” in front of the Hotel New Yorker. The inscription on the photos reads,
To Paul – May all your troubles be as small as I am. Sincerely, Johnny
For more information on the Mikkelson Collection Inc Antique & Classic Boat Museum click here.
If you have an opportunity to travel out to the Mikkelson Museum in Willmar, Minnesota leave yourself lots of time to experience everything the museum has to see – You won’t be disappointed.
In closing I would like to say that, although I have only known Paul Mikkelson for a few weeks, he is a wonderful, patient man that enjoys sharing his museum and life experiences with the visitors to the museum. The one thing I do know for sure… Paul Mikkelson loves his family, loves his museum and the Antique & Classic Boating Hobby.
Thanks for everything Paul – It was an experience I will always remember.