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For 44 years, brothers have hit the water

Pictured from left to right are Jerry Carlson, John Carlson, Charlie Carlson, Ray Carlson, Ron Carlson, Earl Almquist, Dick Almquist, Buck Carlson, Dick Carlson, Leonard Carlson and Dave Carlson. (Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson)1 / 2
Before the boat even left the slip this year, the Carlson brothers had a poker game going. (Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson)2 / 2

When the youngest of Frank and Grace Carlson's 11 children was just six months old, tragedy struck. Frank died, leaving his wife behind to care for their children on their farm five miles south of Hastings.

That's when Grace Carlson rose to the occasion and laid down the ground rules for their children, nine of whom were boys. She insisted that they all get along. That's was that.

Apparently, they listened.

Back in 1969, they all hopped on a boat in Hastings and traveled up the St. Croix River for a day of fishing and fun. Every year since then, the brothers have been making the trip, which is now more about fun than it is about fishing.

Much of that can be attributed to a prank pulled on Leonard, the oldest of the brothers, right around 1990. That story was recounted Thursday morning as the brothers had breakfast in Hastings before heading out on the water for the day.

The youngest of the boys, Jerry, had slipped into the water behind the boat and swam over to Leonard's line. He gave it a couple big tugs.

"It's a big one!" Leonard said. "It's a really big one."

"Then he pulled me in," Jerry said. "I weighed about 195 pounds at the time. I think that's probably a St. Croix record. There hasn't been a pole on the boat since. That was 24 years ago."

"They've been picking on me ever since," said Leonard, who is now 88.

The fact that Leonard made the trip this year was a big relief to the brothers. In February, he had heart bypass surgery. It was the first time he was ever in the hospital.

"The nurses couldn't even believe it," he said.

"He wasn't even born in the hospital," Dick said.

"He was born in a house," Jerry said.

"Yeah. On 13th Street," Leonard said.

While the brothers were still fishing during the trip, they had a good day on the water and came home with a few nice walleyes in a cooler. The cooler, though, was forgotten on the boat. About a week later, the smell was so strong that it could no longer be forgotten about.

"I think we buried the cooler after that," Jerry said.

This year, the brothers seemed to be more interested in playing cards than anything else. Before the boat had even left the slip, piles of quarters were gathered in front of few of them, and a game of poker began. In the year's past, the boat wouldn't return until the next morning. That's no longer the case.

"We used to have some pretty late nights," John said.

"Last year, we were back before dark," Dick said.

One year, during a stop in Prescott, Wis., to stock the coolers, the men came across a restaurant owner on the docks. They ended up kidnapping him for the day/night/morning and to this day, that man's wife still doesn't believe the tale.

Another good story came from the early 1980s, while Ray was working at 3M. He was going to be forced to miss the fishing trip due to work reasons, but his brother Charlie fixed that problem.

He called Ray's manager and said, "This is the Dakota County Sheriff's Office. We're looking for Ray. There's been a family emergency."

Ray left work and hit the water.

All kidding aside, Dick said he feels very grateful that he and his brothers get along so well, and that they've been able to have a tradition like this.

"Actually, it means a lot to have that many brothers and go together," he said. "There isn't too many families that can do that. We've had a lot of adventures.

The family

The nine boys in the Carlson family are Leonard, Allen, John, Ray, Charles, Dick, Ron, Buck and Jerry. Allen passed away in 2001.

They had two sisters, Marie and Francis, who are deceased.

The family farm was located five miles south of Hastings in Etter. Many of the brothers wore their specially designed polo shirts for the trip on Thursday. The shirts read: "Etter Teck. Rogue scholar."

Leonard graduated from school in 1939 and was in the top two of his graduating class -- which consisted of exactly two people. It was just him and Viggo Olson.

"When we had our 50-year reunion, I bought all the drinks for the whole class, and he bought all the food," Leonard said.

The boat

The brothers have their second cousin, Earl Almquist, to thank for the boat. This year, they took out Almquist's new boat, a 44-foot house boat docked at the Hastings Marina.

"I don't know how all this started," Almquist said. "We must have been drinking somewhere and decided to go on a boat ride."

The brothers thanked Almquist for always showing them a good time and they appreciate him taking them out. That said, they're doubtful their wives are as appreciative.

"Their wives were wondering how they could be gone so long on a fishing trip and not come back with any fish," Almquist said. "Then they saw they weren't even bringing any poles."