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McFeely: Fishing dreams begin in New York Mills as a roll of aluminum

Popular Lund boats made in New York Mills factory will be common on Minnesota lakes on fishing opener Saturday, May 14.

A close-up of the Lund logo on a boat.
Finished boats are ready to be wrapped at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum
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NEW YORK MILLS, Minn. — A Lund boat begins as a roll of aluminum. Just a large coil of extremely heavy-grade foil, if you want to look at it that way.

The rolls sit at the start of the manufacturing line in the south plant of the five-building Lund complex in this Minnesota town about 75 miles east of Moorhead.

From there, the aluminum is cut, bent, shaped, assembled and painted — with dozens of other components like flooring and electronics added, of course — before it emerges at the other end of the factory as a fishing boat, ready to wreak havoc on Minnesota and North Dakota walleyes.

Huge rolls of aluminum sit on racks.
Rolls of aluminum are readied for transformation at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

Or not, as luck and skill would have it.

With Minnesota's annual walleye fishing opener Saturday attracting about a million anglers to the state's lakes and rivers and North Dakota's season ramping up as the weather (presumably) improves, it's a safe assumption tens of thousands of the boats on the water began as a roll of aluminum in New York Mills.

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Lund boats are the top-selling fishing craft in the Upper Midwest. Crestliner, another popular aluminum fishing boat, is also based at the Lund complex. Both brands are owned by Illinois-based Brunswick Corp., the largest maker of pleasure boats in the world.

A man buffs cut aluminum panels.
Sections of cut aluminum panels are prepped at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

"We'll go through 8 million pounds of aluminum in a year," said Jason Oakes, marketing director for Lund.

That's a lot of boats, although Lund won't reveal how many it manufactures in a year. Lund also offers a fiberglass line of boats, but those are made in a different location.

Oakes led me and Forum photographer Dave Samson on a 90-minute tour of the Lund factory last week, walking us through the process of how a coil of aluminum becomes a Tyee, Pro-V, Impact or Adventure.

A person in welding gear welds the prow of a boat.
Welds are applied to the Crestliner line at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

A couple of quick takeaways:

  1. The men and women who make Lund and Crestliner boats are skilled and work hard. Appreciate the company's 600 employees when you're on the water having fun.
  2. A boat is manufactured from dozens of pieces of aluminum, large and small, and hundreds of components overall. Way more than a layman might think. It was fascinating to see a boat come together from nothing but flat pieces of aluminum.

(Disclaimer: I own a Lund, an Impact 1775 purchased new 10 years ago. Prior to that, I bought a 16-foot Alumacraft, purchased new in 1990, that I still have. Both have proven to be excellent boats.)

A person sprays insulation inside part of a boat.
Foam insulation is applied during assembly at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

Lund Boats started 75 years ago in New York Mills in the garage of founder Howard Lund. Its most famous product continues to be the no-frills red fishing boat first crafted in the 1950s — often propelled by a single-digit horsepower Johnson, Evinrude or Mercury motor — that became synonymous with Minnesota fishing.

The company still makes the iconic red boat available in 12-, 14- and 16-foot versions.

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A man bends over inside the frame of a boat.
Boats are riveted at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

Lund now has five buildings, including two plants in which boats are made. The south plant handles bigger product lines while the north plant makes the smaller boats.

"Everything just keeps growing," Oakes said. "We just kind of keep creeping out, bigger and bigger."

These are busy times in the recreational boat industry. The COVID-19 pandemic spurred Americans to discover or rediscover the outdoors, and they are buying boats. U.S. boat sales hit record highs in 2020 and were well above average in 2021, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Strong sales continue into 2022.

A man buffs an unpainted boat hull.
Boat hulls are prepped for paint at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

In the case of Lund and Crestliner, it all begins at the start of the line where the coils of aluminum are rolled in.

The rolls of raw sheet aluminum are uncoiled and, with computerized machines, cut into all the individual pieces that'll eventually be assembled to make a boat. Smaller, detailed pieces are laser-cut.

Workers then bend the cut parts, shaping the raw components.

From there, the larger pieces are riveted together (welded, in the case of Crestliner) to form the hull, sides and transom. Riveting is a two-person job, with one person driving the rivets with a gun on the outside and another underneath the upturned hull bucking (or backstopping) the rivets.

A man in safety goggles stands near a partially completed boat.
Jason Oakes, marketing director for Lund Boats, talks about the upholstery installation on the assembly line in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

"The buckers live underneath the boat all day long," Oakes said.

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Riveting is a noisy job, doubly so for the person underneath the boat because the sound is trapped. Lund uses 31 tons of rivets in a year.

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The support beams go in next, and the boats are floated in a test tank to make sure there are no leaks.

Next comes the foaming. A worker sprays an expandable foam in the bottom of each boat. The foam comes out gooey but eventually hardens and becomes buoyant. It's a safety feature, making sure the boat will float even if the hull is pierced or the boat flips over on the water.

A sprawling space shows incomplete boats, wire, and boxes.
A wide view of the at the Lund Boat Company assembly line in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

The boat is given a primer coat and painted in an enclosed booth before going into an oven to be baked — 20 minutes at 230 degrees. It decreases the curing time for the paint, increasing production.

"It's kind of like a cookie. We put them in and bake them until they're done," Oakes said. "It makes the paint nice and firm and hardens it onto the aluminum."

Most boats have at least two colors, considering many hulls are painted gray. Lund offers 11 different colors for its boat lines.

A man inspects a black motor on a black boat.
Motors are added and checked at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

"There's quite a bit of detail and even artwork that our paint people need to perform," Oakes said. "They do impressive work."

The boats move to the "plumbing" area where livewells and gas tanks are installed. Then it's on to the finishing section where floors, consoles, electric wiring and windshields are added.

The final touch: Workers put the appropriate decals on each boat — this is where "Lund" goes on each side.

A man uses a blowtorch on white plastic that surrounds a boat.
Shrink-wrap is heated to protect new boats for shipment at the Lund Boat Company in New York Mills, Minnesota.
David Samson / The Forum

Brunswick Corp. also owns Mercury Marine, so familiar black Mercury motors are mounted on the transoms before the boats are shrink-wrapped for protection and put on semi-trailers. They're shipped to dealers and, eventually, sold to anglers.

Someday, there might be a walleye flopping on the floor or swimming in the livewell.

And it all began as a roll of aluminum in the factory in New York Mills.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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