Stewart Mills, 77, president of the Fleet Farm Supply Co., 512 Laurel, Brainerd, got his start in business on an early pleasure boat.
"It was a large steam-powered 'plaything' owned by my father," said Mills.
There were pleasure boats on Rice Lake that made excursions up and down the Mississippi River, but Mills' steamboat was apparently the first of its kind on the Gull Lake chain.
The boat was a jack of all trades.
Mills' father, Casper H. Mills, used it for hunting and fishing trips, to haul mail, and during the logging era, Stewart manned the boat and pulled log through the Gull Lake chain.
Shown here are some boats of the 1890s--a sail boat, duck boat with decoys, a row boat and a steam-powered pleasure boat. The boiler in the boat generated steam to run the propeller in the back. It was started much like starting a steam engine on a railway locomotive.
Logs were hauled from the Cullen lakes, through the channel into Nisswa Lake, into Roy and on to Bass, Upper Gull and into big Gull Lake. From here they were boomed out into the Mississippi River.
It was during the logging days that Steward Mills got his start.
He took over the captain's seat of his father's boat at 14 years of age due to "unavoidable circumstances." It seems the regular captain had a little too much to drink the night before a large haul was to be made and the "only available engineer was me," said Stewart.
It wasn't long before Mills worked up to a whooping salary of $8 per day for working 10 hours. "That was, high pay then, especially f or a young boy," said Mills.
Past engineers were paid $2 a day for the same number of hours, but Mills' efficiency as captain of the ship boosted the paycheck.
To get the logs to their destination, they were chained together and strung, often in single file, through the channels. A series of small dams were opened at the channels allowing a surge of water to pour through carrying the logs with it and guided by the steam-boat.
With the money he made running his father's boat, Mills bought a 30-foot boat of his own and started a livery.
"Roads were bad then and I ran the boat summers from Nisswa to Rocky Point Resort and other early resorts," said Mills.
Mills also accommodated campers by bringing them food supplies. The first boat was a one-cylinder launch, but the business grew and he soon bought a second launch and hauled freight to local stores.
Mills had an excursion ride for picnickers that left from Nisswa to the government dam. After lunch at the dam Mills brought them back. His charge, round trip was $1.
The route included stops at Rocky Point Resort, Grand View Lodge, Ozonite Resort, and over to Lake Margaret where there was a small post office and village.
He ran the service for four years then sold it to Dick Parks of Nisswa.
By that time, said Mills, some of the resorts had their own launch services and the roads were better, so people could get to the resorts by automobile. From the livery service, Mills went on to the University of Minnesota to study law.
After a stint in the Army as a Captain during World War 1, he came back to Brainerd and started the Lively Auto Co. and then the Crow Wing Co. Oil Co. and provided oil and other related supplies to local resorts, gas stations and other users.
The Fleet Farm Supply Co. of Wisconsin is a family company managed by Mills and his two sons. Stewart Jr. and Henry, with 12 stores in Wisconsin and two in Minnesota.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).