Carlson retires, sells Truman car dealership

TRUMAN – Mel Carlson has hit the brakes on his automotive career, idling into retirement on Dec. 31 after 58 years, eight months and 15 days with Chevrolet.

The Truman dealership, which continues to bear his name, was purchased by Dan Rolling, a 30-year employee, who named his daughter and fellow 10-year employee, Elizabeth Miller, the general manager.

Carlson, 79, called the passage of ownership “a smooth transition.” He hired Rolling as a salesman in 1983.

“He’s been with me ever since,” Carlson said. “I sold him part of the business in 1986, and in 1995, he was added to the Chevrolet franchise contract.”

Having both his and Rollings’ name on the contract was unusual because those agreements normally carry just a single name.

“In our case, they made an exception so now he can continue the business just the way it was,” Carlson said. “The name stays the same. The people – all 20 of them – still work there.”

Growing up in Fulda, Carlson harbored a strong desire to go into farming, but his father, a farmer himself, discouraged the idea.

On Jan. 31, 1955, Carlson and his wife, Arlene, were married.

“Then I had to find a job,” he said. “That’s how I got to Mankato.”

In April 1955, at the age of 20, he was hired as a salesman for Clements Chevrolet in Mankato. For the next 11 years, he sold about 125 cars a year, working from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. five days a week.

“We’d quit early on Saturdays. We only worked until 6 p.m. then,” he said.

While the long work days didn’t bother him, he wanted to spend more time with his family. By then, he and Arlene had five children.

When the Truman dealership went up for sale, Carlson purchased the business and moved his family to the town.

“It was a great change for our family to get here,” he said. He was able to spend more time with his wife and children, finding joy in something as simple as eating meals together on a regular basis.

Initially, Mel Carlson Chevrolet had one other employee besides the owner, but it wasn’t long before he needed more help.

“Soon I had to hire some people,” Carlson said. “Within a few months we had five employees.”

He held his grand opening in the fall of 1966, coinciding with the debut of Chevrolet’s new 1967 models.

The original dealership building was located just off Highway 15 near the lumberyard, but lack of space became an issue. In 1973, Carlson moved into his new dealership headquarters on five acres at the south edge of Truman.

One of his favorite aspects of the dealership was becoming a Chevrolet truck dealer, requiring a separate franchise, specializing in medium-duty models. His truck dealership covered 30 counties in Minnesota and Iowa. His customers included farmers, fire departments and municipalities from throughout the region until 2009 when Chevrolet discontinued making the medium-duty models.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Carlson said. “One thing I’m going to miss is the employees. I had a lot of good long-term people. They were good people, and I think we treated them well.

“The other thing I’m going to really miss is the customers. We’re very fortunate in that we retained many customers over the years.”

Carlson will be honored at an open house Thursday at the dealership. Rolling said the event will continue through business hours to give a chance for customers, friends and neighbors to congratulate the new retiree and wish him well. Although there is no set program, lunch will be served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Carlson said he has no actual plans for his retirement, but with five children, 14 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and one on the way, he’s certain he’ll find something to keep him occupied.