North woods man

Paul Flett saw this sleeper interior at GATS and decided to buy it on the spot. “It’s me all over,” he says.

Paul Flett is a man given to looking ahead, and back, as he makes his way through the world.
A lifetime hunter and fisherman, Flett, 45, says his trucking life is a lot like his outdoor life – he tends to look all around him before he makes a move.

The owner-operator from Minnesota, who now lives in Fort Dodge, Iowa, constantly sees the influences of his father Bill, who died two years ago, in his own decision- and goal-making. And he anticipates a time when he hopes his own children will draw on his influence to help them live their lives, including in the woods or on the water.

“Hunting and fishing were my dad’s life,” he says. “Two days before deer season opened my dad would start jittering and getting nervous. I’m the same way. I can’t sleep waiting those last couple of days. Before the season starts, I’m out there with my son teaching him how to scout and how to identify old trails from new and try and find where the herd is running, just like my dad did with me.”

Flett now has three trucks in his small company, GNP Transport, which are leased to Select Carrier Group of Columbus, Ohio. Flett hauls flatbeds to all 48 lower states. His newest tractor is a dream come true for him.

“I saw it and said ‘That’s me. I have to have it.'” The 2000 hunter green Freightliner Classic XL was part of the Freightliner Big Rig Redo contest in August at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, where its nondescript interior was converted into a dazzling outdoors theme and an elk mural was painted on one side of the sleeper. “That’s the most beautiful tractor I’ve ever seen,” says Flett. “And I’ve never gone after elk, but I want to, so the truck is telling me I have to buy it.”

The tractor won the contest, and Flett indeed owned it by the big show’s end.

Flett only starting driving four years ago, leaving behind a career as a floor installer, a skill he had picked up from his father, who was in the same business. “I sold carpets and floors and installed them, but it’s a young man’s game, and I couldn’t keep up with it. Your body takes a beating. So I went into trucking,”

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“I’d always loved big machinery ever since I was a kid. Basically I came home one day and said to my wife that I needed to change my work and we talked about it. In the end she said, ‘Honey, you do what you need to do,'” Flett says. “I had a business background, so I became an owner-operator. I knew I had to build a business. I knew I had to look at it from all sides.”

Flett says his success as an owner-operator comes from knowing all the numbers, so he’s aware all the time what is cost and what is profit. His father helped him acquire this thoroughness and attention to detail.

“My dad was an amazing man, and he was all about hunting and fishing. He’d work his tail off all week and then drive up to Duluth [Minn.] just to go smelt fishing for the night, a 200-mile each way round trip,” Flett says. “Man, he loved to fish. He’d wake me up at three in the morning sometimes and say, ‘C’mon lets go fishing.’ I remember being 3 or 4 years old and sitting in a boat in the dark rubbing my eyes trying to stay awake.”

On the opening day of fishing season each year, Flett went with his father and Uncle Harry out on a boat, usually in Mille Lacs Lake. “We had an opening day for just about every sort of game in Minnesota, and Dad and I would try to get out on most of them,” he says.

Flett started hunting small game (rabbit, grouse, pheasant, goose and duck) with his father when he was 6 years old. “When I grew a bit my father started me out with a 410 shotgun that wasn’t too heavy to handle,” he says. “My dad had me out shooting at clay targets, so that I could hit something before we ever went out into the field.

“I was so little I’d put the stock over my shoulder instead of against it so I could get the shotgun to where I could aim it. My father had a wonderful carpenter friend who made a stock that would fit me.”

Flett has endless stories about hunting with his father, but one is his favorite.

“Dad was a great shot. When I was a kid rabbit hunting with him, he’d never miss. One day in Minnesota we were deer hunting around a huge meadow. He was in a tree stand on one side and I was on the other. We had several guns, and he asked which one I wanted. I didn’t hesitate too much; I took the one that gave me several shots without reloading and left him with the single shot.

“An eight-point buck came out on my side of the meadow, and I had a shot at him. I fired and missed. I fired again. Missed. Again. Missed. He ran full speed straight at the tree Dad was in. Dad fired at him but missed and the buck kept on at a full run at the tree. Dad broke the gun, took the empty shell out, rammed in a new one and closed the gun just as the deer charged past the base of the tree. Dad reached up with his left hand and grabbed a branch and used it to swing himself around to his right, the gun in his right hand, and as the deer went under the tree he fired, one-handed, and brought it down still holding the branch. I just sat back down in my stand in awe; I’ve never seen anything like it.

“I keep trying to be as good as he was, but I don’t think I’ll ever make it.”

Flett enjoys the outdoors by himself, but these days he tries to find ways to take his wife Natalie and the three youngest of this seven children, Gage, 8, Medora, 5, and Amra, 2 1/2, with him. “Sometimes I’ll stay out six or eight weeks just so that I can come back and do a four-day hunting trip,” he says. “I used to do fishing trips like that but not so much now.”

His children, he says, grew up loving the outdoors as much as he and his father did. Eldest son Paul and eldest daughter Brandy were particularly keen and still are, he says. “They used to pester me to go fishing when they were little, and now the youngest ones do the same thing, and they’ve been camping and fishing since they were babies,” he says. “We took Medora camping and fishing with us when she was 11 weeks old.”

Before the family moved to Iowa, they lived in a small house in remote Silver Bay, Minn., a small town on the northern shore of Lake Superior near the Canadian border, surrounded by wilderness and wildlife. “The little kids were raised on the outdoors from birth. We had timber wolves, bears, moose and deer in the yard, and we all loved that,” Flett says. “Our house was heated with a wood-burning stove, and at the night the animals, especially the wolves, would come in to share the heat coming off the outside of it. They’d be there in the morning when I went out. When they were real little, the kids would come in and say, “Daddy I think there’s a bear coming,” and I’d think that was a cute thing to say and I’d ask, ‘Why do you think that?” and they’d say something like ‘I can see him.’

“Whichever way we went from the door we were in the woods, and I think we’d all like to live somewhere like that the rest of our lives. Natalie is from Montana, and her whole family is into hunting and fishing, too.”

And it’s with Natalie and the smallest children in mind that Flett looks around and figures that a mountain in Montana, maybe Big Bear Mountain, is where the family will go once his fledgling trucking company gets established. “Montana is where she’d like to be, and it’s a wonderful place for a hunter and fisherman like me.”

Natalie Flett says the woods and stream are more than just a place for her husband to hunt and fish: “For some people the woods are a spiritual place to be, like a church, and that’s the way it is for him.”

“I love that he loves what he’s doing and he’s passing on that passion to the kids,” says Natalie Flett. “They love being out there with him, exploring. I think we’d have done fine out in the wilderness in the 1880s; we feel so comfortable out there.”

Flett mostly hunts whitetail deer and small game. He also hunts black bear in Minnesota and spends a lot of time trapping but says he’s never hunted big game. Which brought him to the tractor at GATS.

“It immediately caught my eye at the show because I’ve been thinking of big game hunting,” he says. “I’ve applied for a moose permit for years in Minnesota. I’d put in my $3 and wait, but I’ve never got one. You’ve got to be really lucky to get one, and when you do it’s the only one you’ll get in your lifetime. So without any luck there I’ve started thinking about Montana elk.”

After a lifetime of hunting the way his father taught him, Flett is changing his ways a little. “I got two muzzle loaders, a .45 caliber and a .50 caliber, and they change the way you go out and hunt with the firearm,” he says. “Two years ago I started bow hunting with some friends teaching me what I need to know. It’s like a whole new world. The challenges are different and so are the techniques, the strategies, even the clothing. Shooting from 30 yards is a whole different experience that shooting from 100 yards.

“My first day hunting with a bow, and I’m out there in the dark just before sunrise and I hear this ‘crunch, crunch, crunch.’ It’s so black I can’t see much, but I can make out an outline, a shadow. And then he’s right there; he’s a big buck and he’s standing right in front of me. But I can’t shoot. Hunting begins a half hour before sunrise, and it’s still about 15 minutes too early. Then he sort of snorts at me; he knows I’m there, but he seems to know I’m not going to do anything. By the time I can shoot, he’s wandered off.

“So I went back to the same place next morning and I heard the ‘crunch, crunch, crunch.’ He came back and did the same thing. Just stood there in front of me in the dark and wandered off before I could shoot. So the next morning I went to where he had wandered off to those first two mornings, figuring I’ll be right where he’s walking when the sun comes up. Sure enough he came to where he’d been the last two mornings, but as the sun started to come up, he walked off in another direction, right past where I’d been those two days. If I’d been in the same place, I’d have had him.

“I think he was playing a game with me.”

Military Memories
With daily reports on the Iraq war filling the news, it is easy to forget all of the wars of the past that have had a profound impact on the United States. And for many of us, we may have never had a clear picture about our country’s previous wars despite high school history class. To gain a better understanding about what our military has been through and done for our nation, take an afternoon of your off-duty time to stroll through one of the many military museums dedicated to honoring our armed forces and their role in United States history.

These military museums and monuments exist to preserve the memories of American wars and those who fought in them. These museums teach us why, how, when and where wars were fought and show us just how important the American military has been in shaping our country.

These museums offer impressive displays of Army, Air Force and Naval equipment and can give you a true picture of what went on during a specific war. Most of these museums are free to the public.

The following museums are just some of the destinations you might choose. An Internet search will reveal several others across the country.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force
(937) 255-3286
This museum, located on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world. It portrays the history and traditions of the Air Force through displays and exhibits of historical items. The museum covers current parts of the Air Force and also the history of people, engines, weapons, equipment and vehicles used by the Air Force. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and requires government-issued photo identification, like a driver license, for admittance.

The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla.
With more than 140 restored aircraft representing the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Aviation, this museum offers an impressive display of powerful United States Naval Aviation. It has an aircraft collection, an enlisted pilots’ display, the USS Enterprise, an IMAX theater, motion-based simulator rides and much more. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in Pensacola, Fla. Admission is free.

The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa.
This is the only museum in the country that portrays the entire story of the American Civil War. It claims to offer equally-balanced presentations without bias to Union or Confederate causes. The museum has collections of artifacts, documents and photographs that cover the period from 1850 through 1876 and the issues straining the nation that led to the war and through the war’s conclusion. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is $7 for adults.

The Motts Military Museum in Columbus, Ohio
If you are looking for a museum that will teach you the most about the history of our armed forces, the Motts Military Museum is the place to go. This museum gives an extensive view of the United States’ wars and background information on the United States’ involvement in each war. The museum covers the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Desert Storm. It also features 1776, NASA, Medals and POW exhibits. The Motts website states that it “was formed out of the need to preserve, protect and display items from an area of history which is often overlooked and sometimes misunderstood.” The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Adult admission is $5.

Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia
If you want an idea of what Americans have truly sacrificed for the country, then visit Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Nearly 4 million people visit it annually to honor and remember the nation’s war heroes. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton designated Arlington Mansion and 200 acres of ground surrounding it officially as a military cemetery on June 15, 1864. Now, more than 260,000 people are buried at Arlington Cemetery. Veterans from all the nation’s wars are buried in the cemetery, from the American Revolution through the Persian Gulf War and Somalia. Pre-Civil War dead were re-interred after 1900.

The cemetery opens to the public at 8 a.m. 365 days a year and closes at 7 p.m. from April 1 to September 30 and at 5 p.m. from October 1 to March 31.

If these museums are too far from your off-duty location, you can find a museum in your area in only a few minutes on the Internet. The best place to start is with an online directory of museums. has a directory page with search options to narrow down military museums by state or topic. It lists 36 Navy, 34 Army, 19 Civil War and eight Air Force museums in the United States.
Christine Greene

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