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Osage upholsterer retiring

Ken Lymburner has been in the upholstery business 50 years. He’s hanging it up this summer to go fishing. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise(

BY Sarah smith

It is the end of an era at Lymburner Awnings in Osage.

Owner Ken Lymburner is finally retiring at the ripe age of almost 80 after 50 years of business.

And kids nowadays don’t go into upholstery, even though it was a lucrative business for Lymburner. Few, if any, trade schools offer vocations in upholstery.

It was gangbusters for 30+ of those years when Lymburner supplemented the seasonal income selling Arctic Cat snowmobiles. He became one of the largest dealers in Minnesota.

“I sold quite a few of them,” said the youthful-looking Lymburner. He was named Arctic Cat dealer of the year twice in that tenure.

“We used to do quite a lot of racing,” he said modestly.

He remembers approaching Arctic Cat a few times. “The salesman played hard to get,” he remarked dryly. The company wasn’t wild about having him as a vendor.

“I sold more than 100 sleds a year” during the good years. “We were really rollin.”

He quit selling snowmobiles in 1993 and concentrated on the awnings, a pace not necessarily slower during the summers.

He made aluminum awnings, canvas awnings and back-lit vinyl awnings.

An inveterate tinkerer, Lymburner also holds several patents.

Wednesday he was retiming a sewing machine. “You’ve gotta be a jack of all trades to work on a sewing machine,” he said.

“I’ll be 80 in November,” he said wistfully. “If I was a younger guy I could keep it up…”

He certainly has the physique of a younger guy. Not an ounce of fat is visible.

Two industrial sewing machines sit on tables nearby. The top of a pontoon is spread all over the floor of the shop.

He’s not taking any more business, he said, taking a call on the cell phone he forgot was in his back pocket.

“I ain’t gonna charge you for what I done yesterday so you can just pick it up,” he tells the caller.

Let the guys from the Cities, St. Cloud or Fargo take it over, is his theory.

His garage will likely sell, but not for an awning business. His three kids found other occupations in the state.

The recession hit him hard. He blames it on the current administration.

“I done pretty well ‘til the Obama administration come along,” he said in his folksy way.

Then, in a more sweeping commentary, he said, “People don’t have money to spend. Many of them aren’t working.”

Luxury items like boat repairs and awnings went by the wayside.

He withstood the recession, but age crept up.

And, he said, he wants to spend more time fishing with his buddies.

Yards of lush upholstery fabrics line the shop, stacked neatly in rolls on a back wall.

Lymburner started in 1957, working for an outfit in Fergus Falls. He worked a couple years to learn the trade.

“I thought by then I could make it on my own,” he recalled. And he did.

The Fergus falls company went through two subsequent owners, then folded.

At some point when the fishing season winds down, he’ll have an auction of the fabrics and metal parts.

And then the man raised on the Ponsford Prairie will take an extended fishing break – maybe try out some new fishing spots.

He likes fishing Island Lake, Straight Lake and Toad Lake, all in the neighborhood. But he’d like to sample more bodies of water.

Mostly he likes the companionship of his fishing buddies, many of them his neighbors.

And his closing means that no wanna-be upholsterers will be able to learn on the job, like he did.

The shop has well-wishers, friends who stop by and the occasional customer.

He still can’t bring himself to turn them away.

The customer who brought his boat tarp in for repairs last felt lucky. He made a friend and got his tarp fixed.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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